TONY Tan, a former deputy prime minister and banker, has won the Presidency of Singapore by 7,269 votes in a four-way race.
There hasn’t been an election for the presidency since 1991, when direct elections for the office were allowed. For the past 18 years, there was never more than one candidate, meaning no poll was ever necessary.
A former international student (he completed a PhD at Adelaide University), Dr Tan was the candidate most closely associated with Singapore’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), which he left in June to run as an independent.
PAP generally wins everything in Singapore. They won 81 seats in the last parliamentary election in May, with the opposition taking six. However, what in the rest of the world would count as a landslide victory was PAP’s worst result since 1965, the year Singapore separated from Malaysia and became an independent city-state.
Despite PAP’s achievements over the past forty years in making Singapore one of the richest cities in Asia, critics say it has lost touch with Singapore’s less well-off. That election result led the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (son of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding PM), to promise PAP would engage in some soul-searching.
Even though the presidency is a ceremonial role, the election was widely seen as a referendum on PAP’s popularity. Tony Tan’s narrow victory won’t give Lee much peace of mind. But neither is it a victory for those wanting change.