SINGAPORE — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Sunday he planned to bow out and hand over power to his deputy, Lawrence Wong, late next year, before the 2025 general election.
Lee, 71, initially intended to retire before turning 70, but it was shelved because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has served as head of the long-ruling People’s Action Party, or PAP, and as prime minister since 2004. Last year, he named Wong, who is also finance minister, as his designated successor.
“I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there’s no reason to delay their political transition. Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM (Deputy Prime Minister) Lawrence before the next general election,” Lee said at a party conference.
He said passing the baton to Wong before the national polls will allow the 50-year-old politician to win his own mandate and take the country forward.
“If all goes well, I will hand over (to Wong) by PAP’s 70th birthday next year” in November 2024, Lee said without giving an exact date.
Pausing to hold back his tears, an emotional Lee said he was thankful for the time he had served, and that he would do his utmost to support Wong and his new team.
“After (handing over), I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will do wherever he thinks I can be useful. I will do my best to help him fight and win the next GE (general election),” Lee added.
Wong, who came to prominence in helping to coordinate Singapore’s fight against COVID-19, will be the city-state’s fourth leader since independence in 1965.
He was picked by PAP as the likely successor to Lee after then Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was earlier tipped to succeed Lee, withdrew his nomination. Heng bowed out after the PAP, one of the world’s longest-serving parties, suffered its worst election performance in 2020. Although the PAP retained its super majority, it lost some seats and support slipped.
Lee is the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, who became Singapore’s first prime minister and built the resource-poor city-state into one of the world’s richest nations during 31 years in office. But it has also been criticized for tight government control, media censorship and use of oppressive laws and civil lawsuits against dissidents.