'No one regarded Ong Teng Cheong as less independent': Tharman on presidents having past associations with PAP

'No one regarded Ong Teng Cheong as less independent': Tharman on presidents having past associations with PAP

Being an "independent candidate" has been a hot topic as Singapore gears up for the upcoming presidential election. 

In a press conference at the York Hotel on Wednesday (July 26) to launch his presidential campaign, Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that he does not blame any hopefuls for emphasising about "being independent" from a political party.

"I think they're doing it to distinguish themselves. It's understandable," the former Senior Minister added. 

But Tharman pointed out that there is a big difference between independence from any past affiliation with a political party and independence of mind, character and convictions.

Citing former president Ong Teng Cheong — who was deputy prime minister before he stepped down — as an example, he said:

"No one regards him as being less independent because of his past association with the People's Action Party (PAP).

"It comes down to character. It comes down to being independent minded," Tharman said, adding that he sees having been in politics as an advantage. 

"I have no regrets at all of having been in the PAP and serving as a politician for 22 years, both in the Cabinet as well as on the ground. I have... no regrets being part of the team."

If he were "fortunate enough" to be elected, Tharman said he will bring his "full experience and capabilities on the ground" in Singapore and on the international stage. 

Former GIC president, ex-inmate as Tharman's assenters

In the press conference, Tharman also unveiled his proposer and seconder — Thomas Chua, President of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Association and a former Nominated Member of Parliament, and former President of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) Alami Musa respectively. 

Tharman's assenters are:

  • Hassan Ahmad, special advisor to interfaith non-profit organisation Humanity Matters
  • Ho Kwon Ping, founder and executive chairman of hospitality group Banyan Tree Holdings
  • Kamsinah Sadar, general manager of charity Tasek Jurong
  • Kim Whye Kee, ceramicist and founder of Qi Pottery and co-founder of Beacon of Life, an initiative to help at-risk youth
  • Mary Liew, president of the National Trades Union CongressLim Siong Guan, former group president of GIC and former head of the civil service
  • Royston Tan, film director and creative director of the 2023 National Day Parade
  • Professor Veera Sekaran, professor in practice at the National University of Singapore.

Explaining his choices of proposer, seconder and assenters, Tharman said they all have a track record in all walks of life — the public service and business sector. 

"I'm proud to have them with me today," Tharman said. "They are a group of Singaporeans who have a vision for the future. 

"My candidacy is not just about myself, but [also] our future."

Tharman not a yes-man: Seconder

One of the assenters, Lim, said that Tharman is a man who will "always want to do what is good, but also right for Singapore". 

Describing how he's known Tharman for 25 years, he said: "I think having a president that understands the complexity of government at a time when we are all anticipating having a new prime minister in the foreseeable future, makes this doubly important."  

Meanwhile, Ho said that having a president who is independent is "overrated". 

A moral integrity, a sense of purpose and proven capability to get things done is "absolute necessary", he added.

Tharman's seconder Alami agreed, while pointing out that Tharman is not a "yes-man".

On June 8, Tharman announced that he will be running in the upcoming Presidential Election.

He has since stepped down as Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Chairman of the Economic Development Board's International Advisory. 

Businessman George Goh and former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song have also thrown their hats into the ring.

ALSO READ: 'People know what I stand for': Tharman 'doesn't think' recent PAP incidents will hurt his chances in Presidential Election


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