Saturday, 16 September 2023

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew on his 100th birth anniversary

Lee Kuan Yew: In His Own Words
The ideas, values and career of Singapore's first Prime Minister
What were the values, philosophies and ideas that defined Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership? From defending hard choices to inspiring citizens, the late founding Prime Minister of Singapore had spent decades laying the foundation for the country's success.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth on 16 September, CNA combed through 150 hours of footage to bring you this documentary that follows him through the different stages of his political career.

Friday, 15 September 2023

Tharman sworn in as Singapore’s 9th president, reiterates plans to unite nation

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam vows to strengthen multiracialism, nurture more inclusive society
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2023

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam is officially Singapore’s ninth president, having been sworn in about two weeks after his resounding win at the polls.

Mr Tharman, 66, took the oath on Thursday evening at his inauguration ceremony after completing an inspection of the guards at the Istana.

Shortly before that, his predecessor, Madam Halimah Yacob, had also inspected the guards and bade farewell to the line of honour before departing the grounds for the last time as president. She was accompanied by her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee.

“This was a vote of confidence in Singapore’s future, a future where we all progress together and deepen our solidarity as Singaporeans,” he said.

He stressed that more than ever before, Singaporeans must grow their sense of togetherness.

“It will make us a better society, and add to our ballast as we face a more turbulent world.”

With the strong mandate given to him by the people, he said he will work with the Government, community groups and other voluntary organisations, and the entire nation to strengthen multiracialism and nurture a more inclusive society.

On the specific roles of the president, Mr Tharman said he will confer closely with the Council of Presidential Advisers, and be thorough and impartial in his assessments, and in exercising his veto powers on the reserves and key public service appointments.

He added that he will “be scrupulous and independent in making judgments that involve the use of the ‘second key’ on our reserves”.

Going back to his campaign promises, Mr Tharman also reiterated his plans to promote greater interactions between different communities, and enhance respect and appreciation for one another.

He added that he also plans to lend active support to the arts and sports scene here, and represent Singapore and promote its interests abroad.

To this, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his speech that he looks forward to Mr Tharman’s support in sports and the arts, which will help Singapore become a rich and rounded society.

“I pledge my government’s full support and cooperation as we operate this unique system to protect our reserves and key appointments,” he added.

Noting Mr Tharman’s wealth of experience in economic and financial matters, and his familiarity with how the system of the second key works, PM Lee said he has every confidence in Mr Tharman’s ability to fulfil the important duty of the president in holding the second key.

PM Lee added that Mr Tharman’s experience in public service has prepared him well for his new responsibilities.

He cited Mr Tharman’s appointments in Cabinet, his time at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and his 22 years of service as an MP for Jurong GRC.

PM Lee said that the Government shares Mr Tharman’s declared goal – to build a more inclusive society, one where everyone is valued for who they are, and every Singaporean has a place.

He also said that he looks forward to Mr Tharman’s help in strengthening ties with other countries and international partners, and opening opportunities abroad for Singaporeans and local businesses as Singapore’s top diplomat.

PM Lee said he has no doubt that Mr Tharman, having held high-level appointments in international organisations and blue-ribbon advisory panels, will fulfil this role with distinction.

“The Government will work closely with you and support you to make the most of your experience and personal standing, in order to advance Singapore’s interests and enhance our status in the world,” he said.

PM Lee also noted that there is one person whose personal support will matter greatly to Mr Tharman.

“Let me take this opportunity to welcome your wife, Mrs Jane Ittogi Shanmugaratnam, to the new role that she will play as the spouse of the president in the years to come,” he said.

In closing, PM Lee said that Singapore is navigating its way forward in an increasingly troubled and uncertain world.

“Our society is in transition as we adapt to and evolve with changing circumstances. At such times, it is crucial that our nation’s highest office be occupied by someone with the right experience and abilities, values and character.

“I am sure that like your predecessors, you, too, will be a president for all Singaporeans, and serve Singapore with dedication and distinction.”

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Halimah Yacob: A President For Everyone

Singapore’s eighth President Halimah Yacob reflects on the defining moments of her six years in office, from unlocking past reserves, to advocating for causes close to her heart.

