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Lawrence Wong not being a unanimous pick for top job a 'natural outcome' of more robust, inclusive process: Analysts

SINGAPORE —The fact that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was not the unanimous choice among his peers as the leader of the fourth generation (4G) is a reflection of a healthy level of democracy within the ruling party and the natural outcome of a more robust and inclusive selection process, said analysts interviewed.

Lawrence Wong not being a unanimous pick for top job a 'natural outcome' of more robust, inclusive process: Analysts

The People's Action Party's Lawrence Wong speaking to party activists at the party's headquarters in Bedok in July 2020.

  • The outcome of the vote, which saw Finance Minister Lawrence Wong receiving the nod from 15 out of 19 individuals, shows a healthy level of democracy within the party, said analysts
  • Such an outcome was a natural one given it was a group decision, they said.  
  • Analysts also expect greater visibility for fourth generation leaders, which would include taking on greater responsibilities and speaking up more going forward

SINGAPORE — The fact that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was not the unanimous choice among his peers as the leader of the fourth generation team does not indicate any division within the ruling People's Action Party —  it is merely a "natural outcome" of any group decision, say analysts who also described the selection process as being more robust and inclusive compared with previous leadership transitions. 

On Saturday (April 16), former minister Khaw Boon Wan said that he consulted a group of individuals made up of 4G leaders, Cabinet ministers, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and labour chief Ng Chee Meng on who should be chosen as the 4G leader.  

They were asked to rank their choices and exclude themselves, with 15 eventually choosing Mr Wong.   

HEALTHY LEVEL OF DEMOCRACY WITHIN PARTY

Associate Professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Dr Alan Chong, said that that no political party is monolithic and that these intra-party differences, in fact, suggest a "healthy" level of democracy within the party. 

Some analysts pointed out that a vote that was not unanimous was just the natural outcome of any group decision. 

Practice Lead for Asia at public policy advisory firm Global Counsel, Mr Andrew Yeo, said: "Some might point to the four nays as being indicative of a divided administration, but I disagree with this notion. Mr Khaw was tasked by the Prime Minister not merely to determine the overall leader, but to do so in a way that forged consensus."

"This explains a departure from the tradition of only consulting within a small circle of ministers, but also signals their desire to secure a more robust and inclusive mandate for Singapore’s next leader, perhaps in acknowledgment of the politically fractured administrations we are seeing globally today." 

Agreeing with Mr Yeo, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore, Dr Woo Jun Jie, told TODAY that this "points towards a new way of leadership selection that is more formal and allows for more candid sharing of views from stakeholders who were consulted".

"The efforts that were taken to share the process with the public also suggests a desire to demystify the leadership selection process and focus instead on how cabinet ministers, when asked individually, mostly chose Lawrence Wong," he said. 

Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Elvin Ong said that the outcome signals the broader base of support that Lawrence Wong will have amongst the PAP leadership group. 

He pointed out that previous decisions on the next prime minister were based on "consensual decision making".

"This means that even if a minority disagreed with the majority, they either were able to go along with the decision, or did not register their disagreement publicly," he said. 

Dr Chong added that the decision to reveal the vote was noteworthy given that divisions within the PAP tend to be "a matter behind closed doors".

"The fact that Khaw Boon Wan revealed this, I think, shows that there is a normal state of things in the political scene. This means that Singaporeans have to get used to the fact that politics is about debate... (and) standing for who you think is the better candidate," he said. 

OLDER MINISTERS MAY RETIRE AHEAD OF NEXT CABINET RESHUFFLE

Analysts said that while it was too early to tell what PAP's strategy will be for the next General Election, which is due by 2025, it is likely that 4G leaders will become more visible by taking on greater responsibility and speaking up more in the meantime. 

Dr Chong from RSIS expects that the Mr Wong will play an important role in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle. 

"What I suspect will happen is Prime Minister Lee and the Prime Minister designate will huddle together perhaps with a few of senior ministers from the 3G in attendance and assemble the most ideal dream team for this (leadership) transition.

"When the press conference takes place to announce the reshuffle cabinet, it will be a measure of significant confirmation and confidence in Lawrence Wong if he were allowed to be given credit and also space to talk about why the cabinet will be reshuffled," he said. 

On the upcoming cabinet reshuffle, Asst Prof Ong said that some older ministers could possibly retire. 

"Some younger senior ministers of state or ministers of state could also be promoted in tandem," he said. 

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Politics Lawrence Wong Lee Hsien Loong PM

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