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Singapore’s new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, replaces Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore’s new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (2nd R) shakes hands with now senior minister Lee Hsien Loong (2nd L) during the swearing-in ceremony at the Istana in Singapore on May 15, 2024. Lawrence Wong was sworn in on May 15 as Singapore’s new prime minister, after Lee Hsien Loong stepped down following two decades in office.

Edgar Su | Afp | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Lawrence Wong was inaugurated as the city-state’s fourth prime minister on Wednesday, taking over from former prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has led Singapore for 20 years.

Lee will stay on as senior minister in Wong’s new cabinet, which was announced on Monday, ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

The new prime minister will also be supported by two deputies. Trade and industry minister Gan Kim Yong will be promoted to deputy prime minister and work alongside current DPM Heng Swee Keat.

“I have known both Kim Yong and Swee Keat for many years. I value their advice and counsel,” Wong said earlier this week.

Gan will also take over as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and financial regulator.

Singapore will continue to 'strengthen and deepen' trade relations with the U.S.: Gan Kim Yong

Wong was in civil service for 15 years before he entered politics in 2011. “This is my calling, I decided that being in public service is what I would like to do,” Wong said Tuesday in an interview with local media.

“I have been in politics since then… nearly 30 years of public service. I do not regret that at all. I found the journey very meaningful, very fulfilling.”

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that Wong rose to political prominence, steering Singapore through the crisis along with Gan and current health minister Ong Ye Kung.

Wong will retain his current post as finance minister. Other promotions and appointments were also announced, but there were no major changes to the ministers helming each ministry.

“Continuity and stability are key considerations, especially as we are approaching the end of this term of government,” Wong has said.

Lee, the eldest son of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, announced last month he will hand over power to the new prime minister in mid-May.

He had said in 2023 that he would like Wong to succeed him before November this year, after having already delayed his retirement plans due to the Covid pandemic.

First post independence PM

Wong, who is 51, is the country’s first leader born after its independence in 1965.

He first entered politics in Singapore after the 2011 general election, having spent time at various government agencies before his political debut. He held ministerial positions in four Singapore ministries, and led both the national development and education ministries.

Wong also served as principal private secretary to then prime minister Lee Hsien Loong from 2005 to 2008.

The political transition has been carefully orchestrated for years.

In April 2022, Wong was picked as the leader of the ruling People’s Action Party’s so-called fourth generation leadership, putting him as the heir apparent to Lee.

He was appointed deputy prime minister in June 2022, holding the role concurrently with his finance ministry portfolio.

With the handover, Wong will be leading the ruling People’s Action Party into the next general election, which must be called by November 2025.

Change of guard after 20 years

Lee, who entered politics in 1984, has pledged to do his best to help Wong but has pointed out that the new prime minister would have to lead in his own way.

“You have to be your own person. You have to make the decisions. You have to lead in your own way, persuade people in your own way but I will give you the benefit of my experience and my views,” Lee said in his final interview with local media as prime minister.

While specific policies will have to be undertaken by the prime minister, “if he arrows me to do it, I will take the arrow,” Lee quipped, using a Singaporean term to describe being delegated to do a task.

Lee became prime minister in 2004, taking over from then prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

During his tenure, he saw the nation state through events like the 2008 global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the elder Lee’s death in 2015, which triggered a public outpouring of grief.

This is breaking news, please check back for updates.

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