Singapore prime minister promotes likely successor to deputy

SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promoted his finance minister to his deputy as part of a succession plan, but the timing of the handover is unclear.

His office said Tuesday that Lawrence Wong, 49, would become deputy prime minister on June 13 as part of a Cabinet reshuffle. Wong, who will retain his finance portfolio, will be acting prime minister in Lee’s absence, it said.

“The next generation leadership is taking shape. I ask everyone to give your full support to this important transition, to steer Singapore safely out of the pandemic and into a brighter future,” Lee said on Facebook.

Lee, 70, has said Wong would take over the reins either before or after general elections due in 2025. Lee’s People’s Action Party, one of the world’s longest serving parties, saw its worst election performance in 2020. Although it retained its super majority, it lost some seats and support slipped.

The PAP has dominated politics since 1959 when Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s first prime minister and built the resource-poor city-state into one of the world’s richest nations during 31 years in office. But it has also been criticized for tight government control, media censorship and use of oppressive laws and civil lawsuits against dissidents.

The 2020 poll outcome prompted Heng Swee Keat, the then-finance minister who was tipped to succeed Lee, to withdraw his nomination. Wong took over as finance minister in May 2021 and was picked by the PAP in April as Lee’s likely new successor.

Wong, who came to prominence in helping to coordinate Singapore’s fight against COVID-19, will be the city-state’s fourth leader since independence in 1965.

He was a civil servant who has worked in several ministries and served as Lee’s principal private secretary from 2005-2008 and the Energy Market Authority CEO from 2008-2011. He only entered politics in the 2011 general elections.

Wong has said being Singapore’s next leader would be “the biggest responsibility of my life.”

“I would do my best and give every ounce of my strength to serve Singapore and Singaporeans,” he wrote on Facebook.

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