SINGAPORE: Singapore’s former Senior Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, officially launched his campaign for the presidency on Wednesday (26 Jul), with the vision to be “a President for a new era.”
The declaration took place at a press conference at the York Hotel, where Mr Tharman emphasized his desire to evolve Singapore’s culture and social norms.
This follows his announcement on 8 June that he would be running for the presidential office, a step which meant leaving his role in politics and the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Mr Tharman, accompanied by his wife, Jane Yumiko Ittogi, discussed the challenges Singapore is facing both on domestic and global scales. He warned against the threat of Singapore becoming a divided society, stressing the importance of unity for the nation.
He said, “If I’m fortunate enough to be elected as President, I pledge to bring my full experience and capabilities on the ground nationally and internationally, to serve as your President for this new and more challenging era.”
His 22 years in politics, he highlighted, have equipped him with the necessary experience to unify people – a crucial role for a President.
The seasoned politician has served in several key roles, including Minister for Education and Finance, Deputy Prime Minister from 2011 to 2019, and Senior Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Social Policies.
He was also a Member of Parliament for Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC). Before his political career, Mr Tharman worked as an economist and civil servant, primarily at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
The 66-year-old has an impressive international portfolio, with posts at the International Monetary Fund, World Economic Forum, and the United Nations.
Mr Tharman stressed he would apply his extensive experience in government and politics to fulfil presidential responsibilities such as safeguarding the reserves.
More importantly, however, he intends to maintain the integrity and independence of mind he’s known for, insisting, “I don’t have to change my colours like a chameleon. I’m the same person with the same integrity and same independence of mind, and that remains critical for the role of the President.”
Among the three publicly announced candidates, Mr Tharman is the only one who unequivocally meets the qualifications to run in the election as per Singapore’s Constitution. Entrepreneur George Goh and former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song also intend to contest in the upcoming Presidential Election.
However, Ho Ching, former Temasek CEO, in her Facebook posts, suggested that only two candidates supported by the People’s Action Party are likely to vie for the presidency.
The 2023 Presidential Election, which is open to all races, will be called soon as President Halimah Yacob’s six-year term ends on September 13.
The campaign launch also saw the attendance of Mr Tharman’s proposer, former Nominated MP Thomas Chua, seconder, Mr. Mohammad Alami Musa, Singapore’s ambassador to Algeria, and eight assenters.
Mr Tharman’s eight assenters are:
- Mr Hassan Ahmad, special advisor to interfaith non-profit organisation Humanity Matters
- Mr Ho Kwon Ping, founder and executive chairman of hospitality group Banyan Tree Group
- Ms Kamsinah Sadar, general manager of charity Tasek Jurong
- Mr Kim Whye Kee, ceramicist and founder of Qi Pottery and co-founder of Beacon of Life, an initiative to help at-risk youth
- Ms Mary Liew, president of the National Trades Union Congress
- Mr Lim Siong Guan, former group president of GIC and former head of the civil service
- Mr Royston Tan, film director and creative director of the 2023 National Day Parade
- Professor Veera Sekaran, professor in practice at the National University of Singapore.
Conflict of interest by Mr Tharman’s candidacy: Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Mr Tharman cited the example of former President Ong Teng Cheong, a former PAP Deputy Prime Minister, to illustrate independence from any past affiliation with a political party.
However, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary General of the Reform Party, had previously expressed doubts in a blog post in June about Mr Tharman’s eligibility as a presidential candidate, citing conflicts that Mr Tharman may possess, which the late Mr Ong did not.
In his blog post, Mr Jeyaretnam scrutinised Mr Tharman’s political history and personal character, raising questions over whether Mr Tharman, who had served in key positions in the PAP government, including as Finance Minister, would be an appropriate choice for the role of President, which is seen as a non-partisan role above politics.
Mr Jeyaretnam expressed concern over a perceived decline in Singaporeans’ appreciation for democratic principles, particularly checks and balances, and voiced opposition to Mr Tharman’s candidacy.
He suggested that as a former Finance Minister, Mr Tharman was instrumental in presenting what Jeyaretnam considers to be misleading budget accounts. He further criticized Mr Tharman’s subsequent roles as Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Deputy Chairman of GIC, saying it represents a “ludicrous conflict of interest” for him to now potentially hold a role tasked with auditing the management of the state’s reserves.
He finished with a stinging remark, describing the situation as “Ownself Check Ownself”.