‘It’s not a political contest’: Tharman hopes to be unifying figure as president amid changing world

SINGAPORE – Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said he hopes to be a unifying figure for Singaporeans amid fundamental changes in Singapore and across the world, as he put himself forward on Thursday as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Mr Tharman said he felt that the time was right for him now to serve in this role, should he be elected, and to keep the social compact strong.

“The president has to be a unifying figure at a time that people have more varied preferences and even more varied politics,” he said.

He was speaking to the media outside Taman Jurong Community Club on Thursday, about three hours after he had announced his decision to resign from the Government and the People’s Action Party on July 7 to stand in the upcoming election. His wife, Ms Jane Yumiko Ittogi, was also with him at the media doorstop event.

He had submitted his letter of resignation on Thursday to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had accepted it.

Mr Tharman said it had been a difficult decision to make as he was very comfortable being a policymaker. “But I think we are entering a fundamentally different era,” he noted.

Apart from changes within Singapore as the population and electorate mature, the world is now set up for crises – economic crises or pandemics, which are going to keep coming – as well as geopolitical conflict, he said.

“We’ve got to hold our own as Singapore – a very small country with a strong reputation built up over the years – but we’ve got to hold our own, so that the population holds together, we can still do well as Singaporeans, and feel good about being Singaporeans,” he said.

Singaporeans themselves have to keep the compact and remain faithful to each other, he said, citing a Chinese saying, “feng yu tong zhou”, which means “going through the most difficult times together in the same boat”.

Of his own chances in the upcoming presidential election, which has to be called by the end of President Halimah Yacob’s term on Sept 13, Mr Tharman said he made no assumptions about his chances.

“I’ve never made assumptions in all the elections I’ve taken part in. This is different because it’s not a political contest, unlike general elections… This is about choosing the right person,” he said.

“I put myself forward to serve to the best of my ability, using all my experience in economics, in finance, in international affairs, and the standing I have internationally.”

Mr Tharman said he was putting himself forward to serve Singaporeans in this new role – “not a political role, but a different one that has to be above politics”.

He added: “The president has to be above the political fray. And that’s what I mean when I say the president can play a unifying role. And I offer myself partly because through my background, everyone knows who I am, and they know that I have an independent streak.”


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