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Election surprises and certainties: Dissecting Tharman’s presidential win

In the 2023 Presidential Election, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured a stunning 70.4% landslide victory, surprising many, including himself.

Despite expectations that TKL would win the opposition votes, voters from both camps showed a preference for Tharman’s charisma and perceived competency.

As Singapore reflects on the outcome, questions arise about the election’s fairness and the real implications of Tharman’s dominant win.

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Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be Singapore’s next President after securing a landslide victory with 70.4 per cent of the vote in the Presidential Election 2023.

The final result, announced by the returning officer shortly after midnight on Saturday (Sep 2), placed Mr Ng Kok Song (NKS) in second place with 15.72 per cent, followed by Mr Tan Kin Lian (TKL), who received 13.88 per cent.

There were 50,152 rejected votes, representing 1.98 per cent of the total votes cast.

Many expressed shock over the landslide results, including President-elect Tharman Shanmugaratnam. On Saturday (2 Sep), he expressed his surprise at the margin of victory, remarking that he “hadn’t expected such remarkable unity.”

Many observers believed that TKL would absorb votes from the opposition and middle-ground voters, as PE2011 demonstrated. In that election, former president Tony Tan received just over 35 per cent of votes, with the remainder split between Dr Tan Cheng Bock (TCB), Tan Jee Say, and TKL.

The former Senior Minister, who served for 22 years with the People’s Action Party, commented that the results indicate voters don’t believe a Cabinet background diminishes one’s ability to be non-partisan.

While Mr Tharman attributed his win to his non-partisan stance, online comments and feedback from a non-partisan group covering polling day revealed different insights.

On top of hard-core PAP supporters, commenters online, such as on Facebook and Reddit, shared that the support of opposition figures intensified fears that TKL might win due to a “freak election” outcome.

Consequently, some opposition supporters, initially considering spoiling their vote, decided to back Tharman, whom they saw as a charismatic figure, to prevent such an outcome.

As for those resistant to voting for a PAP minister, especially young voters, NKS became their preferred choice given how much exposure he had over the past couple of days on social media.

Over the course of less than two weeks, NKS’ newly created Instagram page has grown from zero to over 140k followers through a well-run digital campaign with influencers and social media advertising.

TKL’s perceived unelectability became evident as his campaign suffered.

He attributed controversial Facebook posts about “pretty girls” to a smear campaign rather than owning up to them.

This, combined with further questionable actions, such as preventing his wife from speaking to the media, didn’t sit well with many voters. Although TKL did eventually apologize, for many, the damage was irreversible.

Besides his actions and antics, some aspects of his campaign were also poorly conceived. For instance, he used his personal blog as his campaign website, which contained his questionable past rants.

Additionally, he chose a logo so intricate that it’s hard to identify—was it a flower, a ball? In contrast, Tharman’s straightforward fruit logo was easy for people to associate with.

For example, Tharman’s supporters would simply say, “Vote for the pineapple,” while TKL’s supporters might struggle to find an apt descriptor, and resorting to “Vote for Tan Kin Lian,” with some possibly not recognizing the face on the ballot paper.

Even NKS’ logo, which depicted a heart in a hand, was easy to articulate and recognize.

Some staunch opposition supporters criticized Singaporean voters over the results, but the election results underscored the priorities of the populace: they value competency and appropriate representation over mere partisanship and checks and balances on the ruling government.

Furthermore, the government has consistently stated that the President’s role isn’t executive. Many voters felt TKL didn’t understand this, especially during the debate among the three candidates on Monday, where the moderator chimed in to remind voters that what TKL said he wanted to do is not within the powers of the President.

While some conspiracy theorists hinted at vote tampering, the non-partisan group monitoring the election found no substantial evidence to support these claims. Notably, some polling agents observed that some senior voters seemed confused about the nature of the election, mistakenly believing they were voting for the PAP or asking to vote for the PAP’s candidate.

Although some might argue that endorsements from opposition figures, such as TCB and Dr Chee Soon Juan, hurt TKL’s chances, it’s more likely that their support prevented him from losing his deposit, as he did in PE2011. TKL’s result was just 1.38% above the minimum 12.5% required to avoid forfeiting the deposit.

Comparing voter turnout, PE2023 (93.41%) saw a slight dip from PE2011 (94.80%) and GE2020 (95.81%), which might suggest a larger number of voters were disillusioned with the presidential election.

One might speculate that even if TKL had not contested, the outcome wouldn’t have changed significantly. There might have been more rejected votes, but Tharman’s victory was almost a given.

In summary, instead of Tharman being more popular than expected as the results suggest, it was TKL’s participation in the election that likely boosted Tharman’s votes higher than anticipated.

It is also apparent that NKS, who refrained from using campaign materials and did not field any polling or counting agents, ran merely to legitimize Tharman’s presidency and avoid a repeat of the embarrassing uncontested win of Madam Halimah Yacob in the reserved race election of 2017.

