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


4. The Overemphasis on Fiscal Guardianship

A notably pronounced theme of the 2023 Presidential Election was its preoccupation with the custodial responsibilities of the presidency, especially concerning the safeguarding of Singapore’s financial reserves. Media outlets such as CNA contributed to this narrative, airing a multipart documentary that spotlighted the reserves.

The spectre of a parliament gone awry with fiscal imprudence was regularly dangled before the electorate, almost as if this scenario was not just possible, but probable should the People’s Action Party (PAP) lose its parliamentary dominance.

It’s worth pondering whether the focus on fiscal management ultimately favoured President Tharman Shanmugaratnam who is known for his formidable economic acumen gleaned from stints as Finance Minister and roles at international institutions like the IMF and the World Economic Forum.

The Double-Edged Sword of Technocratic Framing

This framing may do a disservice to both the candidates and the electorate for two reasons. Firstly, it casts opposition figures as fiscally reckless, appealing to populist impulses. This implicitly diminishes the legitimacy of non-establishment candidates, making it challenging for them to present a nuanced fiscal approach that doesn’t toe the establishment line.

Secondly, it seems to dismiss the possibility that the electorate could opt for a legislature more inclined to increase social welfare spending. This feeds into a broader narrative of fiscal prudence that constrains the political discourse, effectively sidelining debates about social justice, income inequality, and other pressing issues.

More Than a Financial Overseer

While having a financial savant like Tharman at the helm is undoubtedly an asset, it’s worth noting that the role of the president doesn’t exclusively demand fiscal expertise. President Halimah Yacob’s term exemplified how a non-technocrat could competently execute the duties of the office, especially with the aid of the CPA.

Perhaps the conversation about what attributes make an effective president needs to evolve. The exclusive focus on financial guardianship and the corresponding qualification requirements not only limit the pool of eligible candidates, but also constrains the electorate’s understanding of what a truly effective, multi-dimensional leadership might look like.

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