The Dawn of a New Political Era: Unpacking the 2023 Singapore Presidential Elections


2. Rethinking the Constitutional Guidelines: The Case for a Runoff Election

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam clinched victory with an impressive 70.4% of the vote, underscoring a resounding mandate from the electorate. However, one can’t help but reflect on the considerably more contentious 2011 Presidential Election.

In that four-way contest which also involved Tan Kin Lian, President Tony Tan eked out a victory with a razor-thin 35.2% of the vote, very narrowly defeating Tan Cheng Bock (34.85%) and Tan Jee Say (25.04%).

This historical backdrop raises a compelling question: Does a winner in a multi-cornered fight, with less than an absolute majority of votes, truly have the popular mandate to exercise the substantial powers vested in the presidency? These powers include the ability to veto key government appointments and safeguard the nation’s financial reserves.

It’s ironic that amid ongoing debates about the tightening of eligibility criteria for presidential candidates, another aspect of the election process may require scrutiny. Specifically, should there be an amendment to allow for a runoff election between the top two candidates if no one secures a majority in a multi-cornered contest?

Such an arrangement could address concerns about the legitimacy of a president’s mandate, particularly when their responsibilities encompass critical issues that require broad public support. A runoff could serve as a mechanism to ensure that the elected individual carries the weight of an absolute majority—redefining what it means to have a “strong mandate” in a more pluralistic and contested political landscape.

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