Post-election, NKS is likely to return to run his investment fund company in which Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, invested S$4 billion.

Under the current stringent criteria for private sector Presidential candidates, it’s challenging to envision anyone seriously rivalling Tharman to partake in the presidential election, other than rich-entitled old men like what we see in this time round.

The way Singapore conducts its presidential election seems to mock the concept of a fair election. The criteria restrict participation to a select few, often favoring the establishment, giving the impression that voters are merely participating in a charade instead of genuinely selecting the best candidate for the job from the entire country.

Perhaps, as the Workers’ Party has consistently advocated in Parliament, we should consider reverting to an appointed ceremonial presidency where the government chooses the best person to represent the country. This system could be on a rotational basis for different races, as intended by the reserved race elections.

Nevertheless, what we must acknowledge from the election results is that there’s a unified opinion among Singaporeans: Tharman is best suited to represent Singapore on the international stage. In a way, Tharman is correct in stating that he is a unifying figure.

The implications of Tharman’s landslide win are manifold. We can identify three key takeaways:

  1. The PAP may find it challenging to suggest in the upcoming General Election, which must be held by 2025, that Singapore might witness a ‘freak election’. This is because the Presidential Election has demonstrated that voters make rational decisions.
  2. Voters need not fear a non-PAP government raiding the reserves, especially with a President like Tharman overseeing appointments and the reserves for the next six years—or 12 if he decides to stand again in the election.
  3. Most crucially, can the PAP still justify a reserved race election, as was done in 2016 with the amendments to the Singapore constitution?

Only time will determine if Tharman will align closely with the PAP, as his predecessors did, or if he will emulate the late Ong Teng Cheong, who was widely admired for standing his ground for the betterment of Singaporeans because he had a job to do.

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You have endorses it !!!

Come next year 9% GST increase, don’t kpkb food prices rocketed .Good luck

Now 70% bought a nice looking pineapple, let’s see if it’s sweet or sour!

It could even be rotten inside or just hollow!

Whatever it is, we are paying for it. $10 million. That’s a lot of juice. Hope better than milo!

This PE only shows the pappies doesn’t really know the ground – if Tharman can get 70.4% of votes, then they should have used him to take back one of the Oppies GRC in the next election. But no, clearly Kayu Son is using Tharman in this PE to atone for creating the really stupid Reserved President nonsense the last time round.

Meanwhile, notice how Halimah is now like totally nonexistent. Just to show she is still alive and doing some “good” for SG, last evening news showed her overseeing the change of Guards at the Istana. Highest paid president, just to see guards changing – CBL or not?

Anyway in last GE, pap emphasized voters not to vote for specific individuals but on the party. Now they going gaga over the high vote count for Tharman, an individual. So hypocritical, hor. But everyone knows flip-flopping prata style is the hallmark of the pappies, hor.

Enough harping over this PE; it had been conducted, and a winner elected. We should be more concern with the next GE, not this pony sideshow of a PE. The high confidence Singaporeans have in Tharman only indicates they dun think he is Kayu material. In fact, now LawlanWong would be under pressure, since if he can’t deliver, then ppl will question why Tharman wasn’t made the next-apparent PM. Poor judgment from the Boss? Can Ah loong restored PAP votes to over 75+%, as was handed over to him by Ah Goh? Goh can get 76%, Tharman 70.4%, Loong only… Read more »

in my view, the opposition (with exception of WP) made a mess of itself in this election. they now realize the die-die vote opposition, even if they are mad man, is only 15%. some reasonable quality of candidate is important. many opposition supporters are still stunned how they can support TKL. second point is these opposition have made a lot of noise about problems, but have no solution. they have to come out with a comprehensive vision of their policies, what they will change, how they will counter the negative repurcursions of those policies etc. and these policies need to… Read more »

Singaporeans love drama and that is exactly what ruling government controlled media provided. Smearing Tan Kin Lian by digging up social media posts and even getting NGOs to chime in. I will never voice any support for AWARE ever again. As for the collapsing fertility rate. I guess there are just no “pretty women” left in Singapore. So nobody wants to enter into relationships, get married and have children. The 70% will get what they voted for, and when prosperity shifts to another part of the world, as it will. There will only be “bitterness” left to eat. The only… Read more »

Nobody dare says a word about the results impact for the opposition camp. Tkl only managed to get 14% if the votes, not even half of the hardcore opposition usual votes. WP smartly abstain from doing anything hence will suffer no impact. The fringe alliance also will suffer little impact as their performance is usually abysmal. With the chiefs of psp and sdp openly endorsing tkl, will surely cause internal unhappiness and disagreement. They will suffer setback on the reputation and supporter trust and may reflect on the next GE performance. From the results do note that not all the… Read more »

