The Curtain Call

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Singapore’s prime minister of 20 years said he would step down next month to relinquish the post to his hand-picked successor, marking the end of an era while also preserving continuity in the prosperous city-state, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lee Hsien Loong, 72, has led Singapore since 2004. His father, Lee Kwan Yew, was the first post-independence prime minister and is widely credited with turning the city-state into a regional economic powerhouse. As Singaporeans’ priorities switch, Lee’s deputy Lawrence Wong, 51, will take over on May 15 after a carefully crafted transition process, the newspaper wrote.

Since 1965, Singapore has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP), founded by Lee Sr., and has only known three prime ministers. Wong will be the second person outside the Lee dynasty to claim the top job.

He will oversee a country that has become a significant hub for world trade: Singapore is an attractive destination for multinational companies, thanks to business-friendly measures and a reputation as a stable democracy where corruption is rare.

It is also a key partner of the US and China and the flag-bearer of a successful neutrality stance between the two world powers.

In 2012, Lee Jr. said he wanted to retire before turning 70. His plans were delayed by the outbreak of Covid-19, when Wong gained prominence for his leadership of Singapore’s successful response to the pandemic.

The city-state’s fourth generation of leaders, known locally as 4G, found in Wong a “first among equals,” Channel News Asia wrote. Unlike many of his peers, he was not part of the same elite circles growing up.

The PAP managed a transition period of two years to develop the image of a down-to-earth leader capable of appealing to younger voters who are advocating for more social justice and protesting the rising cost of living.

Despite almost constantly winning over 60 percent of the popular vote and 90 percent of the seats in parliament, the PAP has suffered a slow but noticeable decrease in support in recent elections, partially due to corruption scandals involving the ruling elite, Al Jazeera noted.

Meanwhile, “Wong hasn’t articulated a clear vision for where he wants Singapore to go,” political scientist Chong Ja Ian told the WSJ.

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