What Do We Really, Actually Know About PM Lawrence Wong?
Top Image: Lawrence Wong / Facebook

Humble, non-elite background. Grew up in Marine Parade. Guitar player. Has a penchant for TikTok. Can ride a motorcycle. Led Singapore through the Covid-19 pandemic. Invested in his personal project, Forward Singapore. Wants to rejuvenate Yew Tee, Singapore’s ‘most depressing’ town.

We’ve seen the same few talking points repeated ad nauseum in every ‘Things to know about Lawrence Wong’ article. But beyond that, what do we really know of the man? 

Lawrence’s relative mysteriousness only seems more stark when you compare it to PM—sorry SM—Lee Hsien Loong’s life in the spotlight. As the son of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, his childhood pictures are all over the internet, along with his schooling and pre-politics exploits

Singaporeans watched SM Lee grow up in public, revelling in his milestones like the judo award he won at age 12 and watching as he headed off to Basic Military Training. 

SM Lee (left) with his parents Kwa Geok Choo and Lee Kuan Yew at his BMT Passing-Out Parade in March, 1971. Image: Facebook / Lee Hsien Loong 

PM Lawrence Wong, on the other hand, has kept his personal life largely out of the limelight. 

Is this a conscious choice? Or has he yet to warm up to the spotlight? Either way, his cloistered personal life inevitably sparks curiosity and begs the question: How much do we really need to know about our leaders’ private lives? 

No Tea, Just Breadcrumbs

We’ve always only gotten fleeting glimpses of PM Lawrence Wong’s private life. He was apparently married at 28 but got divorced—amicably, according to The Straits Times. But the identity of his first wife isn’t publicly known. 

A 2015 interview with The New Paper revealed that he lived alone and was presumably single. Years went by without any mention of his relationship status. Then, in March 2020, at a COVID-19 press conference, he casually revealed that his wife had cut his hair for him at home. 

PM Lawrence Wong’s second wife Loo Tze Lui, a former banker who now manages a Single Family Office (SFO), largely stays out of the spotlight. She only shows up at events alongside PM Wong once in a blue moon.

When she does show up, though, she steals the show with her “Korean actress” looks. To be fair, that’s all the media and public have to talk about because we’ve never even heard her speak. 

In contrast, we saw much more of SM Lee’s wife and chairperson of Temasek Trust Ho Ching. From cute couple poses to candid car snaps, the pair haven’t been shy about showing off their relationship and each other to the public. 

Besides couples content, Ho Ching is also very much active on social media, and doesn’t hesitate to share her opinions. 

When PM Lawrence Wong was asked about his wife’s reaction to his appointment as PM, all he said was: 

“So actually, at that time, I was surprised and I went back home to tell my wife, she was surprised too, but we had been prepared for it because she knew I was part of this process.”

We hardly ever get raw, unfiltered moments from PM Wong. His social media accounts are pretty much exclusively dedicated to work—a montage of grassroots events and ministerial duties. There’s no sign of casual “photo by me” posts a la SM Lee.

Even his maiden speech as PM, an opportunity to set himself apart, wasn’t all that different from those of PMs past. 

Journalist and activist Kirsten Han pointed out that PM Lawrence Wong‘s political vision isn’t particularly clear yet. All we can really gather so far is that he’s willing to listen to the public and shake things up if needed—nothing that hasn’t been said about our previous PMs. 

Image: Lawrence Wong / Facebook

Only Human Too

Perhaps it’s deliberate—an attempt to shift the focus towards his work. After all, the less people know about him, the less there is to criticise. 

However, as a politician, humanising yourself does have its advantages. Constituents might feel a keener sense of connection and kinship. For instance, the public ate up presidential campaign interviews when President Tharman was joined by his wife, Jane Ittogi. 

As much as it is advantageous, there are downsides. 

Ho Ching nearly caused a diplomatic incident when she commented on Taiwan’s mask donations to Singapore. Goh Chok Tong’s wife, Tan Choo Leng, infamously said that TT Durai’s $600,000 salary was “peanuts”—and Singaporeans have never let her forget it. SM Lee had his family drama aired on almost every screen in Singapore. 

This raises the question: Is it important for us to humanise our politicians? 

Ultimately, it takes two hands to clap. Politicians choose which aspects of their personal lives to showcase to the public. But it’s up to citizens—the ones that might never meet their leaders in real life—to respond positively to those aspects and form parasocial relationships with political office-holders. 

And whether citizens do so depends on the political climate. Perhaps with discussions about a renewed social compact, Singaporeans want a leader who can strike a balance between the unpopular (but right) decision and a stronger focus on consensus-building. 

Image: Lawrence Wong / Facebook

A Beloved and Competent Leader

It almost feels like PM Lawrence Wong is revealing just enough so he doesn’t seem too secretive. All the guitar playing and TikTok challenges make for some good headlines (to be fair, some of the hype is also fueled by the media). But they also seem like an attempt to craft a specific image: fun-loving, likeable, relatable. Everything we know of him is curated to a T.

What’s clear, though, is that PM Lawrence Wong is a fiercely private man. Perhaps even more than his predecessors.

In 2015, he acknowledged that he had room to improve on his social media game: “It’s a learning experience (because) I don’t go around every other day sharing something on the Internet.”

There are other questions to ponder. What do Singaporeans actually want out of a leader today? Do we want someone who can make the tough choices every time, or do we want someone we want to hang out with? And why does it even matter that we know PM Wong is into guitars and motorcycles?

There’s nothing wrong with being private and wanting to be judged solely by his policymaking and governance in due time. But if he’s truly trying to appeal to the masses, it might need more than TikTok posts to step out of the shadows of his popular predecessor.

There’s a difference between a competent leader and one that’s beloved by all. We’re still not sure which one PM Lawrence Wong is going to be, but we’re pretty sure he knows exactly what kind of legacy he wants to leave behind. And it’d help if we do, too.

Additional reporting by Hykel Quek.

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