President Tharman besides being his own man, smart and now independent, also has the benefit of having a 8-men Council of Presidential Advisors. Three of the members are appointed by the government, three by the President himself and one each by the Chief Justice and the Head of Public Service Commission. For an establishment President, literally all 8 members are directly and/or indirectly appointed by the government. While it can be said that the President’s own appointees are his decision, it’s not difficult to realise the President’s appointees could very well be recommended to him by the government. With the… Read more »

Got surprise meh?
What are the oppo losers trying to stir?
I would say it would BE A SURPRISE IF ANY OPPO connected person wins….anything particularly in any sort of election.
And just as to say what is going to happen in 2024 or 25, if oppo loses Seng Kang or even Hougang back to the PAP, then it would be NO SURPRISE!😆😆😆😆😆

Accept the truth and the truth will set you free. No point sulking and sucking thumb in this small room here while people are celebrating wildly outside. We are just nobody and no one cares what we think and write here. Get a life and you would be happier.

The 2 independent Davids against the established Goliath can describe this PE. To make it fairer, eligible President candidates should be selected 6 to 12 months before the sitting President’s 6 years term ended. It would level the ground, as both voters and candidates can get to know each other well. There would also amble preparation times for their campaigns. Unlike, GE there are no strict eligibility criteria. PE with eligibility criteria deserve a longer times.

Why polling cards got no name? Please lah ! Don’t tell no name means polling secret hor.

Now you got rubber stamp hor.

Can we have names on the polling cards to prevent ” ownself stamp ownself? What do you think? Prevention is better than cure. (Got printed etra polling cards right? ) tsk tsk tsk

“Pretty girls” are just excuses from smearing campaign? Not voting TKL by just blaming ” pretty girls” are indeed very CHILDISH !!! Are you living in the 3rd World? There are so many “pretty girls ” posted on tik tok?? So no one complaining?

IF TKL hugs an aunty like old man during the walk abouts, sure another big news !!! tsk tsk tsk

No onw is AWARE old man hugs aunty?

With internet so accessible, porn not accessible? don’t bluff lah. Are TKL pictures so offensive?

What do you think?

Instead of saying they want TKL to contest for a easier TM win by extending the number of years since he left ntuc income from , if recall correctly, 15 to 20 years, TKL call it Fate. Is TKL part of the game? Why would he purposely make himself look like so detestable on interviews especially Yah Lah But youtube channel? Take a look. Even the hosts which are quote fair to opposition usually are taken aback. Lim Tean is not what the people want. If run for GE2025 he will only make opposition worse. He is better off, migrate… Read more »

The other 2 candidates r so weak, one so poor in English, the other cannot even sing properly, waste of time..

Election is about what the majority people wants, their concerns and their outlook. Hence one got to really understand the ground to do better, it is not what you think, it is what the people wants. I checked around on what the people have in mind for this presidential election. They are looking for a smart, capable and experienced person to lead and run Singapore. Concern is someone cannot run Singapore and destroy our years of reserve. Ts fit their bill very well, as he sells himself. Nothing about political, cost of living….

Terry, best article I have read so far in gutzy/toc. Fair analysis, nothing fabricated nor bias against the government, align with my many observations. Continue with such standard article and your site will become great. Thanks.

Itchy backside, elect president to check on reserve?Just vote and change away the duties of president so no more Wayan!Like ho Ching said government will guard the reserve? Sometime you set rules to kill yourself!Bodoh!Anyway kick out a few ministers in 25 GE.Before they vote and alter Ridout clause 3.1 & 3.2 to (minister in charge of ministry can bid for state asset as long done openly and they take away the word may/might/possible,that the ministers might,possible gain from the transaction.

Nothing to analyse..
PAP is here to stay for another 100 years.
Though each time, they may capture less & less votes,
but still the majority in parliament or whatever thing
they cook up between now & then.

PAP has never experience losing control of parliament.

I wont be alive to witness their downfall..
Might as well live it up now…

problem is some of the hard core opposition like lim tean and psp are harping on issues that have no resonance with the bulk of Singaporeans. like ceca. most of the average person struggling for job know they cannot become software programmer. their jobs have been eaten by the malaysians and the prc, doing technician job, manufacturing job etc. do you know spore has same ceca-like agreement with China? and Malaysians can practically walk in and work in Singapore. they are 10 times more (ie 1000%) than ceca indians, and they drive the price up of hdb and general inflation.… Read more »

Good article Terry. NKS probably knew he will qualify, so he was prepared with his online campaigning. TKL, was unprepared at every level so his win of 13.8% was still a good showing. Well, the PAP wanted their own man in the Istana for their own reasons. They have got it.We can only hope a better performance from the Public to vote in the Opposition, failing which we can perhaps move to Taiwan as all about the PAP stinks and with global environment changes, there will be food shortages. LW has already indicated that the foreign population increase will continue.… Read more »

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