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PE 2023: From pledges to accusations, a recap of what candidates had said as hustings conclude

SINGAPORE — A “smear campaign” involving “pretty girls”, a cyclist disrupting a walkabout that ended with the police being called in, and a gripe over who had the better resources and preparation time to quickly put up campaign banners and posters were just some of the things that preoccupied social media users in the lead-up to the Presidential Election.

From left: Mr Ng Kok Song, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Tan Kin Lian are the candidates for the 2023 Presidential Election in Singapore.

From left: Mr Ng Kok Song, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Tan Kin Lian are the candidates for the 2023 Presidential Election in Singapore.

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  • A cooling-off period after midnight on Aug 30 marks the official end of all campaigning for the Presidential Election
  • Over nine days, candidates Ng Kok Song, Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Tan Kin Lian had tried to poke holes at each other's campaign messages
  • TODAY takes a step back from the heat of the hustings to recap what each candidate said about how they would perform the key roles of the President if elected
  • Voters should take note of some details before heading to polling stations

SINGAPORE — A “smear campaign” involving “pretty girls”, a cyclist disrupting a walkabout that ended with the police being called in, and a gripe over who had the better resources and preparation time to quickly put up campaign banners and posters were just some of the things that preoccupied social media users in the lead-up to the Presidential Election.

Barring any other last-minute distractions, Singapore heads into a “cooling-off” period that starts after midnight on Wednesday (Aug 30), for voters heading to the polls to think and reflect on the messages and issues raised by the three candidates during the nine days of campaigning.

Polling stations will open on Friday — a public holiday — for voting from 8am to 8pm.

Mr Ng Kok Song, 75, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66, and Mr Tan Kin Lian 75, had worked the ground in the race to the Istana, the official residence and office of the President of Singapore.

The candidates kept to the advice of the Election Department Singapore (ELD) and plugged into online and media channels to complement their walkabouts.

ELD had discouraged physical rallies, stressing the need to ensure that hustings were in line with the “dignity and decorum” of the office of the President, but this did not stop things from heating up.

The trio had plenty to say to convince Singaporeans to vote for them, from social issues such as society’s attitude towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and the mental health and aspirations of the youth, to political concerns such as the “independence” of presidential candidates in relation to the political parties they had served.

There was also what political watchers noted may be a stoking of anti-foreigner sentiment when the spouse of a candidate became a topic of discussion, as well as a call for candidates not to polarise voters and politicise the election.

TODAY stepped away from the heat of the campaign trail to revisit some of the no less substantial points that each candidate had raised on the various key roles and responsibilities of the President and what they had pledged to do.


Mr Tharman described his past experiences, including as deputy prime minister and finance minister, to be a “huge advantage” and unique to him compared to the other two candidates if he were to be elected.

He even said that “no one can fool me on any matter to do with government finances”. 

Mr Tan said that his experience in growing the assets of NTUC Income insurance cooperative when he was chief executive officer there would put him in good stead in safeguarding the country’s financial reserves.

He also wants the President’s role to include the power to set investment policy for building reserves.

He later on said that he would “prefer” for the exact sum of Singapore’s reserves to be revealed to the public, adding that he believes the chances of a foreign attack on the Singapore dollar are “quite small”. 

The remark elicited a response from Mr Ng, former chief investment officer of sovereign wealth fund GIC, who described it as a “very dangerous position to take” and “helping our enemies”.  

On his part, Mr Ng said that he would like to safeguard what he has spent his “entire professional lifetime" helping to build up, saying that the country’s reserves are a “financial defence”.

If ever he were to be asked by the Government to tap past reserves as President during a crisis, Mr Ng said that he would, among other things, query the Government to ensure that it has exhausted other possible sources of funds before agreeing.


Mr Tan said that he wants a balance between scholars and experienced people who “have spent many years on the job and know the ground well" for top roles in the public service.

Besides veto powers over key appointments in the public service, the President also has discretion to elect three of eight members of the Council of Presidential Advisors, which advises the President when he or she has to discharge his or her custodial duties. 

Replying to a question by the media, Mr Tan said that he would ask opposition politicians and former presidential candidates Tan Jee Say and Tan Cheng Bock about joining the council if he gets elected, after the duo publicly announced their support for his presidency bid.

Mr Ng rebuked this statement, with his campaign team saying that such a move “could be seen as a moral perversion” of the council.

Much earlier on when announcing his plan to stand for election, Mr Ng said that he was partly motivated to do so upon seeing the "deluge of negative news" that has raised concerns about the “integrity and personal probity of public service holders”.

