Featured News Not good enough for PM, but good enough for President? — Netizens...

Not good enough for PM, but good enough for President? — Netizens dub Tharman’s bid for president a “waste”

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"Tharman4President is a significant downgrade from Tharman4PM. What a waste of his caliber. Sigh," a netizen commented

SINGAPORE: While a large segment of Singaporeans have welcomed Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam‘s announcement that he plans to contest the Presidential Election set to take place later this year, some have also said that his bid for the largely ceremonial role is “a waste” since he has what it takes to be Singapore’s next Prime Minister.

Some have also pointed out that the Government’s narrative that Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister is at odds with its wholehearted support for Mr Tharman’s decision, asking whether he is not good enough for the PM role but good enough for the President’s seat.

Mr Tharman is widely seen as one of the most accomplished Cabinet members and is certainly one of the most well-liked across the country. He is so beloved that Singaporeans have time and again called him the people’s choice to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

However, both PM Lee and his late father – Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – have publicly said they don’t feel Singapore is ready for a non-Chinese PM.

In the 1980s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said he had considered then-Minister for National Development, S Dhanabalan, to be the Prime Minister of Singapore but decided that the country was not ready for an Indian head of government.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong echoed his father’s views in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama got elected as the first black President of the United States of America. He said:

“Will it happen soon? I don’t think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments—who votes for whom, and what makes him identify with that person—these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it.”

In March 2019, Heng Swee Keat – who had been identified as PM Lee’s successor at the time – echoed this sentiment as he spoke to students at a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) forum. When asked whether it is Singapore or the PAP that is not ready for a non-Chinese PM, Mr Heng asserted that the older generation is not prepared to accept a minority PM.

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Noting that many students might be happy to have a non-Chinese PM, Heng said that his “own experience in walking the ground, in working with different people from all walks of life, is that the views — if you go by age and by life experience — would be very different.”

He added: “I do think that at the right time when enough people think that we may have a minority leader, a minority who becomes the leader of the country, that is something that we can all hope for.”

Mr Heng asserted that he witnessed Singapore’s reluctance to accept a non-Chinese PM as he observed the elections: “I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But for an election, it becomes an issue.”

Referring to the reserved presidential election in which ex-PAP MP Halimah Yacob enjoyed a walkover victory to the Istana, Mr Heng defended the government’s position saying it is “not contradictory.”

He reasoned: “It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally that we recognize that we have not arrived. It is important for us to ensure that we have that safeguard.”

Survey results over the years have only debunked the PAP leaders’ perspectives.

Days after Mr Heng said that he does not believe Singaporeans are ready for a non-Chinese PM, a whopping 92 percent of 19,900 individuals responding to a viral Facebook poll voted for Mr Tharman to succeed PM Lee and become the nation’s next head of Government, instead of Mr Heng.

The sentiments Singaporeans expressed in the latest poll matched the result of The Independent Singapore’s poll in 2017 when we asked our readers who should be the next PM. Out of 2,316 responses, most (1882 votes) voted for Tharman to lead Singapore into the future.

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A Blackbox survey commissioned by Yahoo Singapore confirmed the results of our poll. In that survey, 69 percent of 897 respondents said they would support Tharman as a candidate to become prime minister.

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In 2016, an IPS survey showed that the majority of Singaporeans were already accepting of a non-Chinese PM. 60.8 per cent of respondents said they would accept a Malay Prime Minister, while 64.3 per cent said they would accept an Indian head of government.

A similar survey conducted more recently by CNA-IPS in 2022 shows that Singaporeans have only grown more open to the idea of a non-Chinese Prime Minister. Last year, 69.6 percent of respondents said they would accept a Malay PM, and 70.5 percent said they would accept an Indian PM.

While both ordinary and more prominent Singaporeans have asked why Mr Tharman has been cast aside for the top job, given his outstanding qualifications, the Senior Minister himself has ruled himself out for the top job.

When asked in 2016 to comment on the Yahoo poll that identified him as the top choice to be Singapore’s fourth PM, Mr Tharman said: “Just to be absolutely clear, because I know of this talk that’s going around, I’m not the man for PM. I say that categorically. It’s not me. I know myself, I know what I can do, and it’s not me.”

He added: “I’m good at policymaking, I’m good at advising my younger colleagues, and at supporting the PM – not at being the PM. That’s not me.”

Mr Tharman is five years younger than PM Lee. When asked whether his age was a concern for whether he would be considered for the PM role, he told the press: “I’m quite clear about this. I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of doing, and I know how I am best able to serve Singapore.”

While Mr Tharman was decisive about rejecting the people’s desires to see him as PM, he has now, seven years later, accepted the call of some Singaporeans who wish to see him as President.

In a letter announcing his decision to pursue the presidential election and his retirement from politics, Mr Tharman indicated that one of the reasons behind his decision is the people’s requests. He said:

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“I have been humbled by the requests I have received in recent months, from Singaporeans from different walks of life, to stand in the Presidential Election if President Halimah chooses not to stand again.”

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While some have embraced Mr Tharman’s decision, a segment of Singaporeans are lamenting his choice. Calling his pursuit of the presidency a “waste,” given the figurehead role of the President and how he is perceived to be better suited for the PM post, some netizens have expressed feeling shortchanged by the latest chair-swapping bout.

Redditor u/smurflings said in a top comment that received 800 upvotes: “He seems overly qualified and if he has to give up the rest of his work, might be a bit of a waste.”

Hundreds upvoted similar comments that expressed dissatisfaction.

u/nanyate_ said in a comment: “Tharman4President is a significant downgrade from Tharman4PM. What a waste of his caliber. Sigh.” Their sentiment was echoed by u/AEsylumProductions, who said, “Our requests were to run for Prime Minister, not President. Facepalm.”

u/baabaabla asserted, “This is very unfortunate… he deserves a much bigger role than a ceremonial title,” while u/jeewolf said: “Cabinet is already short of good ministers. With this, we’ve lost another one. It’s Singapore’s loss. Quite a waste of his capability to take on this ceremonial role.”

The second most-liked comment on the Singapore subreddit was by u/ppboy, who jibed: “He got tired of people asking him to become Prime Minister so he’s gonna become President instead.”

Read also:

PE2023: Will Tan Kin Lian be a Goliath slayer? – Singapore News

PE2023: In the race, Lim Hng Khiang? Or Khaw Boon Wan? – Singapore News 

PE2023: Get a real president this time, we have already wasted six years – Singapore News

PE2023: Have a real contest or simply make it an Endorsed Presidency – Singapore News

PE2023: Restore integrity of the presidency, let’s have a real fight this time – Singapore News

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