Tharman able to straddle political divide: Political analyst explains 70.40% vote

Singaporeans are sophisticated voters.

Belmont Lay | September 04, 2023, 01:28 PM



Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured 70.40 per cent of votes cast by more than 2.5 million Singaporeans during the Sep. 1, 2023 presidential election.

This effectively makes him Singapore's most popular elected president ever.

What can Singaporeans, including the three in 10 who did not vote for him, make of this result?

How did Tharman mania, or Tharmania, come about?

To help put things in perspective, Singapore Management University (SMU) associate professor of law Eugene Tan told Mothership in an interview in the early hours of Sep. 2 that the result was "mind-boggling", but that Singaporeans have shown themselves to be "sophisticated" voters.

@mothershipsg We spoke to Assoc Prof and former NMP Eugene Tan at 1:30am this morning. #sgnews #tiktoksg ♬ original sound - Mothership

According to the don, to have a consistent 70 per cent of support for one candidate across the island is a testament to Tharman's appeal and that comes from his ability to straddle the political divide.

When asked how should Singaporeans see the presidential election result with respect to the upcoming General Election in two years' time, Tan said: "I certainly hope that the ruling party does not look at it as the ground being sweet for them."

"I think Tharman was able to straddle the political divide."

Here is the transcript of the interview with Tan:

Are you surprised by the result?

Once the sample count came in, I suppose that's where the surprise first hits you.

It still boggles the mind to have a presidential candidate, in a three-way contest, to win by 70 per cent.

I mean think about it: More than two-thirds of Singaporeans voted for Tharman and he had a consistent sort of 70 per cent on average across the island.

What is the significance of the Tharman landslide?

I think he will bring new energy.

He will be able to be an additional source of soft power for Singapore, whether domestically or internationally. Because Tharman has a very strong international standing stature.

And I think in a world that's with more geopolitical tensions, small states ensure that their voice continue to be heard.

If you think about it domestically, given that we're going to see more political diversity, as well as contestation, it becomes even more important for the presidency to be able to function as a unifying institution.

That strong mandate will certainly put the Tharman presidency in a very good position to be that unfying force.

Do you think the result reflects anything about Singaporeans?

This particular presidential election showed that Singaporean voters are sophisticated.

I think they were able to see and treat the presidential election as a presidential election, that it is not the time and place to treat it as a proxy general election or a referendum on the People's Action Party (PAP).

So they have a better understanding of what the office of the presidency is.

They appreciated that it is important that the presidency doesn't become another site of political contestation

And so they focus on the ability and experience, track record of each candidate.

What is it that they bring to the presidency?

So I think it is a tremendous boost for the presidency.

So I would certainly agree with Tharman's view that his victory is a victory for Singapore

How should we see the electoral result with respect to the upcoming General Election in two years' time?

I certainly hope that the ruling party does not look at it as the ground being sweet for them.

I think Tharman was able to straddle the political divide.

But when we come to a general election it will be party against party.

I think what we're going to see is that there will be the expectation as to whether the government of the day will be able to sort of "walk the talk" that Tharman has put forth, this whole idea of respect for all, uplifting society.

Top photo by Andrew Koay