At long last, a name. After months of speculation and political tea leaf reading, Singaporeans on Thursday were finally told that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was poised to succeed Lee Hsien Loong as the country’s next prime minister. Prime Minister Lee said in a statement that the so-called fourth-generation or 4G group of younger leaders overwhelmingly backed Wong, 49, and that his current Cabinet – all 83 of the People’s Action Party (PAP) – supported this decision. Lee is expected to make Wong the deputy prime minister soon, and Wong’s status in the party could also be elevated during its annual gathering at the end of the year. Singapore PM says will ‘decide later’ when to hand power to Lawrence Wong For political analysts, Wong’s de facto appointment as the prime minister-in-waiting ends an unprecedented chapter for the PAP, which had until recently governed the island state with drama-free leadership transitions. That changed last year after Lee’s designated successor Heng Swee Keat, 61, stunned the nation by stepping aside, citing the need for a younger person to helm the country once the Covid-19 pandemic abates. There is no indication yet when the power transition will take place. Here are four things you need to know about the man who will lead Singapore in the post-pandemic era. Humble beginnings Like many of his ministerial peers, Wong is a recipient of an undergraduate government scholarship. Unlike his peers, whose academic bona fides are linked to top-ranked British universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, Wong decided to study economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. The national daily The Straits Times said he “chose the United States as it was home to his favourite musicians”. Also unlike his peers, who hailed from elite secondary schools, Wong attended schools that were close to the Marine Parade public housing estate where he grew up. He said it was “very natural” to continue his education near home where all his friends were. In separate statements on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee and Wong emphasised that the “right to lead is not inherited”. Indeed, Wong, who will turn 50 in December, does not hail from a political family – an almost necessary background for leadership in much of Southeast Asia. Lawrence Wong made Singapore finance minister in cabinet reshuffle His father was born in Hainan, moved to Malaysia as a boy, then came to Singapore to work in a sales job. His mother was born in Singapore and was a teacher at the primary school Wong and his elder brother – now an aerospace engineer – attended. For those who’ve seen a video of him strumming an electric guitar and belting out the classic Hokkien song Wa Meng Ti on TikTok recently, it will come as no surprise to learn that Wong has been playing the guitar since he was eight. He put his music skills to good use during his university years when he went busking with his American roommate. He later told The Straits Times he loved rock, blues and soul. There are few other publicly available details about his personal life. Wong remarried after divorcing “amicably” and does not have children. A career civil servant before entering politics, he has occupied some of the biggest jobs in the country’s bureaucracy – including the prestigious position of Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. He served in that position from 2005 to 2008. Wong was a steady hand in Lee’s administration in the 2010s, serving as the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and then as Minister of National Development between 2012 and 2020. After the 2020 poll – held amid the pandemic – Lee made Wong the Education Minister. Subsequently, with Heng’s decision to step aside last year, the senior Lee lieutenant’s finance portfolio was given to Wong. Lee and his predecessor Goh Chok Tong both served as the country’s finance chief before taking on the top political job. Observers say Wong truly came into his own in his role as one of the co-chairs of the country’s Covid-19 task force. While he came under fire on occasion as the government tightened and then eased restrictions at short notice – in response to surges in infections – Wong’s unflappable demeanour won him favour even among those who previously ranked him lower than other contenders for the prime ministership, observers said. He puts his heart and soul into what he is doing and is never a seeker of credit or fanfare Health Minister Ong Ye Kung Elvin Ong, an assistant professor of political science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said Wong also addressed Singaporeans on controversial issues like race and “has generally done very well”. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in his congratulatory note to Wong said this: “He puts his heart and soul into what he is doing and is never a seeker of credit or fanfare.” No ‘huge shifts’ on foreign policy Analysts have suggested that Wong would likely not “rock the boat” and not deviate much from past leaders – and the same assessment applies on the diplomatic front. Felix Tan, a political analyst from Nanyang Technological University, said there would possibly not be any “huge shifts”, noting that Singapore’s foreign policies have always been dictated by its neutrality and its own national interests. Singapore’s Lee cautions US against ‘everyone but China’ stance in Asia The finance tsar has in the past had regular dealings with top officials in China and the US. He was also formerly the minister-in-charge of the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, one of three key government-to-government projects that anchor ties between the two countries. In that capacity, he has had exchanges with Chinese leaders in Beijing and Tianjin. Wong currently co-chairs the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council. Eugene Tan, a long-time political observer and law don at Singapore Management University, said Singapore leaders have continued to engage China closely even as it becomes more assertive in defending its interests in recent years. This status quo is unlikely to change with the impending power transition, he said. He expected Wong to visit China when travel to the mainland resumed, and make annual trips thereafter if he assumed the role of premier, a practice started by his predecessors. “China, to my mind, does not differentiate the 4G leaders in that they may have a preference as to who succeeds PM Lee,” Tan said, adding that “constancy” had been regarded as a “virtue” in Singapore’s foreign policy across the tenures of the country’s three post-independence prime ministers. But Chong Ja Ian, a political-science professor at NUS, said it remained to be seen if Wong had the ability to navigate the country through turbulent times. “If the world is at a moment of greater tension and possibly change, it is an open question as to whether someone who maintains course is better, or someone who can react quickly and seize opportunities,” he said. Building his A-team NUS’ Elvin Ong said health minister Ong Ye Kung and education minister Chan Chun Sing – once seen as hot contenders in the premier race – are likely front runners to be Wong’s deputies. He also said he would not rule out a dark horse emerging from the group of younger politicians, “perhaps either a woman or someone from a racial minority group”. Eugene Tan also expected Ong and Chan to be among Wong’s top lieutenants, saying that the move would maintain cohesion and unity within the cabinet, the party, and the 4G team. Prime Minister Lee had on Thursday said Wong had “overwhelming” backing from the 4G team, which Felix Tan felt was important. Wong, he said, needed to build a team that respects his decisions and supports his policies, including having lieutenants who are able to strengthen his position as the leader of the nation. Both Ong and Chan, alongside other PAP lawmakers, had offered congratulatory remarks to Wong. Ong, in particular, described the development as a “good outcome” and said he would “do my utmost to support him”. Cabinet reshuffle first, then elections? Next on the cards is a Cabinet reshuffle. Wong would “almost certainly” be made deputy prime minister, taking over from previous PM-in-waiting Heng, law don Eugene Tan said. Later in the year, the PAP would also hold an election for its Central Executive Committee where key party members are elected into the “inner circle” by cadre members. In the last round, Heng was elevated to the position of first assistant secretary general while his deputy Chan Chun Sing became the second assistant secretary general. The positions that Wong and his peers are given this year would indicate who are likely to become Wong’s deputies when he assumes the position of prime minister. Could nuclear energy be Singapore’s net-zero ‘game changer’? The next polls are not due until 2025, and analysts said they do not expect a fresh vote any time soon. For now, the imperative is to make Wong the “focal point” for Singaporeans to rally around, Tan said. “Time is of the essence to make Wong the face of the party and government and for him to step out of the shadow of [Prime Minister] Lee.” Felix Tan said several challenges lay ahead for Wong in shoring up support among younger citizens, among others. The PAP has held a parliamentary supermajority since the late 1960s. A drop in its national vote share to 61.2 per cent of all ballots cast in the 2020 poll was seen as one of its poorer showings. The opposition Workers’ Party made major inroads in that vote, though it has recently been beset by an internal scandal. Going forward, Wong would need to build his own brand of leadership and “find a unique selling point that Singaporeans are comfortable with and can support”, Felix Tan said.