Kuala Lumpur Post

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Tharman Shanmugaratnam clinches Singapore presidency with landslide win

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans have elected the country’s ninth president, following a landslide victory for Tharman Shanmugaratnam who garnered 70.4 per cent of the votes despite what had appeared to be a bruising electoral fight with his rivals during the hustings.

In the end, Ng Kok Song, 75, former chief investment officer of sovereign wealth fund GIC, received 15.72 per cent of the votes while Tan Kin Lian, 75, former chief executive officer of NTUC Income insurance cooperative, got 13.88 per cent.

The results were announced by Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui at around 12.20am today (September 2) — more than four hours after polling closed on Friday night — although the sample count released less than two hours earlier had already accurately projected the margin of victory.

A total of 2,530,912 voters cast their ballots, representing about 93.4 per cent of the total number of registered voters, which is marginally lower than the 94.65 per cent voter turnout in the previous contested Presidential Election (PE) in 2011.

Out of this figure, around 50,152, or 1.98 per cent, of the total votes cast were rejected votes. These are ballots which were found in the ballot box unmarked or improperly marked. This is slightly higher than the 1.76 per cent of rejected votes in 2011.

The last PE in 2017 was reserved for ethnic Malays and won by Halimah Yacob via a walkover. President Halimah’s six-year term will end on September 13 and Tharman will be inaugurated as president the following day.

Posting on Facebook after the release of the final results, Tharman said: “I believe the vote for me and what I stood for is a vote of confidence in Singapore itself, a vote of optimism in how we can progress together and support each other as Singaporeans.”

He added: “It can, and must, be a future of deeper respect for each other, regardless of backgrounds and educational achievements.

“A future of closer interactions between our different faiths and cultures, so that we deepen our multicultural identity. A future of solidarity even as we hold to diverse views, which is natural in our democracy.”

At around 10.40pm, it became clear that Tharman, 66, was well ahead of his rivals when the Elections Department (ELD) announced the sample count giving Tharman 70 per cent of votes. Based on the sample count, Ng and Tan received 16 per cent and 14 per cent of the votes respectively.

A sample count, released publicly for the first time in a Presidential Election, is meant to get an early indication of the possible outcome of the election in order to prevent speculation and misinformation while vote counting is underway.

After the release of sample count, Tharman spoke to reporters at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre where his supporters had gathered.

Pointing out that this was “a contested election with a multiracial slate”, Tharman noted that even in an apolitical election such as a Presidential Election, race is never absent.

“But it is not the only factor, and I think with each half-decade, Singapore is changing and evolving and I hope that my being elected President is seen as another milestone in that process of evolution,” he said.

He added: “Let me just say that I’m truly humbled and I will honour the trust that Singaporeans have placed in me and respect all the views that they have expressed, including those who did not vote for me.”

Holding up pineapples — the symbol of Tharman’s election campaign — hundreds of his supporters gathered at the hawker centre in Taman Jurong, where Tharman had served as its Member of Parliament for 22 years before he resigned from the Cabinet recently to stand for election.

Ng, who garnered the second highest vote count, conceded to Tharman shortly after the sample count was announced.

“I’ve just received a phone call from Tharman, saying that my team and I had put up a vigorous campaign. I, in turn, congratulated him on a magnificent victory,” Ng said earlier.

Addressing the media and his supporters gathering at the office of social media agency Gushcloud, Ng also said that he had accomplished his number one goal, which was to ensure that Singaporeans could vote in this Presidential Election.

“Mr Tharman had mentioned that he would like to have a contest, so that when he is elected, he has a mandate from the people of Singapore. I’m delighted for him. And I’m very glad for him that he has indeed earned a mandate from the people of Singapore,” Ng said.

As for Tan, he wished Tharman his “sincere congratulations” for his electoral success. “I am confident he will be elected as the President of Singapore. I wish him all the best in meeting the challenges ahead and I hope he will be able to bring a better life for the people,” he said.

Thanking his supporters and his family for their hard work in his campaign, Tan said that he would now “heed the advice of my family to take life easy and live a normal life”.

“I will spend more time with my grandchildren. In my free time, I will continue to do my part in voicing the hardship and aspirations of the people through other channels,” said Tan, who spoke to reporters outside his house after the sample count was released.

At that time, he declined to concede defeat and said he would wait for the final result. But after the final result was announced, Tan did not speak to the media.

With the results announced, it marks the end of a nine-day campaigning period that began after Nomination Day on August 22.

Throughout the course of the campaign, the trio had differed on several issues including the President’s custodial roles of safeguarding the reserves and making key public appointments.

A key theme that emerged was the requirement for the President to be independent from any political party, to which each candidate had their own views on what “independence” and “non-partisanship” meant.

Speaking on CNA’s Polling Day results special programme that was televised live on Friday, Singapore Management University law lecturer Eugene Tan noted that Tharman’s margin of victory meant that he “would have gotten votes from people right across the political spectrum, although this is not a political contest, to be clear”.

Analysts had previously observed that about a third of voters in Singapore would traditionally vote for opposition parties at general elections.

Tharman had resigned from the Government and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in order to run for presidency.

Tan Kin Lian, who was mounting his second presidential bid having fared poorly in the 2011 PE, had received the personal backing of several opposition leaders this time round.

As for Ng, he was keen to stress the fact that he was the only candidate without any links to political parties.

Speaking to TODAY, Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst from Solaris Strategies Singapore, said: “Even though there were a lot of establishment versus anti-establishment sentiments during the campaigning period, I think that the level of support for Tharman reflects that he is (seen as) an independent candidate — or an independent enough candidate — away from the establishment.”

Assoc Prof Tan told TODAY that Tharman had achieved a “strong mandate”.

With the PAP Government in the midst of leadership, “it puts Mr Tharman in a very, very strong position”, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong is expected to take over the leadership mantle from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the near future.

“I think if I was on the fourth generation team, I would certainly want to leverage on the counsel, the experience, the expertise of Mr Tharman,” he said.

On the number of rejected votes and voter turnout, Assoc Prof Tan noted that these were not significantly higher than the 2011 PE. “Voters knew what was at stake,” he said. ― TODAY

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