Lawrence Wong was elected Singapore’s next finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle on Friday, elevating his profile as the city-state relaunches its leadership change programme.
The nomination of Wong, 48, comes on the heels of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s sudden announcement about two weeks ago that he is resigning as the People’s Action Party’s chosen successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This necessitated changes to the long-awaited transition, forcing the party to look for a replacement among its younger leaders ahead of the 2025 election.
Singapore’s politics have been so well choreographed and predictable since founding father Lee Kuan Yew relinquished power nearly three decades ago that they are often mocked as dull. Analysts predict that Singapore will remain politically stable during the process.
“The prime minister does not wish to show disruptiveness within the political power structure,” said Bilveer Singh, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. With the pandemic and economic problems, “I believe he does not wish to escalate the situation, and therefore this is more stability than reform within those parameters.”
Though no clear successor to Lee was named Friday, the finance minister appointment could provide insight into who among the party’s “fourth-generation” leaders may eventually be considered for the top job. Heng was appointed finance chief in 2015 and was appointed deputy prime minister in 2019. Lee previously served as finance minister, though his predecessor Goh Chok Tong did not.
”In terms of the value of the post in government, Wong’s elevation from second minister of finance to full finance minister is unquestionably a promotion,” said Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies. “It reaffirms his status as a serious contender to succeed Lee.”
Leadership at Covid
Wong’s profile has risen as co-chair of the government task force tasked with combating Covid-19, a role he will retain. His position as second minister for finance also paved the way for him to ascend to the top job in the ministry.
“Lawrence has been assisting Swee Keat as Second Minister since 2016, so he possesses the required expertise and is a good fit for the job,” Prime Minister Lee said during a Friday briefing.
Wong, who is known for his no-nonsense demeanor, was instrumental in bringing the pandemic under control in Singapore through steps such as mandatory mask-wearing and strict social gathering laws.
Prior to his appointment as minister of education following last year’s election, he served as minister for national growth, where he oversaw a closely watched property market. Wong started his career as a civil servant and later served as CEO of the Energy Market Authority and as Lee’s principal private secretary.
Local markets remained largely unchanged following Heng’s announcement earlier this month that he was withdrawing from the race.
The Singapore dollar remained relatively stable, rising 0.2 percent to 1.3274 per US dollar. The benchmark Straits Times Index recovered some of its earlier losses to trade unchanged.
Wong’s appointment “should have little impact on financial markets,” according to Selena Ling, head of Treasury analysis and strategy at Singapore’s Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “After all, he is now the country’s second finance minister.”