‘I certainly much prefer a contest’, says Tharman of upcoming presidential election

Singapore's Senior Minister described his current role as being a defender in a football team but he added that if he becomes president, he will be more like a referee.

Michelle Ng

Michelle Ng

The Straits Times


Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Jurong GRC MPs (from left) Shawn Huang, Rahayu Mahzam and Xie Yao Quan at the opening of ActiveSG Sport Village @ Jurong Town on Sunday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

June 12, 2023

SINGAPORE – Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who intends to run in the upcoming presidential election, said on Sunday that he hoped for a contest and would not be “on the same team” as the Government if elected.

Speaking at the opening of ActiveSG Sport Village @ Jurong Town, he described his current role in the Government as being a defender in a football team, citing an analogy he had used in the past.

But he added that if he becomes president, he will be more like a referee.

“On football, I’m not on the same team as the Government once I’m president. Be very clear about that,” he said, when asked by the media to use a sporting analogy to explain why he intends to run and what positions his fellow Jurong GRC MPs play in.

“All I meant is that my cast of mind all along has been that I like being a defence. But I’m not in the same team.”

At the launch of the sport village, Mr Tharman tried his hand at indoor hockey and met residents who wished him well.

Since making known his intention to step down as a senior minister and leave the People’s Action Party (PAP) to run in the presidential election, Mr Tharman has been touted by commentators as a trump card in the polls.

Some have also speculated that his popularity may deter other contestants.

Asked about this on Sunday, he said: “We have to see who comes up. But I certainly much prefer a contest.

“Having a contest is important for me. I much rather win or lose with the contest. My whole approach is not to shy away from competition, it has always been that way. It’s how I prove myself.”

The issue of his independence has also come up for discussion among some who point out that he has been in politics for 22 years as a member of the PAP and a top leader in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Cabinet.

When asked, he declined to comment, adding that he was not in campaign mode for now and would talk about the issue later.

“But those who know me, know me quite well. They know who I really am and my views. So I’ll talk about that later. I really don’t want to get into what appears to be a campaign messaging at this point,” he said.

He stressed that he will still be in Government for the next month and will be concentrating on his work and duties.

He also declined to comment when asked about potential candidates such as Mr George Goh, an entrepreneur and non-resident ambassador to Morocco, whose name has been brought up by some observers.

When asked about his international engagements, Mr Tharman said that he would continue to be on some of the international high-level panels if he is elected, if it serves Singapore’s interests.

Mr Tharman, 66, is the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming presidential election, due by Sept 13, when President Halimah Yacob’s term ends.

His current posts include senior minister since 2019, coordinating minister for social policies since 2015, and Monetary Authority of Singapore chairman since 2011.

He has been deputy chairman of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC since 2019, and chairs its Investment Strategies Committee.

His previously held portfolios include deputy prime minister, finance minister and education minister. He has given himself until July 7 to leave his posts in Government and step down as an MP for Jurong GRC, where he was first elected to Parliament in November 2001, and has been re-elected four times since.

On what will happen in Jurong after he resigns, he had previously said the other MPs in the constituency – Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law Rahayu Mahzam, Dr Tan Wu Meng, Mr Xie Yao Quan and Mr Shawn Huang – will take over his duties.

Mr Huang will cover the Meet-the-People Sessions at Taman Jurong, apart from his own at Jurong Spring. The other three MPs will take turns to help at other events.

Mr Tharman said he was sad to step down as MP, adding that his residents, too, had expressed sadness, though they wished him well. “I think they will be very well taken care of and I wish them all well personally, as families and for the whole community. Jurong will be okay,” he added.

He also said in response to questions on who may fill his seat in Jurong GRC: “I think we will have a strong team in Jurong. I’m sure the party will ensure that.”

Retired factory manager Edward Chng, 69, who has been living in Taman Jurong for the last 40 years, said his “ulu”, or remote, neighbourhood had transformed under Mr Tharman’s watch into a place with plenty of activities.

He added that it would not be easy for another MP to fill his shoes, since “Mr Tharman is a big man who overshadows many”. But the long-time resident, who was at the sports village to play pickleball, also said: “I would like to see Mr Huang succeed and meet him one day on the pickleball court.”

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