Singapore names new finance minister in cabinet reshuffle after setback in leadership succession

Singapore’s Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong at a press conference on the country’s Covid-19 situation on April 22, 2021.

Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has named a new finance minister, replacing Heng Swee Keat who announced two weeks ago that he will step aside as Lee’s designated successor.

Lawrence Wong, the country’s current education minister and second finance minister, will helm the finance portfolio from May 15, the prime minister’s office said on Friday. Wong is also the co-chair of Singapore’s taskforce on Covid-19, and has risen in prominence since the coronavirus outbreak last year.

Wong is among potential candidates that analysts said could eventually take over from Lee as prime minister.

The cabinet shuffle came after Heng’s announcement threw Singapore’s carefully planned leadership succession into disarray. Heng, who’s 60 this year, had cited his age as an obstacle in steering the country in a post-pandemic world.

Heng will relinquish his role as finance minister, but remains the country’s deputy prime minister and coordinating minister for economic policies.

In addition to Wong, analysts identified three other potential candidates for prime minister:

  • Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, 51, who will become education minister in the new cabinet.
  • Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung, 51, who will become health minister.
  • Desmond Lee, 44, who will remain as minister for national development.

The ruling People’s Action Party has governed Singapore since the country’s independence in 1965. The party suffered one of its worst electoral showings last year, winning 83 out of 93 parliamentary seats and 61% of the votes.

Lee, the current prime minister, had previously said he was ready to retire by the time he turns 70. However, he later indicated he would delay his handover to see Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis.

Lee is 69 this year. After Heng’s surprise announcement, Lee said he would stay on as prime minister until a new successor emerges and is ready to take over.

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