SINGAPORE — As Singapore gets ready for its upcoming presidential election on 1st September, all eyes are on a diverse group of qualified candidates who are aiming for the country's top leadership position.
Let's take a closer look at the backgrounds, career achievements, and campaign strategies of these three presidential hopefuls.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66, is a distinguished figure in Singapore's political landscape and has made his mark during his 22-year political career.
Background: A journey from student activism to leadership
Tharman's political journey began as a student activist during his time in the United Kingdom, according to local media reports.
He graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the London School of Economics in 1981.
His early years were marked by a keen interest in politics and sports such as hockey. In 1982, he joined the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) economics department, commencing a career in public service.
Career Successes: Rising through the ranks
Tharman's career saw him assume various roles, showcasing his expertise in economics and leadership. He joined the Ministry of Education in 1997 and was seconded to MAS as its deputy managing director.
His dedication to learning took him to Harvard University, where he earned the Lucius N Littauer Fellow award for exceptional performance and leadership potential.
In 2001, he transitioned to politics, contesting in the general election and achieving victory as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate in the Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
He has been re-elected four times, demonstrating his consistent popularity among voters. Tharman has held several significant ministerial positions, including Deputy Prime Minister (2011-2019), Minister for Finance (2007-2015), and Minister for Education (2004-2008).
Campaign: "Respect for All"
Tharman's presidential campaign is built on the theme of "Respect for All." He envisions a presidency for a new era.
During his campaign launch on 26 July, he emphasised his commitment to utilising his 22 years of experience in politics to unify people, a critical responsibility of the President.
"When we talk about being a unifying figure, I do not say this rhetorically or just as an aspiration, but I speak from a real track record," he pointed out. He pointed to his history of valuing diverse perspectives and constantly striving to find common ground.
Drawing inspiration from leaders like former president Ong Teng Cheong, who demonstrated independence within the context of past party affiliation, he stressed the significance of being independent-minded and being experienced in policy-making.
Election Symbol: Pineapple
During the nomination day on Tuesday (22 August), Tharman shared with the media that the pineapple holds significance "to all of our communities."
This includes its role as a symbol of welcome, often used to welcome individuals into new residences or ventures.
Ng Kok Song
Ng Kok Song, 75, is a prominent figure within Singapore's financial sector. Demonstrating leadership, he has contributed to the investment sector and to the public service.
Background: From humble beginnings to global finance
Born the second eldest in a family of 11, Ng's upbringing was defined by humble beginnings. His father's role as a fish auctioneer and sole breadwinner shaped his early experiences, as he stated in a media statement on 19 July.
His education journey began at Montfort School. Excelling in academics, he secured a Public Service Commission scholarship and earned a physics degree from the University of Singapore. Furthering his education, he obtained a Master's degree in management from Stanford University.
Career Successes: Pinnacle of leadership and innovation
Ng's career path showcased a combination of public service and financial leadership. He began in the Finance Ministry before contributing to the MAS from 1972 to 1986.
His association with GIC started in 1986, and he ascended to the position of chief investment officer in 2007.
Over his 27-year tenure, Ng steered GIC through tumultuous periods, including the Asian currency crisis, the dot-com bust, and the global financial crisis. His leadership earned him recognition, such as the Meritorious Service Medal in 2012.
After retiring from GIC in 2013, Ng co-founded Avanda Investment Management in 2015. Serving as the chairman, he oversaw the fund's growth, with assets more than doubling to around US$10 billion since its inception, according to Bloomberg in 2012.
His spiritual journey paralleled his professional accomplishments. A devout Catholic, he taught Christian meditation to the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, according to his official website.
He is also an executive committee member of the World Community for Christian Meditation.
Campaign: "United For Our Future"
Ng's campaign slogan is "United For Our Future." He conveys his belief that unity is the cornerstone of Singapore's progress. "If we are united, Singapore has got a good future. We have plenty of economic opportunities, but we can only exploit those opportunities if we are united," Ng told journalists on 19 August during a visit to Kovan 209 Market and Food Centre.
The 75-year-old further explains that his campaign theme reflects his vision for a cohesive Singapore that leverages its economic potential. When asked about his campaign strategy, Ng describes himself as "middle of the road," an important role as he has no political affiliation. "So, I'm in a better position to unite the people of Singapore," Ng adds.
Election Symbol: Hand with a heart
During his interview with the media on Tuesday, Ng elaborated that the fingers depicted in the hand symbolise the diverse races within Singapore, while the palm embodies a sense of unity despite these differences.
Tan Kin Lian
Tan Kin Lian, 75, has experienced a diverse journey marked by contributions to the insurance industry and Singapore's political dialogue.
Background: A journey from humble beginnings to leadership
Growing up in a family of six children residing in rental rooms, Tan Kin Lian's upbringing was defined by humble beginnings. His father's loss of livelihood during the Indonesian confrontation in 1965 presented challenges, and Tan stepped up by leaving school after Secondary 4 to support his family.
Despite this, he showcased academic excellence, ranking among the top students at Raffles Institution, as stated in his blog post on 30 July.
Career Successes: From CEO to independent voice, aspiring for the presidency
Tan served as the chief executive officer of NTUC Income, a premier insurance cooperative, from 1977 to 2007.
Under his leadership, NTUC Income's assets reportedly surged from S$28 million to S$17 billion, as he claimed in his blog post.
Beyond his NTUC Income tenure, he also ventured into launching a computer software business and extended his expertise by offering insurance consultancy services in Indonesia.
Previously affiliated with the ruling PAP for three decades until 2008, Tan's political journey included a role as the party's branch secretary at Marine Parade for three years.
Despite his prior connection to the PAP, Tan characterises himself as an "independent candidate" emerging "from outside the establishment," as he stated during a press conference on 11 August.
The election culminated with Dr Tony Tan securing victory with 35.2 per cent of the vote, subsequently assuming the role of President.
In contrast, Tan's performance garnered 4.91 per cent, marking it the least favourable outcome among the four candidates. This outcome had financial implications, as Tan lost his S$48,000 deposit after falling short of securing more than one-eighth of the total votes cast.
Campaign: "Bring Back Trust, Give Us Hope"
Tan officially launched his campaign during a media conference on 11 August, under the theme "Bring back trust, give us hope."
Joined by his wife, Tay Siew Hong, Tan expressed his intention to actively engage in fulfilling the President's pivotal responsibilities. These duties include overseeing the use and investment of reserves, as well as endorsing appointments to the highest echelons of the public service.
Furthermore, Tan aspires to leverage the presidential office's influence to shape policies that contribute to an enhanced quality of life for Singaporeans.
Election Symbol: Figures reaching up
The four figures in the representation symbolise Singapore's primary ethnic groups, collectively extending towards the symbolic "hope for a better future" represented by the flower, as explained by Tan during his doorstop with the media.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.