Singapore’s former deputy premier Tharman Shanmugaratnam won Friday’s presidential race in a landslide, suggesting voters didn’t let recent scandals involving the ruling party affect their decision to support him.
(Bloomberg) — Singapore’s former deputy premier Tharman Shanmugaratnam won Friday’s presidential race in a landslide, suggesting voters didn’t let recent scandals involving the ruling party affect their decision to support him.
Tharman, who served in key roles within the People’s Action Party for more than two decades, took in 70.4% of votes, according to the Elections Department early Saturday.
“It is not just a vote for me, it is a vote for Singapore’s future,” Tharman, 66, told reporters after a sample count showed he was in the lead. “My campaign was one of optimism and solidarity and I believe that’s what Singaporeans want.”
Ng Kok Song, a former chief investment officer of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte., took second place with 15.7%. Tan Kin Lian, who was a 2011 presidential hopeful, came in third with 13.9%.
Candidates with long-standing ties to the PAP have dominated the largely-ceremonial post since it became an elected position three decades ago.
The results for the non-partisan role indicate Singaporeans are supporting the ruling party as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong plans to step aside after nearly two decades in office. Lee’s succession is expected to coincide with national polls that must be called by 2025.
Tharman’s win “will make the PAP heave a sigh of relief but I don’t think the victory can be attributed to the party as much as Tharman’s own popularity,” said Nydia Ngiow, managing director at strategic business consultancy firm BowerGroupAsia.
Voters have been grappling with rising living costs, especially expensive housing, while the trade-reliant nation faces slowing growth and weaker global demand. A series of political scandals is also putting the government’s clean reputation to test.
Tony Tan, a former deputy prime minister backed by Lee, won the last contested presidential polls twelve years ago that was decided by a margin of less than 1% in a recount.
While the prime minister runs the government, the president holds some powers such as the right to veto spending bills or requests to draw on past reserves. During the pandemic, Tharman’s predecessor approved the use of past reserves to fund extraordinary spending needs.
The president, whose term runs for six years, signs off on key civil service appointments and can instruct the anti-graft agency to continue an investigation even if the premier objects.
Tharman has sought to cast himself as independent-minded with a breadth of government experience. He won the biggest margin of votes among PAP members of parliament in the 2020 general election despite the party’s worst-ever showing.
Lee has touted Tharman’s credentials, saying he could “scrupulously” carry out the duties of the president. Yet Tharman’s connections to his former party have seen him take a defensive position at a forum this week.
“All the senior people on the public track, they owe their positions to bosses who are political figures,” Tharman said at the time. “Are they obligated to their bosses because of that? Not necessarily. It depends on the individual.”
(Updates with final election results from second paragraph)
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