Singapore holds first presidential election in decade


Singaporeans cast their vote on Friday, September 1, 2023 (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

Singaporeans head to the polls on Friday in the nation’s first contested presidential election in over a decade.

This election was closely observed as an indicator of support for the ruling party in the wake of a series of unusual political scandals.

While the president’s role is primarily ceremonial, the position comes with rigorous requirements. The president formally oversees the city’s substantial financial reserves and holds the authority to veto specific measures and approve anti-corruption investigations.

Singapore’s presidential candidates are required to have served either as a senior civil servant or as the CEO of a company with shareholder equity of at least 500 million Singaporean dollars ($370 million).

Despite the presidency being a non-partisan role according to the constitution, political divisions had already formed before the election to replace the incumbent, Halimah Yacob, who ran unopposed for her six-year term in 2017.

The government is led by the Prime Minister, currently Lee Hsien Loong of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has maintained uninterrupted rule in Singapore since 1959.

Observers noted that the outcome of this vote could reflect the level of support for the PAP leading up to the general elections scheduled for 2025 or reveal public sentiment following recent scandals, including a corruption investigation involving the transport minister and the resignations of two PAP lawmakers due to an affair.

“We aim for a prosperous Singapore,” said Patrick Low, a 70-year-old self-employed worker, after casting his vote.

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Unlike elections in other countries, where supporters often engage in noisy campaigning, the polling centres in Singapore saw long, orderly lines and a more subdued atmosphere.

The frontrunner in the election is Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister who was a longtime member of the PAP before resigning to run for president.

The 66-year-old economist was widely seen as having the government’s support, although questions about his independence arose during the campaign.

Another candidate, Tan Kin Lian, a 75-year-old former insurance executive, garnered the support of several opposition leaders. The third contender, Ng Kok Song, also 75, previously served as the chief investment officer of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, which manages the country’s foreign reserves.

No exit polls were conducted, and the results were expected to be announced late Friday night.

Voting is mandatory for Singapore’s over 2.7 million eligible citizens, and those who fail to vote without a valid reason risk removal from the voters’ list.


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