Farewell, Madam Halimah: Singapore’s first female president’s last day in office
By Jean Iau and Natasha Ann Zachariah, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2023

Six years after making history as Singapore’s first woman head of state, President Halimah Yacob left the highest office in the land with accolades of being a powerful symbol of unity for all Singaporeans.

At her farewell reception held at the Istana on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Madam Halimah’s efforts to expand opportunities for all made for a more united and inclusive Singapore, where everyone belongs and has a part to play.

He said that throughout her tenure, Madam Halimah showed the way with “grounded leadership, and a warm heart for the people”.

“Your ability to empathise and resonate with Singaporeans from all walks of life has brought our nation closer together, and reminded us that we all have a role to play to make Singapore a better home,” he added.

In her speech following PM Lee’s, Madam Halimah said the president plays “an important role in uniting and rallying people together”.

“In this capacity, I focused on creating a more caring, compassionate and just society,” she added.

Madam Halimah, 69, said she reached out to different communities and underprivileged people, and highlighted various programmes that she launched while in office.

She championed issues such as providing more support for caregivers, skills upgrading for lower-income families, and building interracial and interreligious harmony and social cohesion.

Diplomacy was also a key part of her work, and she saw it as a chance to raise Singapore’s international image, strengthen the nation’s bilateral ties, and open new economic opportunities for companies here.

As the first female president, Madam Halimah knew that she had the “distinct opportunity” to inspire other women and girls.

She shared that someone had told her she had “allowed people to imagine the president as a woman” and that “images and ideas give birth to reality”.

“I wish Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam all the best in discharging his duties,” Madam Halimah said, addressing the President-elect, who was standing near the front of the audience with his wife, Ms Jane Ittogi.

Mr Tharman, 66, will be sworn in on 14 September, after securing 70.41 per cent of the vote at the presidential election on Sept 1.

As she left the podium, Madam Halimah received rousing applause from an audience of more than 200, including foreign diplomats, MPs and leaders from the social service sector.

With her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, by her side, she received well wishes and took wefies with guests, including MPs from both sides of the House.

She had earlier in her speech called her family’s love, encouragement and sacrifices “the bedrock of (her) strength” and said she was forever grateful for their support.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, who was among the crowd, said Madam Halimah has been a unifying figure not just for Singapore but a symbol of aspiration for minority women everywhere.

“She will be remembered not only as a decisive president who supported the Government in steering our country out of the pandemic safely, but also as a president who is generous in lending her voice to speak up on behalf of various segments in our society such as youth, women and workers,” he said.

Before departing the Istana, Madam Halimah posed for pictures on the staircase by the main entrance with her family. She had said her farewells to members of the Istana staff earlier on Wednesday morning, shaking their hands and sharing laughs before taking a group photo.

Her aide-de-camp, Major Toh Su Sin, said it had been an honour to serve Singapore’s first female president. “As challenging as it was to plan and manage the range of events in Madam President’s packed diary, it was even more rewarding to be able to witness the difference she makes in the lives of others,” she said.

She added that Madam Halimah’s warmth and genuine care for everyone she meets will be missed.

Senior butler Zaidi Hashim recalled feeling awestruck on Madam Halimah’s first day in office. He said: “Madam President treated everyone with equal respect, dignity, and compassion – whether they were foreign dignitaries or her staff.

“It was bittersweet bidding farewell to her on her last day in office.”

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Richard Hu, Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister, dies at 96

The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2023

Former Cabinet minister and Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister Richard Hu Tsu Tau died on Friday. He was 96.

His death was disclosed in a Facebook post on Friday night by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong noted that Dr Hu was Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister. Dr Hu had held the post from 1985 to 2001.

“He stewarded our finances well, and provided a steady hand to steer our economy through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis,” he said.

He noted that Dr Hu served as a director on the boards of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and GIC when they were formed, and had provided exceptional service to both organisations.

He also recounted that he joined the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in 1999 and had worked with Dr Hu, who was then finance minister, on a Budget.

Mr Wong wrote: “(He) asked us to get information on the prices of some key essential items at the wet market so as to get a better feel of the cost of living pressures that people were experiencing then.”

