The ruling party’s de facto candidate in Singapore’s presidential election scraped to victory after a dramatic recount yesterday and quickly acknowledged that Singaporeans wanted a bigger voice in government.
Three months after the opposition claimed an historic breakthrough in parliamentary polls, former Singaporean deputy prime minister Tony Tan (陳慶炎) was elected president with a margin of just 7,269 votes out of 2.1 million ballots cast.
The 71-year-old banker took just over 35 percent of the vote, well below the 60 percent garnered by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in general elections in May, when the party had its worst showing in 52 years in power.
At a news conference yesterday, Tan said Singaporeans have become more vocal and this could make governing “a bit more difficult,” but he also welcomed the development because it is part of a maturing democracy.
“Singaporeans are more vocal, they want to make their views known,” said Tan, who also sought to mend fences with those who did not vote for him. “I think that’s a good thing, we should have a diversity of views in Singapore. It enriches our society, it makes Singapore more vibrant.”
Song Seng Wun, a Singapore-based regional economist with financial group CIMB, said the result of Saturday’s four-way race for the largely ceremonial role was a -further sign of the ruling party losing its iron grip on power.
“It shows that the stranglehold of the PAP is no longer as firm as it was in the last four decades,” he said. “Only one in three voters chose the winner, who is closely associated with the government. Two out of three chose somebody else and that’s quite telling.”
Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, said Singaporeans “are tired of elitism” and Tan was seen as a representative of the political establishment.
His showing was sharply lower than the 54 percent of the vote taken by Ong Teng Cheong when he won the last contested presidential poll in 1993 with the PAP’s backing.
Analysts said Tan could have lost in a straight one-on-one fight.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) appealed for national unity after an intense campaign dominated by calls from government critics for a politically independent president who can act as a check on the PAP.
The Elections Department ordered a recount of all votes cast after the first tally showed the two frontrunners were less than 2 percent apart.
Presidential candidates run as individuals in keeping with the non-partisan nature of the job, but Tony Tan was widely associated with the PAP — he quit the party only in June to run for president.