Comment: 'Thank You' speeches of the PE2023 candidates hinted at how they will campaign

3 candidates, 3 speeches, 1 goal.

Sulaiman Daud | August 23, 2023, 07:59 PM

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The thank you speech after a candidate's nomination is a time-honoured tradition in Singapore.

Many will remember Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's East Coast Plan remarks during GE2020.

And PSP's Tan Cheng Bock almost saying the name of his former political party during GE2020.

While Presidential Election 2023 featured fewer candidates than your typical general election, the thank you speeches given after their nominations provided some insight into the candidates and their campaigns.

Cut-off time

Two minutes is not a lot of time to sum up everything one might want to convey to the voters when running for the Presidency of Singapore.

And for those unaccustomed to public speaking, they might forget about time limits.

It appeared that each presidential candidate was given two minutes to give their speech following their nomination. They spoke in alphabetical order, according to their surnames.

Ng Kok Song went first. You can hear the microphone volume ratchet down at about 3:25 in this video, about two minutes after he first started speaking, while he was speaking in Malay.

Meanwhile, Tan Kin Lian also appeared to have his mic volume lowered at around 2:40 of this video, about two minutes after he started speaking.

However, both eventually managed to finish their speeches.

Meanwhile Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is no stranger to the public microphone, finished his speech in under two minutes, and therefore didn't have his microphone volume lowered.

Close to the heart

Because speeches are so short, candidates need to prioritise.

Also, as the voters expect candidates to speak in different languages, even less time is available to run through your list of priorities.

It was interesting to see what topic each candidate chose to focus on at the beginning of their speeches.

Protect the reserves: Ng Kok Song

For Ng, it was about a key responsibility of the elected president, safeguarding the reserves.

"I'm standing for president to protect these three treasures. The first treasure is our reserves. I can protect the reserves. I spent my entire career at GIC and MAS helping to build up our reserves."

Ng then went on to mention the other responsibility of the elected president, upholding the integrity of public service appointments and also helping to maintain Singapore's social stability.

The reserves was also a topic that Ng touched on in his interview with Mothership.

"I have the competence to do the job of the President, in terms of safeguarding our reserves...Because I spent 45 years of my life investing our reserves, and building up our reserves," he said.

Fair, dignified, honourable contest: Tharman

Tharman was the only candidate to begin his speech in a language other than English. Rattling off greetings in Malay, Tamil and Mandarin, his very next words were about having a "fair" and "dignified" contest.

"I look forward to a fair, dignified and honourable contest focused on what each of us bring to Singaporeans and what each of us bring for our future," he said.

His opening remarks spoke to Tharman's ability to "transcend" racial differences, as mentioned by one of his supporters, Tommy Koh, and also his record as a politician above the fray.

Over the course of his political career, Tharman rarely clashed directly with members of the opposition in Parliament or in campaigns. His rejoinder to Jamus Lim of the Workers' Party in a Sep. 2020 Parliament sitting was notable for its rarity.

In an interview with Mothership, Tharman praised opposition leaders for their speeches in Parliament, and mentioned candidly sharing his thoughts with the current Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh.

In his speech, it is notable that Tharman thanked his fellow candidates — Ng and Tan — for coming forward, as well as his and their supporters.

"I want to also thank all the supporters who are here today, those who are here to support me, as well as those who are here to support my fellow candidates for coming forward", he said.

Give Singaporeans a chance to vote for a truly independent president: Tan Kin Lian

Tan's initial remarks emphasised his independence from the government.

"I want to give the people of Singapore a chance to vote for a president who is truly independent of the ruling government," he said.

Tan has no qualms about aligning himself closely with members of the political opposition in Singapore. Among his backers are Lim Tean of the People's Voice and Tan Jee Say of the former Singaporeans First party.

Goh Meng Seng of the People's Power Party also turned up on Nomination Day to support Tan.

Tan Jee Say, who was one of Tan Kin Lian's opponents in the 2011 presidential election, said that his former rival would "make a good president -- a courageous, genuine, and humble one".

Tan previously had links with the ruling People's Action Party.

He was a member in the 1970s, and served as the branch secretary of Marine Parade. However, he left the party in 2008, and has said that the PAP back then was a "very different PAP" from today.

What about the rest?

Having gotten their initial points out of the way, it's also interesting to see what else the candidates felt was necessary to include in their speeches.

Ng also mentioned his independence, saying: "I do not belong to any political party. And so I'm well placed to unite the people of Singapore to face an uncertain future."

With Tan Kin Lian arguably trying to stake out the anti-establishment ground, perhaps Ng felt it was important to also emphasise his own status as an independent candidate.

Meanwhile, Tharman chose to mention his international experience. After all, a key part of the president's duties is representing Singapore on the world stage.

Finally, in a near reversal of Ng's speech, Tan also ran through the president's duties and responsibilities.

"If I am elected, I will carry out my duties as set out in the Constitution diligently, honestly, and to the best of my ability. These duties are to safeguard the reserves and uphold the integrity of the public service", Tan said.

In essence, both Ng and Tan mentioned the same points (independence and the president's duties), but chose to lead with different points. Meanwhile, Tharman, while succinct in his speech, focused on having fair, dignified, and honourable contest and his concerns about the future.

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Top image by Andrew Koay