SINGAPORE-Singaporeans headed to the polls Friday in the city-state’s first contested presidential election in more than a decade, a vote being closely watched as an indication of support for the ruling party after a rare spate of political scandals.
The president’s role is largely ceremonial, but there are stringent requirements for the position, which formally oversees the city’s accumulated financial reserves and holds the power to veto certain measures and approve anti-graft probes.
While the presidency is a non-partisan post under the constitution, political lines were already drawn ahead of the election to replace incumbent Halimah Yacob, who ran unopposed for her six-year term in 2017.
The city-state’s government is run by the prime minister, currently Lee Hsien Loong of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore continuously since 1959.
Observers said the vote could indicate the level of PAP support ahead of general elections due in 2025 or discontent after recent scandals that include a corruption probe into the transport minister and the resignations of two PAP legislators over an affair.
“What we want is a prosperous Singapore,” self-employed worker Patrick Low, 70, told AFP after casting his vote.
Long orderly lines snaked from polling centres absent the raucous environment that can accompany elections in other countries, where supporters chant or distribute flyers to lobby for last-minute votes.
The frontrunner is former deputy prime minister and finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a long-time PAP stalwart before he resigned ahead of his candidacy. The 66-year-old economist is widely perceived as having the government’s backing and was questioned about his independence during the campaign.
Another candidate, former insurance executive Tan Kin Lian, 75, has gained the support of several opposition leaders. The third contender, Ng Kok Song, 75, is the former chief investment officer of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, which manages the country’s foreign reserves. The vote will have no exit polls before a result is announced late Friday night. “The presidential election is increasingly being treated as a general election,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst with consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore.