Singapore names new finance minister, amid succession overhaul

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Lawrence Wong has been named Singapore's new finance minister

A top Singapore official who has been tipped as a future premier was named the new finance minister Friday, as the city-state overhauls its leadership succession plans following a setback.

Lawrence Wong, currently education minister, was picked as the replacement for Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in a major cabinet reshuffle.

Heng was widely seen as the prime minister in waiting until he gave up his claim to the job this month in a shock move that upended the tightly-controlled country's carefully planned power transfer.

The key finance portfolio is sometimes seen as a stepping stone to the premiership, although analysts said it was too early to tell who will take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lee, 69, is the son of Singapore's late founding premier Lee Kuan Yew, and the upcoming leadership change is seen as sensitive as it marks the founding family handing power to a new generation.

As well as education minister, Wong has gained prominence as the co-chair of a government task force coordinating the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Singapore has been largely successful in keeping its outbreak in check.

"Lawrence... has the experience, and is a natural fit for the job," Prime Minister Lee said as he announced the cabinet changes.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, also seen as a contender for the premiership, was appointed as the new health minister. Another leadership contender, Chan Chun Sing, moved from the trade ministry to lead the education ministry.

Eugene Tan, a political analyst from Singapore Management University, said the three main contenders for the premiership all had key positions, and it was not yet clear who would be the next leader.

With the reshuffle, Lee was trying to ensure the younger ministers were "exposed to new assignments" before a decision is taken on who will become prime minister, Tan added.