SINGAPORE: Presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam has urged his fellow candidates to refrain from “politicising” the Presidential Election 2023 (PE2023).
These comments from the former People’s Action Party (PAP) senior minister arise after Dr. Tan Cheng Bock, a candidate from the Presidential Election 2011, endorsed former competitor Tan Kin Lian’s presidential campaign on Sunday (27 Aug).
During a press conference following a morning walkabout, Dr. Tan, chair of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) but speaking in his personal capacity as a previous presidential contender, extended his endorsement to Mr. Tan Kin Lian.
The 83-year-old emphasized their shared vision, describing their bond as that of “comrades.”
Dr Tan stressed the need for an “independent president” and highlighted the president’s vital role in overseeing the nation’s reserves and ensuring competent governance.
Hinting at potential risks presented by establishment-aligned candidates, Dr. Tan stated, “Someone aligned with the establishment might become very uncomfortable if they choose to take decisions contrary to what establishment figures desire.”
A spokesperson representing Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s campaign team addressed media inquiries about Dr. Tan’s endorsement of Tan Kin Lian on Sunday (27 Aug) by stating, “Mr. Tharman has consistently urged all his fellow candidates to avoid politicising the Presidential Elections.”
“The emphasis should be on each candidate’s individual character, breadth of experience, and their potential contributions to Singapore’s future as head of state.”
Mr Tharman’s former colleagues endorse his bid for Presidency
However, it’s challenging not to perplex fellow voters, particularly since even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a former colleague of Mr Tharman, has publicly endorsed Mr Tharman’s aspiration to enter the Presidential race.
On 8 June, Mr Tharman formally announced his resignation from the PAP, in order to participate in PE 2023 as a candidate cannot be part of any political party.
In a letter response to Mr Tharman’s resignation from both Cabinet and PAP, PM Lee aid he and Tharman have worked closely in many roles for the last 27 years, and his departure from the Cabinet and the Party will be a “heavy loss” to him and his team.
PM Lee, who is also the Secretary General of PAP, said he is confident that Mr Tharman will carry out President’s duties scrupulously and with the independence of mind Mr Tharman has always displayed.
‘Should you be elected as our next President, ” Mr Lee wrote in the letter, “I fully appreciate that you will now be in a different role with different responsibilities.”
“You will no longer be a member of the executive; instead you will be exercising your custodial powers independently to protect our past reserves and the integrity of the public service as specified in the Constitution. ”
“This is a vital function in the Singapore system of government. I am confident that you will carry out these duties scrupulously and with the independence of mind you have always displayed.”
Teo Chee Hean hails Mr Tharman’s “enormous contributions” to the country
Besides PM Lee, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, in a Facebook post also hailed Mr Tharman’s “enormous contributions” to the country.
He said: “We’ve worked closely together for more than 25 years – in Cabinet and MOE (the Ministry of Education).
“He has done Singapore proud both at home and abroad. I wish him all the very best as he seeks to serve our people and Singapore in a new capacity.”
Secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Ng Chee Meng called Mr Tharman a “longtime friend of NTUC and our union leaders”.
“His incredible vision and wisdom, coupled with a certain unassuming sense of warmth and humility, has benefitted union leaders and workers far and wide in the past few decades,” he wrote on Facebook.
Mr Ng highlighted Tharman’s invaluable guidance during the COVID-19 crisis, recalling his role in convening the National Jobs Council and emphasizing the importance of unity and care for middle-aged and older workers.
It’s worth noting that Ng Chee Meng, who is also a member of the PAP, had contested in the Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) during the 2020 general election, but unfortunately was unable to secure the seat.
K Shanmugam praised Mr Tharman as a “strong candidate”
Another former colleague and fellow PAP member to Mr Tharman, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, also lauded Mr Tharman’s qualities as a “strong candidate” and staunchly defended the autonomy underlying Mr Tharman’s decision-making process.
“If Mr Tharman… does anybody think that he is anyone’s patsy or if someone asks him to stand in his stance, he is his own man,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“He decides. He makes up his mind. And if you look at it like that, he’s a strong candidate. Does that become the PAP’s fault that he’s a strong candidate? I think some things are probably properly laid at our door and some things I think we shouldn’t be responsible for. ”
“Good candidate comes forward. Well, that’s pluralism. And, you know, Singapore has other good candidates.”
Addressing the insinuation that Mr Tharman’s candidacy, backed by the government, could signify the PAP desire for reduced political pluralism, Mr Shanmugam counterargued that the level of political diversity is ultimately determined by the citizens of the country.
“I am yet to come across outside of Scandinavia any country that has successfully made political pluralism work for its citizens, particularly when you factor in the fact that we are extremely small and have more variety of natural insecurities, leave us, like whether it’s me or somebody else or in PAP or whatever, this is Singapore, This is what you have.”