He also said that he would diligently scrutinise and “ensure the integrity of our public service” if elected, and that he is well-positioned to do so after spending 45 years in public service.

As for Mr Tharman, he emphasised that he has experience "that is not matched by either of the other candidates" when it comes to guarding the national reserves and ensuring the integrity of key public service appointments.


While acknowledging that he was formerly part of the establishment due to his career in public service, Mr Ng stressed throughout the campaign that he is the sole “non-partisan” candidate with no links to political parties.

He said that all elected presidents so far are either linked to or endorsed by the ruling party, describing this as not being in the "spirit" of the Constitution, and adding that this must change lest every Presidential Election moving forward “becomes a proxy General Election”.

Mr Tharman resigned from the Cabinet and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) just before he made his move to stand for election.

Mr Tan, too, was a member of PAP until 2008, and several opposition figures have stepped in to publicly support his campaign in their own “personal capacity”, casting doubt on his independence, analysts said.

Mr Tan said in his first speech on Nomination Day last Tuesday that he was contesting to give Singaporeans a chance to vote for a candidate who is “truly independent of the ruling Government”.  

He said that politicking is a “waste of time”, which can be better spent on finding solutions to solve citizens’ problems, regardless of which party offered the solution.

For Mr Tharman, he has consistently urged the electorate not to look at the election through a “political lens”. Simplifying things down to a matter of past political links would have precluded individuals such as former President Ong Teng Cheong or Dr Tan Cheng Bock, a presidential candidate, from even contesting and “weaken the system”.

In a contest of leadership, it is the person’s character and track record of being independent that matter the most, he added.


Mr Tharman has campaigned on the need to deepen mutual respect among different groups of Singaporeans as the society becomes more diverse and that this is what he would advocate in carrying out the President’s role as a unifying figure.

Mr Tan at various points of his campaign have said that he’d like to “influence” or work with the Government to address particular issues such as the cost of living.

On two televised platforms aired by news channel CNA, he said that it was important for Singaporeans to be financially secure before they can have “more time to think beyond themselves... then they (can) become more unified”.

Mr Ng said that his position as a politically neutral figure puts him in a better position to unify Singaporeans. He also said that he would like to encourage “more interracial help” between groups, on top of many existing initiatives that have focused help for ethnic communities. 

As for representing Singapore internationally, Mr Ng said that he has “travelled extensively” and has good connections with the global business fraternity and world leaders due to his work in GIC.

For Mr Tharman, besides highlighting the various roles that he has held in global bodies, he said that it was also important for the President to “work closely with the Government to know what Singapore’s interests are” in order to represent the nation effectively.

As for Mr Tan, he gave the example of how he made the effort to understand the culture, history and languages of the countries he travelled to when he was part of an international federation of insurance companies.


Polling centres will open from 8am to 8pm, and voters can expect shorter queuing times because about 15 per cent more polling centres will be set up this year compared to the last elections. 

Voters may check their polling station’s queue status before heading down on Friday by scanning the QR code on their poll card, which they would have received within two to three working days after Nomination Day on Aug 22 via their mail box.

Each voter must take along their national identity card or valid passport and poll card to the centre.

Alternatively, the digital national identity card and ePoll card on the national SingPass application for e-services are also accepted.

At the station, voters should indicate their choice with a regular pen or use a stamp with an “X” mark, also a new feature introduced at this election.

Under the law, Polling Day for any Presidential Election shall be a public holiday. For voters working on that day, the employer shall allow them a reasonable period of time for voting.

On-site polling stations will be set up at about 25 to 30 nursing homes in a pilot programme to cater to voters residing there. Mobile polling teams may be deployed to take ballot boxes and papers to those who are bed-bound.

Some 3,432 Singaporeans living overseas have registered to vote via post — the first time this is being allowed here. 

Another 3,217 have opted to vote in person at overseas polling stations, making it a total of 6,649 Singaporeans living overseas who have registered to vote for this election.

Those who are unable to cast their vote on Polling Day will have their name struck from the Registers of Electors after the election, though they may apply to restore it online via SingPass.

An administrative fee of S$50 will be charged, unless the person is unable to vote for valid reasons such as due to illness, working or studying overseas at the time of the poll or being overseas due to a pre-planned vacation.

About 2.7 million electors are expected to cast their votes on Friday, with one political analyst telling TODAY previously that first-time Presidential Election voters are in the region of "around 300,000 to 400,000".

In the last contested Presidential Election held in 2011, around 2.15 million votes were cast, including more than 37,800 rejected votes.

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Presidential Election 2023

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