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.

Many Singaporeans decided to have an early start to their public holiday and long weekend, with long queues seen at polling stations at 8am as some faced issues with the voter e-registration system.

Several polling stations had queues of about 200 people at one point, according to data from the VoteQ website, which voters could check to see the queue status of their polling stations.

The Elections Department put out an advisory at 8.40am to encourage voters to cast their ballots in the afternoon, and queues eased by lunchtime.

It seemed that the queues did not deter Singaporeans who preferred to vote early, with more than half of the votes cast by noon, after only a third of polling hours had passed.

By 5pm, about 85 per cent of voters had voted.

Friday’s election saw several firsts – the use of a new X-stamp, meant to be an improvement over the X-pen from the 2020 General Election, as well as the trial of mobile polling stations at 31 nursing homes islandwide that made it easier for over 4,000 elderly voters to exercise their right to vote.

Voters abroad also turned up at 10 overseas polling stations to cast their ballots, with a looming typhoon not discouraging those living in Hong Kong.

This election also featured postal voting for the first time, which over 3,400 overseas voters registered for. Their envelopes had to be postmarked before Polling Day in Singapore, and must reach the Returning Officer by Sept 11.

All the overseas votes will be counted at 9am on Sept 12 at the Elections Department premises in Novena.

This election also saw the use of the new ePoll cards via the Singpass app, meaning that voters could turn up at polling stations with just their mobile phones as they could also use the digital NRIC in the app to prove their identity.

Queues were virtually non-existent as evening fell on Friday, with the last of the voters trickled in to the polling stations.

Polls closed at 8pm and counting began, with ballot boxes sealed and transported to counting centres where the ballots were poured out and sorted by candidate.

After the count, the ballot papers were sealed back into boxes and transported to safe custody at the Supreme Court before they are destroyed at an incineration plant six months later.

Tharman pledges to build ‘future of optimism, solidarity’ as president
By Danson Cheong, Assistant ST Now Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2023

President-elect Tharman Shanmugaratnam pledged to use his presidency to help build a future of optimism and solidarity among all Singaporeans.

Making his first remarks to the media after early indications that he had won the election by a landslide, Mr Tharman said his win was a vote of confidence in Singapore’s future.

“I pledge and it will be my duty to use the roles and responsibilities of the president to advance this future of optimism and solidarity among Singaporeans. That is my pledge,” Mr Tharman said at the Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, surrounded by hundreds of jubilant supporters.

“Once again, let me just say that I am truly humbled, and I will honour the trust that Singaporeans have placed in me and respect all Singaporeans for the views they have expressed, including those who did not vote for me.”

Mr Tharman, 66, will be Singapore’s ninth president. He won the election with a vote share of 70.4 per cent.

His rivals, Mr Ng Kok Song and Mr Tan Kin Lian, received 15.72 and 13.88 per cent of the vote, respectively.

Thanking Singaporeans, Mr Tharman said his win was both a vote of confidence in Singapore, and also “a vote of optimism for a future in which we can progress together and support each other as Singaporeans”.

“That has been my platform, and I believe it has received strong endorsement by Singaporeans,” he said.

During his presidential election campaign, the former senior minister had often cited his track record in connecting with people from all backgrounds in Jurong, and said if he was elected, he would support ground-up initiatives to uplift the disadvantaged and work to bridge diverse views in society.

Mr Tharman is the first non-Chinese presidential candidate to win a contested election.

In his remarks to the media, he pointed out that this was a contested election with a multiracial slate.

“I have always said that race is never absent in politics anywhere in the world, or even in an apolitical election like this case. Race is never absent, but it is not the only factor.

“And I think with each half decade, Singapore is changing and evolving, and I hope that my being elected president is seen as another milestone in that process of evolution.”

Before he stepped down from his posts to run in the election, Mr Tharman had been an MP for Jurong GRC’s Taman Jurong division for over two decades.

It was where he made his political debut in the 2001 General Election. Over the years, the veteran politician built a solid base of support in the constituency.

In the 2020 General Election, Mr Tharman led the People’s Action Party’s Jurong GRC team to a thumping victory, with a 74.62 per cent vote share.

Political observers said it was Mr Tharman’s relatability and personality that helped him get such an overwhelming lead.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Mr Tharman was one of the more respected and popular ministers before he resigned from the Cabinet.

“I think the primary reason people voted for him is because of his honesty, sincerity, his genuineness and his international standing,” said Dr Mustafa.

“Among the three candidates, he was the one who was able to articulate the role of the president the best.”

Some of the key issues during the hustings included the limit of the president’s role, how he would perform his custodial functions, as well as his independence from the establishment.

Mr Ng cited his credentials as former GIC chief investment officer and emphasised that he had the financial nous for the job. He also stressed that he was the only candidate without any prior party affiliations.

Meanwhile, Mr Tan, the former chief executive of NTUC Income, who was seen largely as the anti-establishment candidate, had prominent opposition politicians including Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Jee Say throw their support behind him.

During his campaign, Mr Tan would often bring up bread-and-butter issues, and stoke what his critics said were xenophobic and nativist sentiments.

“It became a polarising contest, and voters in the middle ground became cautious and decided pragmatically to vote for Tharman,” said Dr Mustafa.

Mr Tharman’s early lead, once the sample counts were published, meant the contest was as good as over even before the official results were announced.

But the writing was on the wall from about 10pm.

Then, Mr Tan arrived at his home in Yio Chu Kang where his supporters had gathered after visiting several counting centres. He went straight inside without saying much to reporters.

Meanwhile, Mr Tharman was mobbed by hundreds of jubilant supporters when he arrived at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre.

Both Mr Ng and Mr Tan would go on to congratulate Mr Tharman before the official results were announced.


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