For the first time in more than ten years, Singaporeans have voted in a contested presidential election. In the city-state, the president has a largely ceremonial position with limited authority and little influence over societal issues.
Yet, the outcome on Friday may serve as a barometer of how the public feels about the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for a long time and has been plagued by MP scandals. Prominent contender Tharman Shanmugaratnam served as a seasoned PAP minister in Singapore. The 66-year-old economist, a former deputy prime minister and minister of finance, left the People’s Action Party in June to run for president.
The PAP, led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had one of its worst electoral performances in 2020, while maintaining a majority of more than two-thirds in parliament.
A series of unusual political scandals this year, including the arrest of a top minister in a corruption investigation and the resignation of two lawmakers due to an adulterous affair, have hurt the party’s credibility.
This may affect their vote, voters at the polls told the BBC on Friday.
Singapore’s Unique Presidential Election
Singapore needs its candidates to have either civil service or corporate experience as the president serves as the guardian of the city’s sizable financial reserves.
The election is the first to be held in more than a decade, and Mr. Shanmugaratnam is the front-runner after outgoing President Halimah Yacob declined to compete for a second six-year term. The other contenders are Ng Kok Song, a former wealth fund investment officer, and Tan Kin Lian, a 75-year-old former insurance executive who has come under fire for earlier social media postings regarding women and Indians.
In the diverse but predominantly Chinese city-state, the candidates’ ethnic backgrounds have also been a point of contention; some have noted that Mr. Shanmugaratnam may become the first non-Chinese president to be chosen by voters. Yet, a voter on Friday told the BBC that race was unimportant.
Concern over the tight qualifications needed to run for president has also been voiced by voters. They must have held a senior government position or been the CEO of a publicly traded company with annual sales of at least $500 million Singaporean dollars (£292 million; $370 million).
For Singapore’s 2.7 million eligible citizens, voting is required.