The New President

The New President

In years to come 2nd September 2023 will probably be remembered as the second most significant day in Singapore’s post-independence history. The New President, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, was elected by a majority of over 70% of the voters. The decision by the electorate is a reflection of the down-to-earth, common sense approach Singaporeans have towards principled, pragmatic governance. It is a day of rejoicing for me after having lived here for half my 91 years. Most of all, it is a day of rejoicing for Singapore.

The planet is stirring. It is caught in an excess of population, in climate disruption caused by overload, in ideological disagreements, in survival-threatening war, in invasion by a technology we can barely comprehend and in a communications revolution that has done more to educate people – not always in the best possible way – than all the educational budgets ever published. Singapore is a tiny, numerically insignificant country but its influence on world politics has been way beyond its size since Mr Lee Kuan Yew took command in the 1950s. Although he has long since gone, his foundation politics still determine the strategy for the country. 

But, like everywhere else, Singapore moves on.

One of Mr Lee’s great achievements was to gain international recognition with, by political standards, lightning speed. That was down to his straightforward policies and his personal stature. I was privileged to attend a small dinner party he gave for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on her visit here. The exchanges between the two Prime Ministers across the table of ten was the best sport I have ever seen. She had great stature, so did he.

The world has grown bigger and more complex since then. Leaders have trimmed their timescale as the pace of life has increased. We are now in a political universe of tacticians with strategies almost forgotten. You don’t need me to tell you which direction that is taking us in. For smaller countries, especially Singapore, the stature of its leaders is more important than ever.

The New President fills the role admirably. Known internationally for his sagacity and strength, he will develop Singapore’s position and give a lead in handling the East-West pressures we, like all the ASEAN countries, are subject to. The need for strength is upon us.

Singaporeans have reacted wisely.

The New President’s desk is already piled high with matters of urgency. But for today may he reflect the profound changes his appointment will make to Singapore, to all of us who live here and to the world. A gift of power is a gift of love, of hope and of trust.

We all offer our warmest congratulations to President Tharman.

May his time be memorable and secure.

Majulah Singapura.

John Bittleston

2 September 2023