No decision yet on when DPM Wong will take over as Prime Minister, but it could be before next election
DPM Lawrence Wong said in an interview with Bloomberg News that his priorities now are organising the 4G team and how it would deal with immediate priorities, as well as settle in to his expanded responsibilities and portfolio.
SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Monday (Aug 15) that no decision has been made on when he will take over as Singapore's next Prime Minister, but it could be before the next General Election.
Mr Wong was speaking in an interview with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, who asked if the succession could take place before the election, which must be held no later than November 2025.
If he does take over as Prime Minister before then, he would "clearly lead" the People's Action Party (PAP) and its fourth-generation (4G) team into Polling Day, said Mr Wong.
"Or it could be that PM (Lee Hsien Loong) continues as PM now and he leads the PAP in the elections, and then after the elections, if the PAP wins, I take over from him as PM. These are the options, but we have still yet to make a decision on the actual timing," said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.
At a press conference on Apr 16, after Mr Wong was announced as leader of PAP's 4G team, Mr Lee said that the decision on who leads the party at the next election will be made "later".
The Prime Minister said then that the PAP must decide on the "best strategy" - whether he hands over to Mr Wong before the election or after, assuming the party wins.
Mr Wong said on Monday that the PAP went through a "very thorough and deliberate process" regarding succession planning, and that the plans were disrupted due to COVID-19.
"Then we had to come back together, and we wanted a process that would allow us to choose a leader while strengthening the sense of team within the Cabinet, and we have done that," he said.
"I have emerged as the candidate my colleagues have chosen to lead the team. I am honoured by their choice, and we are now in the process of deliberating exactly when would that transition be for me to take over from Prime Minister Lee."
Mr Wong said his priorities now are organising the 4G team and how it would deal with immediate priorities, as well as settle in to his expanded responsibilities and portfolio.
"In due course we will make a decision on this important matter," he added.
INFLATION COULD SETTLE AT HIGHER RATE
Moving on to the economy, Mr Wong said the Government has tweaked monetary policy four times in the last nine months to dampen inflation, and extended help packages for the lower income and vulnerable groups.
Singapore's core inflation in June hit its highest level since November 2008, with stronger price increases across most categories such as services, food, retail, as well as electricity and gas.
Core inflation, which excludes accommodation and private transport costs, came in at 4.4 per cent year-on-year in June, up from 3.6 per cent in May, official data released on Jul 25 showed.
"We will continue to monitor the situation, and the assurance we give to everyone in Singapore is that if the inflation situation were to worsen, we will certainly be able to provide more assistance," he said.
"For now, we expect inflation to probably peak at about the fourth quarter of this year toward the end of the year, and it will start to ease thereafter. But the big uncertainty is what is the extent of easing and where will the new inflation rates stabilise then."
Mr Wong said inflation could settle at a higher rate, considering the current geopolitical environment, supply chain issues and the green transition. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has sent food prices soaring and disrupted supply chains, as countries invest in fighting climate change.
"We will just have to pay that little bit more in order to be greener, in order to have more resilient supply chains, so we have to be prepared for that new equilibrium where inflation is concerned," he said.
Beyond inflation risks, Mr Wong said the Government is "carefully" watching increasing growth risks for next year, adding that it has to increase the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 7 to 8 per cent because of a revenue shortage.
"We want the Government to do more in Singapore. Everyone wants the Government to do more in Singapore, and we have already spent a lot more in the last two years, and we expect spending to continue to rise in the longer term with a rapidly ageing population and the increase in healthcare costs," he said.
"We have to do what is right and spend more, but also in a way that is sustainable and responsible and does not leave behind a bigger hole for the next generation, and that means increasing revenues."
Mr Wong again emphasised that the Government is increasing revenues in a way that is "fair and progressive", saying that the higher income will pay the bulk of GST and that the GST increase will not hurt the low income because of sufficient offsets.
ADDRESSING SECTION 377A
Mr Wong also touched on Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men. When asked when the law is "going to go", Mr Wong said this is something for Singapore and Singaporeans to decide.
"It is something that we have been discussing. It is one of those issues that has to be managed and dealt with carefully and sensitively, because it pertains to our social values and norms and we have been doing this for a range of different issues," he said.
"Whether it is race or religion, or whether it is regarding sexuality, we know that these are issues where different segments of society hold deep views and sometimes opposing views."
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Jul 30 that the Government is looking at how it can safeguard the current legal position on marriage against challenges in the courts, while it considers the next steps for Section 377A.
Mr Wong said the Government is engaging different groups to see if a "common understanding" can be worked out, explaining this as a mutual compromise that does not cause "deeper polarisations and divisions" in society.
The Deputy Prime Minister said Section 377A was not something that the Government in Singapore introduced, acknowledging that many Asian countries which had this legacy as former British colonies have repealed it.
"But we also know that in Singapore, there are many segments who feel that it is not just about the law, but the law is a marker for other things," he added.
"Things that they care about – about society, societal values, about family and about marriage."
On whether Singapore will be able to have a leader who is not ethnically Chinese, Mr Wong said he would "certainly welcome" in the future a leader who is not from the majority community.
"We choose our leaders on the basis of merit and if there is a leader that emerges down the road who is not Chinese, I would certainly welcome that person," he said.