Singaporeans are heading to the polls in the city-state’s first contested presidential election in 12 years, a vote being closely watched as an indication of support for the ruling party after a rare spate of political scandals.
Observers said the result of Friday’s vote could indicate the level of support for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ahead of general elections due by 2025, or public discontent after recent scandals that include a corruption probe into the transport minister and the resignations of two PAP legislators over an affair.
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“The presidential election is increasingly being treated as a general election,” Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst with consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, told the French news agency AFP.
“An increase in protest voting is anticipated due to vacillating ground sentiments vis-a-vis the ruling government,” Izzuddin said.
The PAP suffered its worst-ever election performance in 2020 but maintained its more than two-thirds majority.
The city-state’s government is run by the prime minister, currently Lee Hsien Loong of the PAP, which has ruled Singapore continuously since 1959.
While the presidency is a largely ceremonial, nonpartisan 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.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Singapore, said elections in Singapore are “usually very predictable things”.
But the result of this election will be interesting as it comes at a time when the ruling PAP has been under some pressure, which raises the possibility of a “protest vote”, Cheng said.
“The ruling party has been in power since 1959. But with the new generation of voters going to the ballot box, there is the possibility that this presidential election could see that very rare thing – a protest vote,” Cheng said.
The election frontrunner is former deputy prime minister and finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a longtime 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 political independence during the campaign.
Another candidate, former insurance executive Tan Kin Lian, 75, has gained the support of several opposition leaders, and candidate, Ng Kok Song, 75, is the former chief investment officer of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, which manages the country’s foreign reserves.
Singapore requires presidential candidates to have served either as a senior civil servant or the chief executive of a company with shareholder equity of at least 500 million Singaporean dollars ($370m) as the president formally oversees the city’s accumulated financial reserves and holds the power to veto certain measures and approve anticorruption probes.
Voting is compulsory for Singapore’s more than 2.7 million eligible citizens. Those who do not vote without a valid reason risk being struck from the voter list.