"I believe I can now best serve Singapore not in politics, but as your president, standing above politics," said Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his first presidential candidate broadcast on Aug. 24, 2023.
Has served Singapore for more than two decades
Tharman started off his speech by talking about how he has "dedicated [his] life" to serving Singapore, having been in the People's Action Party (PAP) for more than two decades.
It was a "major decision" for him to resign from the PAP and as Senior Minister, as well as all his positions in government, to run for president.
"I have made this major decision because the elected presidency will become more important in the years to come."
He said that his "greatest privilege" thus far was going on the ground and listening to what people have to say.
This experience has "deepened" his motivation to serve, and his commitment to making Singapore a "fairer, more compassionate and inclusive society".
But a fair and inclusive society "goes much deeper than government policies", Tharman said.
Navigating an increasingly divided and unstable world
Tharman noted that Singapore, together with the rest of the world, is moving into a "new, more difficult and more complex era".
The world is increasingly divided and unstable, with global crises breaking out more often, said Tharman.
"They will test all countries, and especially smaller countries like Singapore."
"In Singapore, we are becoming a democracy with more diverse views. I regard this as inevitable and healthy, and have said so repeatedly."
According to Tharman, Singapore's "real challenge" is to ensure that the diversity of views does not lead to a more divided society.
"We must be a democracy with more space for different views and a thriving civil society. But to be confident of our future, we must also be a society with a strong centre of shared aspirations and respect for all citizens."
How he will serve if elected as president
If he were to be elected as Singapore's ninth president, Tharman pledged to bring his "full experience and capabilities" on the ground, nationally, and internationally.
"I will serve you with all my heart," he said, adding that he will act as a unifying figure in the country, and will advance Singapore's interests abroad.
He will also draw on his "knowledge and reputation for independent thinking" to "safeguard the nation's reserves and the integrity of the public service".
Unifying Singapore through a culture of respect
Firstly, Tharman emphasised that Singapore can and must strengthen a culture of respect for all.
For example, he highlighted the need to respect every skill and job, those who are disadvantaged or have special needs, as well as those with different political leanings and faiths.
Tharman said that it will be his "mission" to support initiatives on the ground, instead of a top down approach, that develop this respect for all.
He added: "I speak from experience, and a long track record on the ground for all to see: of connecting with people from all walks of life, constantly seeking to bridge differences in views, and building community spirit."
Promoting Singapore's interests internationally
Tharman also said that he will build on his experience in government and his international standing to promote Singapore's interests in an "increasingly turbulent world".
"We must never become just another small country. I have been flying the Singapore flag high internationally for many years, and will work actively to strengthen our existing partnerships and build new ones."
Being thorough & impartial with regard to the nation's reserves
Thirdly, if elected president, Tharman pledged to be "thorough and impartial" with regard to the use of the nation's reserves, and ensuring that the country has an "honest and first-rate public service".
"Our reserves were hard-earned, over generations. They reflect the unique foresight of our founding leaders, and the willingness of generations of Singaporeans to save for a better and safer future.
They give Singapore significant advantage in a profoundly uncertain future. They must be made to last."
Tharman cited his experience as a leader in government financial policies for many years, both as Minister for Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, as well as his role as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and chairman of GIC’s Investment Strategies Committee over the last 12 years.
He shared more on how he would safeguard the reserves.
"I come with deep knowledge and experience: of how and when we should spend from our reserves to serve Singapore’s needs, and how they are safeguarded for the future.
In holding the 'second key' to our reserves, I will ensure they serve the interests of today's generation of adults still working or retired, as well as the young who do not yet have a vote, and future generations of Singaporeans."
As president, however, Tharman said that he will bring "more than deep expertise and long experience".
"I also bring a more basic orientation: the independence of mind that I have held onto throughout my life, and my belief that we can make Singapore a fairer and better society. They are what I have been known for both within and outside government."
Never gave up and held on to his beliefs
At the end of his speech, Tharman talked about his younger years and how being a sportsman taught him to value every member of the team, respect his opponents, and know how to win and lose graciously.
He explained that he had climbed up the public service ladder as a non-scholar, eventually serving as Managing Director of the MAS.
"I had setbacks along the way. But my knees never buckled, and my integrity was never in doubt."
He added that through his years in the government as a minister, he has held onto his "ideals of social justice and inclusiveness", and has worked continually to help uplift the lives of workers and ordinary citizens.
"While the president stands apart from the government, and does not make policies, I will never waver from this purpose in my life and independence of mind as I fulfill my duties.
My fellow Singaporeans, I am an optimist in our future. We will go through ups and downs. But we are still a unique place, where we can work together to make the future better for all.
By continuing to deal with difficulties forthrightly, and to build and rebuild trust in the Singapore system. By respecting each other and listening to every voice and every heart. And by working actively to create space for Singapore in a more endangered world. I am convinced we can do this together."
The next presidential candidate broadcast is slated to air on Aug. 30, 2023.
Top image via Mediacorp.