Singaporeans cast their votes in contested presidential race

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A new presidential election took place in Singapore amidst significant political scandals. The government is under scrutiny for corruption allegations, several Members of Parliament (MPs) have resigned, and voters were openly expressing their frustration with the electoral process and the party that has held power for over six decades. Singaporeans elected a new president this Friday, a pivotal vote that will reflect the public sentiment during a period when the long-standing ruling party has been shaken by unusual political controversies.

This election occurred amid a corruption investigation involving a high-ranking government official, along with the resignation of two prominent lawmakers. While the president typically plays a ceremonial role and is expected to remain politically neutral, they possess certain powers that can influence the government, such as the authority to approve anti-corruption investigations and oppose specific decisions. The current government of the city-state is led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the People’s Action Party (PAP), who has continuously held leadership in Singapore since 1959. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a former deputy prime minister and the preferred PAP candidate, is considered the frontrunner in the polls.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam faces competition from Ng Kok Song, 75, the former chief investment officer at the sovereign wealth fund GIC, and Tan Kin Lian, 75, the former chief executive of insurer NTUC Income. Tan Kin Lian is perceived by many as the most independent candidate and has garnered support from several opposition leaders. However, he has faced criticism for his previous social media comments, including frequent posts about women he describes as “pretty girls.”

Various factors will influence how people cast their votes, including differing perceptions of the presidency’s role. Some view the position as more active, while others consider it primarily ceremonial, with the president serving as a representative of the nation abroad.

The presidential election marks the first contested race in more than a decade. However, many voters will use this election to send a message to the ruling party, given the high levels of discontent. This year’s election has also been preceded by discussions of ballot destruction as a form of protest, a phenomenon not witnessed so openly in previous elections.

The electoral process involves a rigorous vetting of candidates, which critics argue results in candidates who no longer truly represent the public. Private sector applicants must meet various requirements, including having served as a former executive director of a company with an average shareholders’ equity of at least $370 million. Public sector candidates must have held high positions in public service, many coming to see that this presidential election essentially favours those within the system and is unwelcoming to outsiders.

The polls closed on Friday at 20:00 local time, and results are expected at the beginning of next week.

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