He added: “That is what I remember of Dr Hu – not just thinking about policies in abstract, but making sure that policies led to tangible improvements in people’s lives.

“In his quiet and humble way, he has served Singaporeans with distinction, and made Singapore a better place for us all!”

On Friday night, MOF also posted on Facebook a condolence message to Dr Hu’s family. “We will remember Dr Hu for his many valuable contributions,” the ministry said.

People’s Action Party member Lee Hong Chuang, an IT manager who contested unsuccessfully in the Workers’ Party Hougang stronghold in the 2015 and 2020 general elections, uploaded a photo after attending Dr Hu’s wake on Friday.

He wrote: “I remember the late Dr Richard Hu when I was growing up as a real stalwart of our economy... May you rest in peace.”

Dr Hu was a senior Shell executive before he entered politics in 1984.

He was the director of marketing of Shell Singapore and general manager of Shell West Malaysia – the first Asian to be appointed director in the Shell Group – before he was promoted to chairman of Shell Malaysia in 1974 and Shell Singapore in 1977.

He was a board member of MAS for 26 years, from 1971 to 1997, and was appointed its managing director in 1983 after he retired from Shell.

In 1984, Dr Hu was elected MP for Kreta Ayer constituency and was immediately made trade and industry minister, making him among the few MPs since independence to be appointed to the Cabinet right after winning an election.

He went on to spend 17 years in politics, retiring in 2001 as finance minister.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Tharman is president-elect. Is Singapore a post-race society?

His presidency is a chance to shape race relations positively. Singapore still has some way to go.
By Mathew Mathews, Published The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2023

The election of Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam as Singapore’s ninth president stands as a profound testament to the nation’s commitment to racial inclusivity.

Mr Tharman’s resounding victory, with 70.4 per cent of the vote, realises an aspiration shared by many Singaporeans: to elect a competent and qualified president – whether from a minority race or otherwise – through an open contest in line with the nation’s commitment to meritocracy.

Race was almost a non-factor at the ballot box in some sense. Mr Tharman’s impeccable credentials, coupled with his popularity built over two decades in politics, overcame any lingering racial prejudices.

Racial representation in the presidency

Having good racial representation in the presidency is important for the development of multiracialism in Singapore. Recognising this, Parliament consistently appointed presidents from all the main racial groups in Singapore since Mr Yusof Ishak first assumed the role, even though there was no constitutional requirement to do so.

However, the public was sensitised to this objective only after constitutional amendments were passed in 2016 to reserve the elected presidency for candidates of a particular racial group if there had not been a president from that group for the five most recent presidential terms.

The population has largely come to accept these interventions as necessary to uphold the multiracial character of the presidency. In the 2021 CNA-IPS Survey on Race Relations, over 70 per cent of the 2,000 Singaporeans surveyed believed that the reserved presidency helped preserve racial harmony in Singapore.

Seeing a minority candidate win the race was never a given. The 2011 Presidential Election, featuring four candidates from the majority race, illustrated the growing challenges facing any qualified minority candidate in the race for the top job.

With qualifying conditions subsequently tightened, the very high bar for a nomination meant that only a small number of eminent minority representatives would be eligible to contest the president’s post. They, too, might be concerned that their chances of getting elected might be adversely impacted by the potential influence of racial preferences.

The high-water mark of race relations?

While Mr Tharman’s victory represents a significant milestone, it by no means signals that Singapore has fully transcended racial divisions and become a post-race society.

Race is unlikely to lose its significance entirely after Mr Tharman’s assumption of the presidency, just as it did not disappear as a political force in the United States after President Barack Obama’s historic election win in 2008.

Many observers have remarked on the irony that the mountain top of race relations in the US coincided with Mr Obama’s inauguration as the first African-American president, only to steadily deteriorate to the valleys through his tenure with heightening racial tensions ranging from the riots in Ferguson to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Singapore has been fortunate in maintaining generally positive race relations due to a combination of state interventions and the resolve of the population. Yet, racial preferences undeniably persist within the population, as highlighted by the same CNA-IPS survey. The survey showed high levels of in-group preferences for various roles, particularly among Chinese respondents.

