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PE 2023: Too 'simplistic' to reduce presidential race to past affiliations, says Tharman

SINGAPORE — The Presidential Election is too important of a leadership contest to “reduce it to simplicities” of past affiliations, said presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Saturday (Aug 26), adding that it would be a pity to rule out people in such an “artificial” manner.

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  • Presidential Election is too important of a leadership contest to “reduce it to simplicities” of past affiliations, says presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam
  • He was responding to comments made by fellow candidate Ng Kok Song
  • Mr Ng had previously said resigning from a political party shortly before the election is not in the spirit of the Constitution
  • To this, Mr Tharman said it would be "a great pity" to rule out people like Mr Ong Teng Cheong and Dr Tan Cheng Bock from past contests
  • He was speaking at the sidelines of a walkabout at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre

SINGAPORE — The Presidential Election is too important of a leadership contest to “reduce it to simplicities” of past affiliations, said presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Saturday (Aug 26), adding that it would be a pity to rule out people in such an “artificial” manner.

“I would say it would have been a great pity if we had to rule out Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and several others (from past elections),” said Mr Tharman at the sidelines of a walkabout at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

The late Mr Ong was a leader in the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and a Deputy Prime Minister who resigned in 1993 to stand as Singapore's first elected President in the same year. Dr Tan was a long-time PAP Member of Parliament until 2006.

Mr Tharman said this when asked by TODAY to comment on recent statements made by fellow candidate Ng Kok Song about how candidates who had links with political parties until recently were not “in spirit” of the Constitution.

Resigning from political appointments shortly before being nominated as a presidential candidate technically complies with the Constitution’s requirement for candidates to not belong to any political party, but “misses the spirit of it”, Mr Ng said on Thursday.

Mr Ng also said the next day that those who have taken on the role of President since 1991 had been endorsed by the ruling party. He also asserted being the only candidate with "no party", noting that Mr Tan Kin Lian had opposition party members as his assentors.

Presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam and wife Jane Yumiko Ittogi during a walkabout at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre on Aug 26, 2023.

His comments appeared to be aimed at Mr Tharman, who was formerly Senior Minister until his resignation from the party and government in July.

During his interview on Saturday, Mr Tharman denied being endorsed by any party.

Mr Tharman added that besides former party members like Dr Tan and Mr Ong, it would also be a pity to exclude people in the public sector track who were not ministers but “whose positions were there because they were appointed by ministers”.

“We can't look in an artificial way at past affiliations, which party we were once part of, or maybe which party we voted for,” he said. 

“Some people have voted for the same party all their lives, does that make them not independent when they take on a position like this?”

He reiterated that voters should look at the character of the candidate and what they are bringing to the future — a message he has brought up often throughout his campaign — and ought not to reduce the Presidential Elections to a contest involving each candidate's past affiliations.

“And when you do reduce it to the simplicity of past affiliations, I must say there are more affiliations that each of the candidates have, besides mere membership of the PAP,” he said.

Presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking to the media at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, on Aug 26, 2023.


In an event on Friday evening, Mr Ng had also said there is a high likelihood of a “human conflict of interest” should the President and the Prime Minister have had a close working relationship in the past. 

“Well, that might happen if you have two weak individuals, and you have a president who doesn't know how to stand his ground,” said Mr Tharman on Saturday.

“And I think that's certainly not going to be the case with me.”

Asked by the media about how he felt about the President's role "being slightly curtailed" by the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), Mr Tharman said this was a "very important part" of the Constitution and forms a system of checks and balance.

The CPA comprises eight members, of which three are appointed at the discretion of the President while the remaining members are also nominated by the President but upon nomination by the Prime Minister, Chief Justice and chairman of the Public Service Commission. 

The President must consult the CPA when exercising the discretionary powers related to all fiscal and appointment-related matters. If a President's veto contradicts the CPA's recommendation, it can be overruled by Parliament through a motion supported by at least two-thirds of all MPs.

"The President has very important discretionary powers, but the CPA is an important institution. And it was designed that way," said Mr Tharman.

While he said he will work with respect with the CPA if elected as President, Mr Tharman pointed to his prior experience as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

"No one in the bureaucracy or anywhere else can fool me on any matter to do with government finances," he added.

Mr Tharman said that he is “by nature” someone who enjoys finding ways to bridge differences, when asked about how he intends to unify people of differing political leanings if elected to the highest office in the land.

“My track record speaks for itself, the way I've treated the opposition all through the years in Parliament, individual opposition members how I've treated them through the years,” he said.

As for “hardcore opposition supporters”, Mr Tharman said that differences in views should be accepted, which is part of what democracy is about.

At times, such differences cannot be bridged immediately, "but we're all Singaporeans together, remember that", said Mr Tharman.

“We are all partisans for Singapore, and that unites us.”

Related topics

Presidential Election 2023 Tharman Shanmugaratnam Ng Kok Song

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