The Latest on Southeast Asia: ASEAN Leadership Reshuffles

Over the last few weeks, several Southeast Asian governments underwent significant changes. In Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong was succeeded by Lawrence Wong after nearly 20 years in office. Prime Minister Wong has said continuity will prevail in Singapore but also suggested he would differ in approach from his predecessor. In the spirit of this continuity, he kept the majority of outgoing prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet intact. On May 13, Wong appointed a new deputy prime minister, Gan Kim Yong, while several junior ministers were promoted. Former prime minister Lee maintains a role in the government as a senior minister. Singapore is required by law to hold a general election by November 2025. Faced with significant domestic challenges, namely a skyrocketing cost of living, Wong’s People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since 1959, may face a strengthened opposition. 

In Vietnam, leadership shakeups in the wake of the ongoing dot lo anti-corruption drive continue. On May 16, Truong Thi Mai, head of the Central Organization Commission of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and fifth-highest ranking official in the government, was forced to resign from the Politburo for unspecified “violations and shortcomings.” This followed the recent resignations of the third- and fourth-most senior officials in the government, National Assembly Chair Vuong Dinh Hue in April and President Vo Van Thuong in March. A day after Mai’s resignation, a plenum of the CPV elected four new members to the severely thinned Politburo. The National Assembly then convened on May 20 , electing Tran Thanh Man to replace Hue as chairman and Minister of Public Security To Lam to succeed Thuong as president. They now join General Secretary of the CPV Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh as the traditional “four pillars” of Vietnam’s leadership. Assuming they can avoid the fates of their predecessors, they are scheduled to serve in those positions until the 2026 National Congress of the CPV when Trong is expected to retire.

In Thailand, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s cabinet underwent several reshuffles in late April and early May, jeopardizing the stability of his ruling coalition. Most controversially, Srettha appointed Pichit Chuenban, who was sentenced to prison for six months in 2008 for contempt of court, to serve as minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Thai constitution prohibits those who received a prison sentence from ministerships. As a result, 40 senators filed a petition to remove Sretta from office for violating the constitution. Despite Pichit’s resignation on May 21, the Thai Supreme Court took up the petition, though it is allowing the prime minister to stay in office while it deliberates.

Lastly in the Philippines, Juan Miguel Zubiri was ousted as Senate President on May 20 and replaced by Francis Escudero. The two senators are largely aligned on policy and are supportive of the policies of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., without being seen as loyalists. This suggests the shakeup was personal. Zubiri has alleged that President Marcos or members of his inner circle were displeased with him, potentially for allowing a probe into Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency leaks concerning the president or for not pushing a proposal to amend the constitution through the Senate more quickly. In any event, Marcos publicly commended Zubiri for his service and met with Escudero and other senators on May 23.

Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow and director for the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Japhet Quitzon is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS.

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Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative