Increased engagement with Malaysia is expected under the next Singaporean Prime Minister.

Increased engagement with Malaysia is expected under the next Singaporean Prime Minister.

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore is set to witness its first leadership transition in 20 years as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong decides to step down and hand over the reins to his deputy, Lawrence Wong, today.

Political analyst Dr. Oh Ei Sun said the new Prime Minister, who enjoys playing the guitar, is also media-savvy, thus raising expectations that he will engage more with ordinary people, both in Singapore and Malaysia.

“Involvement with Malaysian leaders will also remain cordial,” said the Senior Advisor at the Pacific Research Centre of Malaysia when contacted by Bernama today.

Wong, who was a civil servant before entering politics in 2011, is the second individual unrelated to Singapore’s founding family to lead the city-state in almost six decades.

In a smooth leadership transition, Wong, 51, will succeed Lee, 72, who has served as Prime Minister since 2004.

The swearing-in ceremony will take place tonight at The Istana, the official residence and office of the President of Singapore.

Oh, who is also a fellow at the Institute of International Affairs Singapore, said there won’t be many drastic changes in Singapore’s policies.

“I think the most important thing is, as Lawrence himself emphasizes, there will be continuity and stability both within and outside Singapore,” he said.

Regarding bilateral issues such as the water supply agreement, maritime borders, and airspace management with Malaysia, Oh said negotiations between the two countries will continue at the technical and bureaucratic levels before their leaders give their approval.

When asked about Malaysia-Singapore relations within ASEAN, he said both neighboring countries will continue to play a key role in Southeast Asia’s position between the United States (US) and China.

National Professor Council Fellow Professor Dr. Azmi Hassan also shared the same view that Wong will continue Lee’s legacy in his approach to strengthening bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia and ASEAN as a whole.

The geostrategist said Wong’s recent statement that Malaysia and Singapore are the pillars of prosperity in Southeast Asia shows that he sees the country as a partner, not a competitor, whether in terms of economics or geopolitics.

Azmi, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Academy of Strategic Research Nusantara (NASR), said like Lee, Wong has a pragmatic approach, especially in dealing with the power play between China and the US.

“Lee took an approach of not favoring any party even though in terms of stigma, Singapore is closer to the US but also maintains good relations with China,” he said, adding that he believes Wong will continue Lee’s approach.

However, Azmi said Wong needs to demonstrate his own leadership style not overshadowed by the Lee family before the country’s general elections expected to be held around November 2025.

“During (former Prime Minister) Goh Chok Tong’s era, Lee Hsien Loong from the Lee Kuan Yew family was waiting, but in Lawrence Wong’s case, no more Lee family members are waiting. It means Wong can govern according to his own reference,” he said.

For more than a decade, Malaysia and Singapore have been each other’s second-largest global trading partners and the largest within the ASEAN countries. In 2023, the trade value between the two countries was RM363.13 billion (US$79.6 billion).

Singapore and Malaysia will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their bilateral relationship next year.

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