Singapore’s finance minister Lawrence Wong has been made prime ministerial heir apparent, as the ruling People’s Action party seeks to recover public support and bolster the city-state’s status as an international financial hub.
Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister since 2004, announced on social media late on Thursday that ministers had backed Wong to be the leader of the ruling PAP’s “fourth generation team” with “overwhelming support”.
The fourth generation team is a group of younger ministers lined up to take the reins of the governing party, putting its leader on course to be the next prime minister.
“This decision on succession is a crucial one for Singapore,” Lee said. “It will ensure the continuity and stability of leadership that are the hallmarks of our system.”
Wong, 49, would be only the fourth leader of the quasi-authoritarian state in its 56-year history. The announcement comes as the PAP, which has governed since independence and transformed Singapore into an international business center, faces pressure to control immigration and navigate an increasingly divided geopolitical environment.
The PAP’s succession plans were thrown into disarray last year, after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepped down as leader of the fourth generation team.
Alongside health minister Ong Ye Kung and education minister Chan Chun Sing, Wong was considered one of the favorites to succeed Lee, who is a son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
“The right to lead is not inherited. It has to be earned afresh by each generation of leaders, ”Lee said in a post on Facebook.
Linda Lim, a business professor at the University of Michigan who knew Wong when he studied economics there, said he was a “safe decision” that would help the party maintain the status quo.
“Lawrence has always been more of a technocrat than a politician,” she said. “There is not going to be a huge amount of change.”
But Lim added that the “status quo was evolving” for Singapore.
In recent years, the PAP has struggled to maintain Singapore’s openness to international business. In the 2020 general election, the party lost a record amount of seats to the opposition after a recession triggered by the pandemic deepened frustrations about inequality and competition with foreign workers.
Increasing tensions between China and the US have also raised questions about whether Singapore can retain close ties with both. Following the invasion of Ukraine, ministers made a rare break from tradition and condemned Russia while calling on Beijing to assert its influence on Moscow.
At a speech to Singapore business leaders last month, Wong signaled his desire to counter pushback against the PAP and increase Singapore’s strength as a financial center.
“Strong connectivity will enable us to be a choice destination for business, finance, trade and even data flows,” he said.
“But all the connections that we have. . . will not be sufficient if we are not connected in our hearts and minds. That’s why it’s also very, very important that we always retain the ethos and mindset in Singapore. To stay open, to welcome entrepreneurs, talent and investment from around the world. ”