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15 out of 19 leaders consulted chose Lawrence Wong as top pick to succeed PM, with no close second: Khaw Boon Wan

SINGAPORE — A total of 15 out of 19 individuals canvassed, including a number of fourth generation (4G) leaders, chose Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to head their team, said former minister Khaw Boon Wan on Saturday (April 16). 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (centre) held a press conference together with former minister Khaw Boon Wan (left) and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on April 16, 2022.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (centre) held a press conference together with former minister Khaw Boon Wan (left) and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on April 16, 2022.

  • 15 out of 19 individuals voted for Mr Lawrence Wong to head the team
  • Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who had faciliated the process, however did not reveal the other candidates considered
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he wanted a process that fostered "consensus and trust" in identifying his successor
  • Mr Lee explained why the process had differed from previous occasions, and why no deputy was picked this time round

SINGAPORE — A total of 15 out of 19 individuals canvassed, including a number of fourth generation (4G) leaders, chose Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to head their team, said former minister Khaw Boon Wan on Saturday (April 16). 

The group, which excluded Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean, was made up of 4G leaders, Cabinet ministers, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and labour chief Ng Chee Meng. 

As stakeholders were asked for their preferred choice and could not choose themselves, three individuals did not choose Mr Wong. 

Mr Khaw, who was tasked to facilitate the process of choosing the next 4G leader, added that none of the other names put forward for the role had garnered more than two votes. 

He declined to reveal the other names when asked and said: "The stakeholders were very candid and in turn, I assured them of full confidentiality. Only overall results and anonymised findings were shared, and even then, on an ‘as needed’ basis. Now that we have a clear outcome, there is really no need for me to discuss who was the second or the third choice."

Political observers recently told TODAY that Mr Wong had an slight edge over Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who have been identified as potential candidates for the post, given his public exposure fronting several major national issues and as co-chair of the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force.

Speaking at the press conference on Saturday, Mr Khaw, who is the former transport, health and national development minister from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), also described the outcome as “way above" the traditional supermajority benchmark of two-thirds.

"They (stakeholders) were emphatic in wanting to pick the candidate with unquestionable commitment to Singapore, who inspires trust both from Singaporeans and among his team of office holders and Members of Parliament, who has the backs of his colleagues and is most able to unite them to serve the nation.

"These are character attributes which are hard to measure, and yet crucial in ensuring the success of the team and thus of Singapore. Assessing them requires the stakeholders’ judgment and insights through years of working closely together," he added. 

These were among some of the details revealed during a press conference on Saturday where PM Lee, Mr Wong and Mr Khaw answered questions from senior editors from the media. 

WANTED A PROCESS THAT “FOSTERS CONSENSUS AND TRUST”: PM LEE

Asked why the process this time round was different and not based on the views of a small group of key ministers as was done previously, Mr Lee explained that he had wanted the 4G team to reach a choice of a new leader “in a way which fosters consensus and trust”.

A discussion among some ministers was done to find a way which encouraged "candour and introspection and objectivity" without impairing mutual relations and trust amongst the team, he said. 

Stakeholders needed to be able to honestly express their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the different potential candidates “without it being a personalised, ‘I like you, I don’t like you’, matter," said Mr Lee. 

“And we felt that a more systematic way of doing this, rather than all sit down and then we nod our heads politely, is to have a process,” he added.

And judging by the public reaction since the announcement, Mr Lee noted that "many people are happy that we have taken this decision, and are happy with the decision".

Asked by the media on why Mr Khaw was chosen to lead this process, Mr Lee, speaking in Mandarin, said he was the best person for the task as he was a former PAP chairman and knew all the Cabinet ministers and also had everyone’s trust.

In March after the Budget debate, Mr Khaw individually approached all Cabinet ministers, except Mr Lee and the two Senior Ministers, to seek their views.

He also approached Mr Ng and Mr Tan, owing to their important posts and also because they were involved in the previous decision-making process where Mr Heng Swee Keat was chosen as the 4G leader.

Explaining the process in detail, Mr Khaw said: “I interviewed the stakeholders individually for their views on their preferred choice other than themselves, and asked them to rank the potential candidates in order of their preference.”

The interviews, which were carried out over three weeks, took up to an hour, said Mr Khaw. 

In all, Mr Lee said that he was satisfied with the process and its outcome.

Mr Lee on Saturday also touched on how the process this time round differed from previous ones when Mr Goh Chok Tong and himself were respectively chosen to take on the premiership.

“With Mr Goh Chok Tong, a small group of us met after the 1984 (General) Elections — about four or five or five, maybe five or six ministers at most — very informally and made the decision.

“In the case of myself, Mr Wong Kan Seng chaired the group of ministers, hosted lunch and we settled it over lunch. I was very moved that everybody felt it was a straightforward matter and we came to a conclusion very quickly,” he said.

“So I think it's a variation in process but the essential thing is the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers must have absolute trust and confidence in one another and must support one another,” he said.

As for Mr Heng Swee Keat, in November 2018, he was announced as PAP’s first assistant secretary-general, earmarking him then as Mr Lee’s successor. 

Mr Lee said back then that the younger ministers and political office holders had met to discuss who should lead them and had reached a consensus with Mr Heng. 

Mr Heng however announced about a year ago that he had taken himself out of the running to be the next Prime Minister, citing the short runway he had if he were to take up the role.

 

LAWRENCE WONG WILL PICK DEPUTY IN DUE COURSE, BUILD UP 5G TEAM

On the question of picking a deputy leader for the 4G team, PM Lee said that it will be done in due time, and that this process, too, had been done in different ways.

“In the case of Mr Goh Chok Tong — with the 2G — Mr Goh Chok Tong had one DPM clearly identified as the successor and at the same time supported by Mr Ong Teng Cheong who was (the) second DPM.”

“In the case of Mr Heng Swee Keat and Mr Chan Chun Sing on that occasion, the ministers who were involved thought that they wanted to have a pairing and that would be the best choice.”

When Mr Heng was unveiled as the first assistant secretary-general of PAP in November 2018, Mr Chan was simultaneously unveiled as the party’s second assistant secretary-general.

In the case of Mr Wong, PM Lee said that the exercise was not to choose his deputy nor a 5G leader.

“Therefore there was no decision made on the deputy and in due course Lawrence (Wong) will decide who will be his deputy and who will be in his core team,” he said.

“And I hope he and his colleagues will work hard to identify and induct more promising leaders into the team to build up the 5G team for Singapore.”

Related topics

Lawrence Wong Lee Hsien Loong 4G PM

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