When asked about the acceptability of different races to manage their business, nearly all were accepting of an ethnic Chinese in that role, although only about half were accepting of a Singaporean Malay (51.9 per cent) or Indian (52.8 per cent). Similar trends were evident when respondents were asked about renting a property to people of different racial groups or having someone from another race marry into the family.

It would be overly simplistic to attribute these racial preferences, and the general proclivity to see one another in terms of race, solely to state policies, such as the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others system and the Ethnic Integration Policy in housing. Research suggests that some of these preferences may be ingrained from infancy and reinforced through early socialisation experiences.

Saturday, 2 September 2023

Tharman Shanmugaratnam elected as Singapore’s 9th president

Landslide 70.4 per cent victory for Tharman as Singapore’s next president
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2023

Singaporeans have given Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam a resounding mandate to be Singapore’s ninth president.

The 66-year-old former senior minister scored a big win with 70.4 per cent of the vote, while Mr Ng Kok Song and Mr Tan Kin Lian received 15.72 per cent and 13.88 per cent, respectively.

Even before the official result was announced by Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui at 12.22am, it was clear who the winner was.

The sample count released at about 10.40pm showed Mr Tharman leading with 70 per cent, while Mr Ng and Mr Tan were trailing with 16 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.

Addressing the media at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre shortly after that, Mr Tharman said he was “humbled by the strong endorsement that Singaporeans have given to me”.

“I believe that the vote for me and what I stand for is a vote of confidence in Singapore... It is a vote of optimism for a future in which we can progress together,” he said.

He also thanked his fellow candidates for making the presidential election a worthy contest.

He spoke about the future he envisioned for Singapore – one where people have deeper respect for one another, and where every generation gets the confidence of knowing that Singapore has reserves that will help the people in the future.

“It has to be a future in which Singapore is never treated as just another small country, a future where we are taken seriously in the world, we are a partner of choice, and where we can project our voice of reason internationally,” he said.

Earlier at 10pm, when he arrived in Jurong, where he served as an MP for 22 years, Mr Tharman was mobbed by jubilant supporters holding up pineapples as he made his way through the centre.

He was greeted with chants of “ong lai” and “huat ah”, referring to his campaign symbol of a pineapple. Ong lai means pineapple in Hokkien, and it symbolises prosperity and good fortune to come.

His supporters erupted into loud cheers once the sample count result was in.

In a statement released after the official result, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he had called Mr Tharman to congratulate him, and assured him of his Government’s full cooperation.

Mr Tharman had also declared his intention to work closely with the Government, said PM Lee.

Noting Mr Tharman’s long and distinguished record of public service, PM Lee said he had every confidence that Mr Tharman would carry out his duties as president with distinction.

He said he was happy that Singaporeans were able to exercise the right to vote for their next president, and to focus on what the elected president is about.

“Now that the election is over, let us come together again as Singaporeans, to tackle the challenges ahead and build a stronger and more united nation,” said PM Lee.

Mr Tharman will be sworn in as president at the Istana on Sept 14.

Mr Ng conceded the contest shortly after the sample count result was made known.

He told the media that he received a call from Mr Tharman, who lauded him and his team for putting up a “vigorous campaign”. Mr Ng also congratulated Mr Tharman on a “magnificent victory”.

“When I came forward to stand for the presidency, I said that my No. 1 goal was to ensure that the people of Singapore have redeemed their right to vote in this presidential election. I think I have accomplished that goal because the presidential election did take place today,” said Mr Ng.

“I am delighted for him. And I am very glad for him, that he has indeed earned a mandate from the people of Singapore.”

Mr Tan said he congratulated Mr Tharman on the result, but for himself, “I expected to do much better, but I think in an election, things are uncertain”.

“I will now heed the advice of my family to take life easy and live a normal life. I will spend more time with my grandchildren. In my free time, I will continue to do my part in voicing the hardship and aspirations of the people through other channels,” he said.

More than 2.5 million Singaporeans went to the polls on Friday at 1,264 polling stations across the island, after nine busy days of hustings and a calm Cooling-off Day on Thursday.

There were 2,480,760 votes cast for the candidates, while 50,152 votes were rejected – 1.98 per cent of votes cast. Voter turnout was over 93 per cent of eligible voters.