Voters speak: How Singaporeans chose their president

Tempered by rationality: The anti-establishment and protest vote

Among those ST spoke to, those who voted for Mr Tan expressed anti-establishment sentiments. The former NTUC Income chief executive received 13.88 per cent of the vote.

One clear theme among those who polled for Mr Tan was unhappiness with the Government.

IT executive Royston Tang, 42, said he was dissatisfied with how the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government had handled the corruption probe involving Transport Minister S. Iswaran and tycoon Ong Beng Seng.

While Mr Tan’s “senseless and insensitive speech towards the public and the media” and “illogical thoughts on certain national issues” were disappointing, Mr Tang said this was outweighed by his unhappiness with the PAP.

He said his choice was cemented by the “heavyweight support” from former presidential candidate and Progress Singapore Party chairman Tan Cheng Bock, and Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan.

A 34-year-old freelance art director, who declined to be named, said he voted for Mr Tan partly out of protest, because laws that he disagreed with were passed while Mr Tharman was in the Cabinet.

They include the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, and changes to the Constitution that allowed for a reserved presidential election in 2017.

While he felt that the endorsements for Mr Tan by former presidential candidates Dr Tan and Mr Tan Jee Say had politicised the election, it was his view that voters who were opposition-leaning were already likely to vote for Mr Tan.

Others were sceptical about the differences between Mr Tharman and Mr Ng, and felt that Mr Tan was the clearest non-establishment candidate.

A 59-year-old blogger who declined to be named said he voted for Mr Tan because Mr Tharman and Mr Ng “failed to convince me that they are not just extensions of the ruling party”.

“Though a bit goofy and clueless outside his field of expertise and (someone) who sometimes even ‘incriminates’ himself, Mr Tan has always been friendly and approachable,” he said.

The blogger said that Mr Tan first stood out during the Lehman Brothers debacle in 2008, when he helped retirees who had lost their life savings, and he had been following Mr Tan on social media.

He said he would have supported entrepreneur George Goh if he had qualified, “but left with the three candidates, my support went to Tan Kin Lian”.

Mr Goh, 63, had been among the presidential hopefuls for the election.

He had applied under the private sector route, but did not receive a certificate of eligibility.

After the certificates went out, there was some speculation of an increase in spoilt votes among segments that felt none of the three candidates met their requirements.

But Singaporeans appeared to exercise rationality and respect for the weight each vote carried – spoilt votes accounted for 1.98 per cent of total votes cast, which is marginally higher than in GE2020.

Some, like former training consultant Kathirithamby Ramakrishnan, 74, said he liked Mr Tharman, but voted for Mr Tan as he wanted to give him a chance, “so (those like Mr Tan) would not be disenchanted from coming forward”.

“I wanted to give a little ‘tip’ to another candidate, so that in the future others will build up their style and experience and one day come forward. If they can be the CEO of an organisation, surely they can also be ‘CEO’ of a country,” he said.

Political observer Zulkifli Baharudin pointed out that the hardcore opposition voters would have picked someone they viewed as more distant from the PAP.

Given that Mr Ng and Mr Tan were not very well-known figures, a person who voted for them must have wanted to see a different person, someone not so closely linked to the Government, in the role of the president, he said.

It is clear that while Singaporean voters are very diverse in terms of background, age, education and other factors, the not-so-diverse voting outcome showed that Singaporeans do care about the presidency and they are mature in the way they choose at the polls, he added.

The outcome also did not reflect this diversity because Mr Tharman was a “nuclear option”, said Mr Zulkifli.

“Mr Tharman’s persona was so overwhelming that people were ready to put aside their differences.”


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