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PAP cadres back choice of Lawrence Wong as PM successor, say he has gained trust and support from handling of Covid-19

SINGAPORE — Finance Minister Lawrence Wong enjoys broad support within the People’s Action Party (PAP) even though he does not hold a prominent position within its top decision-making body, party cadres told TODAY on Saturday (April 16).

PAP cadres back choice of Lawrence Wong as PM successor, say he has gained trust and support from handling of Covid-19
Party cadres say Finance Minister Lawrence Wong enjoys broad suport within the People's Action Party.
  • Party cadres said Mr Wong enjoys broad support within the People’s Action Party 
  • While he does not hold a prominent position within its Central Executive Committee, he likely will soon, they said
  • Mr Wong’s performance in handling various portfolios over the years and co-chairing the Covid-19 task force garnered him wide support among PAP members

SINGAPORE — People's Action Party cadres interviewed by TODAY said they back the choice of Finance Minister Lawrence Wong as the new leader of Singapore's fourth generation of political leaders, or 4G, noting  that he has gained support and trust within the ruling party largely due to his handling of the pandemic as the co-chair of the task force battling Covid-19.

They noted that while Mr Wong currently does not hold a prominent position within the PAP's Central Executive Committee (CEC), its top decision-making body, he has ample support within the party.

Indeed, they said, Mr Wong is a humble person who has never sought the limelight. 

TODAY spoke to five party cadres, former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong and former Cabinet Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on Saturday (April 16). The cadres spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr Wong, while a member of the PAP's 36th CEC, is not an office bearer, unlike Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who is the party's second assistant secretary-general, and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who is its assistant treasurer.

Mr Wong, Mr Chan and Mr Ong were widely regarded as being the top contenders to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The cadres said Mr Wong was catapulted into the spotlight in the last two years after he fronted the ministerial task force handling Singapore’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic alongside Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, and it was through this role that he gained significant trust and support within the party.

One cadre who has been with the party for two decades and declined to be named said: “He was not interested in the (Prime Minister) post and there was not much limelight shone onto him. But after the virus hit, that's when people started to notice him." 

He added that Mr Wong's time as Minister of Finance and his management of Budget 2022 further sealed his position as a top contender for the role of successor to Mr Lee.

NEW CEC ROLE FOR MR WONG LIKELY

Mr Wong was among 12 members voted into the 36th CEC in 2020, after being co-opted into the 35th CEC in November 2018 — the same year Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Mr Chan were appointed the first and second assistant secretary-general respectively.

The CEC is the party’s top decision-making body and is elected by party members. Up to six CEC members can be co-opted into its ranks by the elected committee members, according to the party’s constitution.

The cadres said it is highly likely that Mr Wong will soon gain a prominent position within the CEC.

One cadre said Mr Wong is likely to be named assistant secretary-general of the PAP first, and later secretary-general when he takes over Mr Lee, as this role is usually reserved for the prime minister. 

Meanwhile, Mr Chong agreed that the person who has been chosen to succeed the Prime Minister typically takes the number two position in the CEC, but added that there is the possibility that the 4G leaders “may do things differently”.

Dr Yaacob added: “Certainly as someone who is primed to take over as the Prime Minister, there will be an expectation for him to play a more front and centre role in the party."

Mr Chong and Dr Yaacob noted that even though Mr Wong does not have a prominent position in the CEC, it does not mean he has a lack of support among party members.

Mr Chong said this simply indicates that Mr Wong was likely not a frontrunner during the election of the current and previous CECs. 

Dr Yaacob added: “I think leadership selection is always very fluid. Circumstances change, people show different strengths at different times,”.

Dr Yaacob, who retired from politics in 2020 after holding several positions in the Cabinet between 2002 and 2018, spoke positively of Mr Wong, saying the latter has done much good work over the years without seeking fame or popularity.

“Don’t forget when I was Minister at MCI (Ministry of Communications and Information), he was actually with me. And I know him well enough to assess the man as someone who is very humble, and, I think, was not looking for a position but trying to do his best,” he said.

Dr Yaacob was the Minister for Communications and Information between 2011 and 2018, during which time Mr Wong was the Senior Minister of State and then Second Minister at the ministry.

“There is a high level of trust and confidence that (Mr Wong) has garnered over the years because he has helmed (several) different ministries," he added. "He is also known to be an effective public servant.”

A cadre who has been with the PAP for over three decades said it was also widely agreed that Mr Wong had performed very well in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis in the last two years.

"I think he has garnered so much support, and so many people voted for him because he was at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19."

Agreeing, a fellow cadre said: “Mr Wong’s star has shone brightest among the 4G (leaders) in the last two years during Covid-19 as co-chair of the task force.

“While he may not have been seen as a frontrunner in the earlier selection process that yielded DPM Heng and Mr Chan, he can be said to have seized the opportunities given to him since then, including fronting important issues on race and religion with flying colours.”

Related topics

Lawrence Wong PAP prime minister central executive committee

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