September 4, 2023
SINGAPORE – Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s landslide victory at the polls on Friday, and acceptance of the result by those who did not vote for him, show that the Singaporean electorate is mature and thoughtful, say voters.
Following a campaign in which the independence of presidential candidates from the establishment – as well as its impact on votes – garnered much attention, entrepreneur Grace Tang said voters from across the political spectrum had set aside party politics to elect him based on his merits.
Mr Tharman secured 70.4 per cent of the ballot. Former GIC investment chief Ng Kok Song received 15.72 per cent of the vote, while Mr Tan Kin Lian, the former chief executive of NTUC Income, received 13.88 per cent.
Ms Tang, 39, who had voted for Mr Ng, said the results also “put paid to the myth that Singapore is not ready for a minority candidate in the big posts”.
She said she hopes that Mr Tharman, 66, will “vindicate the electorate’s trust in him in the course of his presidency because I think people are expecting great things from him”.
Many of those who voted for Mr Tharman cited his track record in public service, as well as his good standing internationally, as reasons for their choice.
Shipping manager Srinivasan Raghunathan, 52, who voted for Mr Tharman, said: “He is well-connected internationally and a world-renowned figure. I’m sure when he speaks, Singaporeans will listen.
“That is an important aspect for a leader.”
Part-time bus coordinator Gladys Chen, who is in her 70s, said that in comparison, Mr Ng and Mr Tan lacked the exposure and experience of interacting with the public, which she said may have hampered their chances at the polls.
Retiree Chew Chan Yeow, 71, agreed.
“Based on their track records, they qualified to run. But then again, they do not have experience at the grassroots level, of serving the community, and also (lacked) the charisma,” he said, adding that he was grateful nonetheless that Mr Ng and Mr Tan gave Singaporeans an opportunity to elect a president.
The last contest in 2011 saw Mr Tan in a race with Mr Tan Jee Say, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Dr Tony Tan, who was elected president.
“As a democratic country, it’s good that we can have a truly elected president… and I hope that in the future, we will see more high-calibre candidates,” said Mr Chew.
Others who voted for Mr Tharman said his campaign slogan – Respect for All – resonated with them.
Retired teacher Tan Peng Chiang, 60, said: “I love it. It’s also my personal motto. I feel that we can have different views on policy in any area, but we have to respect different people’s views.”
Ms Chen, a resident of Taman Jurong – Mr Tharman’s former ward – said that in his interactions with her, the former senior minister embodied the message of his campaign slogan.
“He’s a humble man, and was friendly with everyone,” she said. “Over the campaign, I felt that his wisdom and composure came through in the way he fielded questions.”
Also relatable was Mr Tharman’s multilingualism, said clothing shop owner Ang Chon Seng, 73.
“When I saw him speaking on the television the other day (on Nomination Day), he spoke Mandarin and other languages. I was touched by that.
“I appreciate that he is multi-linguistic, because that means that he can relate with all Singaporeans,” said Mr Ang.
For first-time voters, Mr Tharman’s victory was not a surprise, but his winning margin was.
Nursing undergraduate Cheok Xin Lin said: “I feel it is a testament to the amount of trust that Singaporeans have in him given his track record as an MP for Jurong – you can really see that he served the people with his heart.”
The 22-year-old has lived in Taman Jurong since he was in kindergarten.
Human rights and politics student Aroni Sarkar, 23, said: “His perspectives on Singaporean issues are optimistic and his individual track record as a person, and as a politician speaks for itself.
“I think he resonates with a lot of young Singaporeans with his charisma, and the election process gives us hope for the future of Singaporean politics.”
Among those who voted for Mr Ng and Mr Tan, some said they did so as “check and balance” against the People’s Action Party, reflecting sentiments that Mr Tharman – having recently quit the party to stand for the presidential election – was the “establishment-endorsed” candidate.
Human resources specialist Leela Mohan, who voted for Mr Tan, said in reference to the combined vote count for Mr Ng and Mr Tan: “I’m happy there was competition as the 30 per cent check always seems there to oppose and keep the government officials on track for good governance.”
The 64-year-old added: “An election happened and the right person to take the seat won. I’m happy for Singapore, it will have a strong face to greet foreign dignitaries – again and as always.”
Others who did not vote for Mr Tharman wished him well.
Said 69-year-old crane operator Lim Ee Soon, who voted for Mr Ng as he felt the candidate had a passion for the country and wanted to give him a chance to serve: “I find it pitiful that Mr Ng lost, but also that he lost by so much.
“Ultimately, I congratulate Mr Tharman for winning this presidential election. I know he will do a good job. It’s clear Singaporeans believe that too.”