Singapore, Sep 1 (EFE).- Former deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a leading figure in the ruling People’s Action Party, is set to become Singapore’s new president, according to preliminary projections released Friday.
Tharman, 66, a former chief investment officer for sovereign wealth fund GIC, was the front-runner with exit polls giving him 70% of the vote, well ahead of 75-year-old former insurance company executive Ng Kok Song (16%) and fellow former insurance company executive Tan Kin Lian (14%).
The first tally, released by Singapore’s Electoral Office after 10:30 pm, was projected across samples from each of the island’s constituencies of around 5.4 million people, of whom 2.7 million were called to the polls to elect the president.
Although the post is only ceremonial and remains in the shadow of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – son of the “father of the country” Lee Kuan Yew –, the elections were seen as a referendum on the ruling party amid a wave of scandals that have plagued the PAP and a transition of power.
Pending the official result, Tharman addressed the population from a night food market, stating that he was “truly humbled by the strong endorsement that Singaporeans have given to me.”
“I believe that the vote for me and what I stand for is a vote of confidence in Singapore,” he said. “It is a vote of optimism for a future in which we can progress together, and support each other as Singaporeans.”
If the victory is confirmed, the PAP would emerge stronger from the elections, as Tharman was the only candidate representing the party, while Ng Kok Song and Tan Kin Lian were running as independents.
Although the role of president carries little weight in Singapore, with exceptions such as acting as guarantor of the financial reserves, the victory of the PAP, which has governed the island since 1959 (before independence from Malaysia in 1965), would represent an endorsement for the party, which has been shaken by several scandals in recent months.
The most serious concerns Transport Minister Subramaniam Iswaran, who was removed from office after the anti-corruption department confirmed his arrest in July and subsequent release along with an island tycoon.
There have also been two other scandals, albeit with lower profiles: one about alleged rentals of exclusive homes at below-market prices by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakarishnan and Interior Minister Shanmugam Kasiviswanathan, and another about extramarital relations between PAP officials.
The scandals have shaken the PAP at a delicate moment, while the conservative party tries to consolidate the succession in power of Lee Hsien Loong before the elections that must be held in November 2025 at the latest, without a candidate linked to the powerful Lee dynasty.
This is the first time a presidential election in Singapore has been contested in more than a decade, and the third vote since a constitutional amendment in 1991 turned the six-year post into one elected by suffrage. EFE