SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Media Doorstop (June 2023)

Transcript of Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam's opening remarks at the media doorstop on 8 June 2023.


Well, you have seen my exchange of letters with PM. I won't go through the full substance of my letters, but maybe I can highlight a few of the key points that led me to this decision. It wasn't a rushed decision. I've been thinking about it for some months. I wanted to wait to see whether President Halimah was going to stand again. But people have been talking to me for some time. I said it is a difficult decision because I'm very comfortable as a policymaker. But I think we are entering a fundamentally different era, fundamentally different times. Some of it we can tell how the world is already changing, we can tell how our domestic environment is changing. People have more varied views, more varied preferences – that we can tell. That's to be expected. Singapore is maturing as a population, as an electorate. That's to be expected. And I think the 4G leadership will be able to deal very well with that, and win trust with Singaporeans, even when people have more diverse views.

But what's truly worrying is what's happening internationally. Because that's not just about the risks we know, but it's also about the risks we do not know. It is a fundamentally more uncertain environment — very likely to be more fractured, but fundamentally more uncertain. The world is now set up for crises. The world is now set up for crises: economic crises, pandemics which are going to keep coming. But most worryingly, geopolitical conflict — frictions, tensions, sometimes maybe even overt conflict. And we've got to hold our own as Singapore — very small country, strong reputation built up over the years, but we've got to hold our own, so that the population holds together, we can still do well as Singaporeans and feel good about being Singaporeans. And that requires first that Singaporeans themselves keep the compact — multiracial, multireligious, people of different political persuasions, different views on many things, but remaining faithful to each other as Singaporeans. Keep the compact, through thick and thin, through crises – as the Chinese say 风雨同舟 – through the most difficult of times, pull together, because we are in the same boat together.

But there's a second element of it besides our social culture and keeping that compact, and that is the Singapore system of governance. And the elected presidency is a key pillar within the system of governance. He or she is not part of the Executive, making policy decisions, but he or she plays a very important role as a check on the system, and in ensuring the system is stable, through thick and thin. You know the functions of the President of course — the constitutional roles and guarding the reserves. Doesn't mean it can never be used — each year in fact we use significant income from the reserves and that itself is a function that the President has to oversee, ensuring that the income spent from reserves is in line with reasonable assumptions about the future. And from time to time, we may even have to draw on reserves, hopefully very rarely, but we are in for tough times.

And secondly, ensuring that the system retains its integrity. And the key to the Singapore system quite rare when you look at it internationally, is a system of appointing the right people to the key positions in the Civil Service and the other arms of government. That has to remain no matter who's governing Singapore 10 years from now, 20 years from now. And the President plays that important role.

But the President has also got to be a unifying figure at the time when people have more varied view, more varied preferences, even more varied politics. And most importantly of course, a unifying figure in a multiracial society that is precious to Singapore, our most important asset – a multiracial society. And the President has to be a unifying figure in that regard as well.

And thirdly, the President as head of state, has to project Singapore outward. Project our interest, project what has become Singapore voice of reason. Not always the same voice, we often do not have a house view on something that we go around parroting. But it is the Singapore way of thinking that is rational, that is balanced, that is neutral and things of what is in our interest, but also in the interest of the larger world and we find our reasonable way of putting our views across. And besides the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Head of State can perform that role.

And because of my various previous roles and current roles internationally, I would also expect to be active in that position, if I am fortunate to be elected president. I make no assumptions about my chances in this race. I've never made assumptions in all the elections have taken part in, this is different because it's not a political contest. Unlike General Elections I've been through this is not a political contest. This is about choosing the right person. But I still make no assumptions about my chances. I put myself forward to serve to the best of my ability. Using all my experience in economics and finance, in international affairs, and the standing I have internationally, I put myself forward to serve Singaporeans in this new role.

Not a political rule, but a different one that has to be above politics. It has to be above politics. And I feel the time is now right for me to serve in this role. And keep the Singapore system strong. Keep our social compact, strong, by being that unifying figure, and ensuring that the integrity of the system is here to last.

So let me say that, to explain a little further. Why I've made this decision wasn't an easy decision. But I feel that this is the right thing for me to do at this point.