Lawrence Wong set to become PM in May: Will General Election be held this year?

Lawrence Wong set to become PM in May: Will General Election be held this year?
Lawrence Wong will take over Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister on May 15.
PHOTO: Straits Times file

Did the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict — aggravated by Iran's assault on Israel over the weekend — expedite Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's handover to Deputy PM Lawrence Wong?

Two political analysts whom AsiaOne spoke to appear to think so.

It was announced on Monday (April 15) that Wong, 51, would be sworn in as Singapore's fourth prime minister on May 15.

Lee said at the People's Action Party (PAP) convention last November that he would hand over leadership by the party's 70th birthday in November this year.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said: "The May handover strikes me as being on an accelerated timeline."

He added: "With the global geopolitical situation deteriorating, especially with Iran’s attack on Israel, the thinking of the leaders appear [to be] that it is better to seek a fresh mandate."

Nydia Ngiow, managing director at strategic advisory firm BowerGroupAsia, echoed Tan's sentiments.

"While there is no 'ideal' time for [Lee] to step down, the increasing costs of living and the volatile geopolitical tensions, Iran's attack on Israel and concerns of a wider war in the Middle East likely pushed the leadership to accelerate the announcement and timeline."

Now that Wong is set to take over as PM next month, it begs the question: When will Singaporeans go to the polls?

Could it be as early as September, after Wong's first National Day Rally as Singapore's leader? Or at the end of the year, after the PAP celebrates its 70th anniversary?

Or perhaps Wong will call for elections only in 2025, after the Budget?

The next General Election (GE) must take place no later than Nov 23, 2025.

September GE is possible, say analysts

Tan thinks the accelerated handover timeline suggests an early GE.

"There appears to be some urgency on the part of the ruling PAP to go to the polls sooner rather than later," he told AsiaOne.

One window for a GE is September, he noted.

If the government for the next five years is put in place before the geopolitical instability "spiral downwards", it will enable Singaporeans to be "clear-eyed about the issues and challenges, and determine who should represent them in Parliament and which party should form the government."

Tan added: "Amid the spike in global tensions and insecurities, [calling for an early GE] is a signal reminder that the PAP government is tried-and-tested in security and defence matters, and can be trusted to lead Singapore in treacherous times."

Ngiow agreed that a September GE — before the PAP meets to elect its central executive committee — could be on the cards.

"Doing so would allow Wong to confirm that he has the mandate of the people and start his tenure on a relatively clean slate, paving the way for him to take on the role of PAP's secretary-general without any doubt."

Having the elections earlier, Ngiow observed, "will also provide Wong with a better sense of the cards that he has in hand for a more extensive Cabinet reshuffle".

GE unlikely to be before November 2024

Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy had a different read on the situation.

She pointed to a speech by Wong at the PAP convention last November, where he said that the PAP aims to be "ready" by their 70th anniversary, "so at that time when [the party] marks this happy occasion, [it] can look forward to a refreshed PAP ready to fight the next election".

Koh explained: "If we take these words seriously, it is more likely that the GE will not be held before November 2024."

She added that Wong may want to deliver one more Budget in 2025 — the year of Singapore's 60th birthday — to "ensure that the Government does its best to understand how businesses and citizens are doing, provide the support that is needed, before taking the country to the polls".

Despite what he considers as an "accelerated handover" and the possibility of an early GE, Tan does not rule out that Singapore could go to the ballot box in mid-2025, after the Budget.

"That gives Wong a longer timeline to prepare his party and engage with voters," he reasoned.

"In any case, the sooner [rather] than later handover gives the PAP and Wong more options on the GE timing."

ALSO READ: Lawrence Wong set to become Singapore's Prime Minister in May

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