SINGAPORE, April 15 — Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who once served as the principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, now looks set to succeed him in the top job.
Wong, 49, who was a career civil servant before joining politics, was on Thursday (April 14) named as the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) of the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) team, effectively putting to rest the question of leadership succession.
This comes almost exactly a year after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, now aged 61, took himself out of the running for the role in April 2021.
In November 2018, Mr Heng was named PAP’s first assistant secretary-general, after the 4G leaders picked him as their frontman, opening the way for him to succeed PM Lee as head of government.
But two and a half years later, Heng withdrew himself from the succession plans, saying that he would have too short of a runway — given that he would be near his mid-60s when he takes over as prime minister after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
Since then, the issue of political succession has been put to the back burner as the nation grappled with the pandemic.
In November last year, Lee had said that 4G team “need a little longer” to pick a leader, but at the same time stated his confidence that the decision will be made “well before” the next General Election (GE) due by 2025.
Wong began his political career in May 2011 when he was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
In the next GE in 2015, he moved to the newly formed Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, co-anchoring it with then three-term MP Halimah Yacob.
Wong’s stint as a political office holder began two weeks after first being elected as an MP, when he was appointed the Minister of State for Education and later took on positions in the Defence and the Information, Communications and the Arts ministries.
In November 2012, he became the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth before becoming the Second Minister for Communications and Information in May 2014.
Since then, he has taken on the Culture, Community and Youth, National Development and Education portfolios as a full minister.
In the 2016 National Day Rally, Lee announced Wong’s appointment as Second Minister for Finance, which he held concurrently with his National Development portfolio. Five years later, he was appointed as Finance Minister.
Before entering politics, Wong was a civil servant who held various positions across several ministries. He served as Lee’s principal private secretary from 2005 to 2008.
The Straits Times reported back then that Wong had resigned from the public sector to enter politics, a year short before reaching 15 years of service. Administrative Service officers were eligible for pension after 15 years of service.
“It was a loss, but it was not something that factored into my consideration at the time,” he had said.
Most recently, Wong has been co-chairing the multi-ministry task force on Singapore’s response to Covid-19.
He is also deputy chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as well as a member of the board of GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.
He is also on the boards of the Future Economy Council, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council and the National Research Foundation Board. Wong co-chairs the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council.
Wong was elected to the PAP 36th Central Executive Committee (CEC) in November 2020.
On the personal front, Wong in a 2013 interview with The Straits Times said that he was married at 28 but divorced “amicably” after three years due to “incompatibility”. He has since remarried.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Wong is an alumnus of Tanjong Katong Secondary School and Victoria Junior College.
He obtained his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He also holds a Master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. — TODAY