Singapore’s finance minister was handed a key role in the city-state’s ruling party on Thursday, potentially paving the way for him to become the next prime minister.

Lawrence Wong was named leader of the “4G team”, the term used for a crop of prominent politicians in the top ranks of the party, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced.

The financial hub of 5.5 million has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since 1959, and leadership succession is usually a carefully choreographed affair.

But the process was thrown into disarray last year when the leader-in-waiting and finance minister at the time, Heng Swee Keat, gave up his claim to the job after the party saw its support slip in national elections.

Several ministers were touted as potential replacements but 49-year-old Wong — who took over as finance minister in May last year, and also played a prominent role in co-ordinating Singapore’s fight against Covid-19 — came out on top.

“Cabinet ministers affirmed today their choice of Minister Lawrence Wong as the leader of the 4G team,” the prime minister said in a social media post.

“This decision on succession is a crucial one for Singapore. It will ensure the continuity and stability of leadership that are the hallmarks of our system.”

Wong said he was “humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence of my colleagues, who have chosen me to lead them”.

Lee, 70, is the son of Singapore’s late founding premier Lee Kuan Yew, and the upcoming leadership change is seen as sensitive because it marks the founding family handing power to a new generation.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing were seen as other contenders to become leader-in-waiting.