After six years of damage to its integrity and relevance, the Elected Presidency sprang back to life this year. And it has self-corrected beyond expectations, including getting voters to see through all the noise and choose Tharman Shanmugaratnam as their next President.
There was resounding endorsement for Tharman. The results of PE 2023 could not be clearer:
Tharman Shanmugaratnam – 70.40% (1,746, 427 votes)
Ng Kok Song – 15.72% (390,041 votes)
Tan Kin Lian – 13.88% (344,292 votes)
And he fought it clean. Voters will remember this and expect future elections, GEs or PEs, to adopt such a tone, by and large.
For a moment, though, PE2023 saw attempts to use the results and personalities of 2011, an election 12 years ago, to try and influence the outcome of the latest election. The appearance of Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Jee Say to support Tan Kin Lian seemed to suggest that a combination of all the votes for the trio in 2011 if replicated in the latest election would spell victory for the former CEO of NTUC Income. Nothing of that sort happened.
This was what happened in PE2011:
Tony Tan – 35.20% (745,693 votes)
Tan Cheng Bock – 34.85% (738,311 votes)
Tan Jee Say – 25.04% (530,441 votes)
Tan Kin Lian – 4.91% (104,095 votes)
The reasoning probably would be that most of the votes that went to Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Jee Say would be diverted to Tan Kin Lian. That did not happen. Simple: 2023 is not 2011 and Tan Kin Lian is neither Tan Cheng Bock nor Tan Jee Say. There was a voters’ awakening in 2011 which resulted in the loss of Aljunied GRC by the ruling party to the Opposition. Issues included crowded trains, influx of foreign workers, loss of jobs. The revolt was also reflected in the near-capitulation of Tony Tan in PE2011. Some of the issues are still around but they are now better managed. For PE2023, neither the middle ground who went for Tan Cheng Bock in 2011 nor many of the Anything But PAP block who backed Tan Jee Say switched to Tan Kin Lian. In fact, the middle ground now went to Tharman and even a portion of the woke crowd who went for Tan Jee Say saw Tharman as a reforming type.
The nitty-gritty of the election apart, Tharman seems the right man for the occasion.
Much has been said about the importance of having someone hold the second key to the reserves. Such a custodial role does not mean much if the person holding that key does not have anything beyond a layman’s knowledge of how the sovereign funds are built up and managed. Tharman’s expertise after having worked at MAS, GIC and Temasek is a great asset at a time like this, as the country dips into its reserves to help fund some major programmes including healthcare for the ageing population.
There is a leadership transition underway. And it is taking place at a time when the world order that we are used to and are familiar with is being threatened. The US-China rivalry, Russian invasion of Ukraine, climate change – it is good to have someone like Tharman in the Istana. He says being Singapore’s president gives him the platform to promote Singapore. I think Goliath will do a great job as Singapore’s next President.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.