Lawrence Wong was named Singapore’s next finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle Friday, boosting his prominence as the city-state reboots its leadership transition plan.
The appointment of Wong, 48, follows Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s surprise announcement about two weeks ago that he’s stepping aside as the designated successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong within the People’s Action Party, which has led the country since independence. That forced changes to the long-telegraphed transition, leaving the party to seek a successor among its younger leaders before the next election due by 2025.
Since founding father Lee Kuan Yew relinquished power some three decades ago, Singapore’s politics have been so well choreographed and predictable that they’re often joked about as dull. Analysts have said they expect Singapore to remain politically stable amid the transition.
“The prime minister does not want to demonstrate disruptiveness in the political power structure,” said Bilveer Singh, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s department of political science. With the pandemic and economic challenges, “I don’t think he wants to exacerbate the situation, so within limits this is more continuity than change.”
Though no clear successor to Lee was identified Friday, the finance minister selection could be a signal of who among the party’s “fourth-generation” leaders ultimately might be positioned for the top job. Heng was named finance chief in 2015 and added the deputy prime minister role to his portfolio in 2019. Lee himself was also finance minister previously, though his predecessor Goh Chok Tong didn’t hold that role. ”In terms of the importance of the post in government, certainly being a full finance minister from being second minister of finance is a promotion for Wong,” said Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. “It reinforces the notion that he is a serious candidate as Lee’s successor.