Voters in Singapore went to the polls yesterday in a presidential election seen as a referendum on the popularity of the Southeast Asian city-state’s ruling party.
The presidency is largely a ceremonial position in Singapore’s parliamentary government, but the election attracted four candidates, the most since Singapore began choosing its president by popular vote in 1993.
Analysts will be closely watching the performance of former Singaporean deputy prime minister Tony Tan, who is backed by most of the political establishment, as a barometer of voter discontent with the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has held power since 1959.
The PAP’s vote total in parliamentary elections in May fell to 60 percent — its lowest since Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965 — amid a backlash against soaring housing prices, a surge in foreign workers and rising income disparities.
Singapore’s constitution allows the president to veto the use of the country’s reserves and some public office appointments, but does not give the post any executive authority.
Candidates Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP member of parliament and a medical doctor, and Tan Kin Lian, a former insurance company executive, have said that if elected, they would take on a more active role in voicing the concerns of citizens. Tan Jee Say, an opposition politician, said he would seek to transform the presidency into a platform for challenging government policies.
Singaporean President S.R. Nathan, who won two six-year terms unopposed, consulted with the prime minister and Cabinet in private, but avoided public comment on government policy. Tony Tan and government spokesmen have sought in recent weeks to quell calls for an expanded role for the president.
Until last month, Tony Tan was executive director of sovereign wealth fund Government of Singapore Investment Corp and chairman of media company Singapore Press Holdings.
Results were expected to be announced a few hours after the closing of polls yesterday evening.