Featured News Tharman's Independence Questioned by George Goh as Both Bid for Singapore's Presidency

Tharman’s Independence Questioned by George Goh as Both Bid for Singapore’s Presidency

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“... 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,” Mr Tharman said on the issue of his independence

SINGAPORE: Entrepreneur George Goh Ching Wah questioned Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s independence from the ruling party if he were to become Singapore’s next head of state, as he announced his own bid for the presidency today (12 June).

The 63-year-old, who serves as the group executive chairman of Ossia International and is perhaps most well known for bringing Australian home appliance brand Harvey Norman to Singapore, put himself forth as an independent prospective candidate in an official press release.

The press release stated: “Being so closely aligned with the ruling political party, the question is whether (Mr Tharman) is the right man to become President. This is especially so, given the President’s role in checking the Government in the two important areas concerned with the national reserves and key public office appointments.

“To maintain the integrity of the office, the President must not only be above politics but be perceived as such.”

The statement also revealed that Mr Goh decided to contest the next open election back in 2017 after the eligibility criteria for private sector candidates were amended. Referring to the 2017 reserved presidential election that saw ex-ruling party MP Halimah Yacob become President in an uncontested race, the statement said:

“He was concerned that the more stringent conditions might lead to another uncontested election, as was the case in 2017 with President Madam Halimah Yacob, a former Speaker of Parliament.”

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Pointing to the ties Singapore’s past presidents have had with the Government, the statement added, “All four of Singapore’s past elected presidents were political appointment holders or from the public sector. It is time to have a truly independent person with a pair of fresh eyes to play the role the Elected President was created for.”

While Mr Goh has served as Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Morocco since 2017, he resigned from his post on Friday (9 June) – the day after Mr Tharman announced his intention to stand in the upcoming poll – in order to maintain his independence as he contests the election.

The press statement clarifies: “He has no political party affiliations – past or present. He has no political baggage. He was never in the public sector.”

The Independent Singapore reported earlier that Mr Goh might emerge as a potential presidential candidate after some of his recent activities on social media hinted that he may enter the race as a contender against the Senior Minister.

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Since May of last year, Mr Goh has been regularly updating his Facebook page, and he also launched a personal website in October, further fueling speculation about his intentions. He also reportedly sought the assistance of seasoned media professional Bertha Henson to handle his media and publicity affairs.

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However, when asked directly about his plans for the presidency, Mr Goh’s spokesperson responded with a concise “no updates” – until the press statement released today.

Aside from his chairman post at Ossia International, a prominent local listed company, and his ambassadorial role in Morocco, Mr Goh has owned seven listed companies across Singapore, Britain, and Australia.

To qualify as a presidential candidate, individuals from the private sector must have held a top corporate executive position for a minimum of three years.

Additionally, the average annual shareholders’ equity of the company during its tenure must exceed 500 million yuan, and the company must maintain a net profit. The company cannot face liquidation or bankruptcy within three years after the candidate’s departure from their executive role.

Mr Goh’s personal website also showcases his extensive contributions to philanthropy, corporate leadership, diplomacy, and education. Notably, in 2015, Mr Goh and his wife Lysa Sumali established the charitable organization, Border Mission, which focuses on helping the underprivileged in local communities, the Himalayas, and developing countries.

He is expected to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to contest the upcoming Presidential Election alongside Mr Tharman when the Elections Department opens the application period tomorrow.

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On his part, Mr Tharman has said that he welcomes the competition.

Asserting that being part of a contest is important to him, he said on Sunday (11 June): “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 the contest. My whole approach is not to shy away from competition, it has always been that way. It’s how I prove myself.”

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When asked for his comments on the issue of his independence, Mr Tharman said he is focused on his Government duties and will talk about this later, as he is not in campaign mode now. He added:

“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.

Using a football analogy, Mr Tharman also said he will be like a referee if elected, compared to the “defender” role he plays as a Cabinet member now.

Is George Goh Ching Wah emerging as a potential presidential contender?

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