Transcript of Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the swearing-in of President Tharman Shanmugaratnam on 14 September 2023 at the Istana.
President Tharman Shanmugaratnam & Mrs Jane Ittogi Shanmugaratnam,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
We are here this evening to witness the inauguration of Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam as the ninth President of the Republic of Singapore.
Mr President, I am very happy to congratulate you on winning this election so decisively. It was good that there was a contest, and Singaporeans had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. The strong vote share you garnered showed the regard and support voters had for you, and for your message of unity expressed in your campaign theme “Respect for All”.
The outcome of this Presidential election was positive for Singapore, for many reasons. First, Singaporeans have chosen a candidate who is eminently qualified for this high office – someone who not only has the ability, experience, and stature to carry out his duties both at home and abroad, but also sound judgement and unquestioned integrity, all vital prerequisites for being President.
Second, this election has shown that when it comes to voting, race is a smaller factor now than it used to be. As you, Mr President, said on election night, race is a factor in politics everywhere, but Singaporean voters today look at many other factors too. It is indeed a good sign that in a national vote, Singaporeans have elected a candidate from a minority community as President, on his merits, by an overwhelming majority.
Third, in this election, voters have shown greater understanding of the roles and duties of the President than previously. The President is someone who represents all of us with dignity and grace, and fulfils his custodial duties with integrity and independent judgement, while staying above the dust and heat of politics. The campaign was focussed on how the candidates intended to exercise these custodial powers, and what personal experience and attributes they would bring to the post, rather than on government policies or political issues. Singaporeans understood that they were choosing a President for the nation, and not electing the next government.
All these bode well for our nation’s future.
Mr President, you have a long and distinguished career in public service. You started out as an economist in the Monetary Authority of Singapore, rose through the ranks to become its Managing Director, and later as a Minister became its Chairman.
In Cabinet, you also held key appointments, first in Education and then in Finance. Later you shouldered broader responsibilities as Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, and most recently Senior Minister.
As an MP for Jurong GRC for 22 years, you served your constituents with all your heart. You were always there for them, solving their problems and improving their lives.
Your experience in public service has prepared you well for your new responsibilities.
Uniting the Nation
Mr President, as Head of State, you have an important symbolic role – to strengthen our unity and cohesion as one nation. As you have said, it is the things that cannot be measured that will be critical to our nation’s future: Our instinct to stand together in difficult times, and look out for one another; our ability to empathise with fellow Singaporeans, and draw strength from our diversity.
You campaigned for election to unite all Singaporeans regardless of race, language, or religion. The Government shares your declared goal: to build a more inclusive society, one where everyone is valued for who they are, and every Singaporean has a place.
You have spoken about being particularly passionate about two areas – sports and the arts. As a former sportsman yourself, you appreciate more than most the potential of sports to build a robust and resilient society, and to be a rallying point for our people. And a vibrant arts scene is a good avenue to celebrate and strengthen our multi-culturalism, a key aspect of what it means to be Singaporean. We look forward to your support in these areas, which will help to make us a rich and rounded society.
As President, you also have important custodial responsibilities, as defined in the Constitution. You have approving authority for key appointments, and hold the “second key” to our nation’s reserves. You are the guardian of our nest egg, which we have painstakingly built up over decades. Assisted by the Council of Presidential Advisors, you have to ensure that the reserves are well protected, to be used only for important and exceptional purposes, especially in urgent crises.
The pandemic reminded Singaporeans what an enormous advantage it is to have adequate reserves to draw upon in a dire situation. COVID-19 called for an aggressive whole-of-nation response to support lives and livelihoods. Given your wealth of experience in economic and financial matters, and your familiarity with how the system of the second key works, I have every confidence in your ability to fulfil this important duty. I pledge my government’s full support and cooperation, as we operate this unique system to protect our reserves and key appointments.
Representing Singapore on the World Stage
Mr President, in addition to your domestic duties, internationally you will be our top diplomat, representing Singapore on the world stage. I look forward to you helping to strengthen our ties with other countries and international organisations and partners; and to open new opportunities abroad for our people and our businesses.
You are very familiar with this, having participated actively in international discussions on economic and monetary issues, and having held high-level appointments in international organisations and blue-ribbon advisory panels. I therefore have no doubt that you will fulfil this role with distinction. The government will work closely with you and support you to make the most of your experience and personal standing, in order to advance Singapore’s interests and enhance our status in the world.
Finally, there is one person whose personal support will matter greatly to you. Let me take this opportunity to welcome your wife, Mrs Jane Ittogi Shanmugaratnam, to the new role and duties that she will play as the spouse of the President in the years to come.
Mr President, Singapore is navigating our way forward in an increasingly troubled and uncertain world. Our society is in transition, as we adapt to and evolve with changing circumstances. At such times, it is crucial that our nation’s highest office be occupied by someone with the right experience and abilities, values and character.
I am sure that like your predecessors, you too will be a President for all Singaporeans, and serve Singapore with dedication and distinction.
We wish you every success as you embark on your Presidency, and will work closely with you to take Singapore forward towards a better, brighter future for all Singaporeans.
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