Ng’s entry: Signifying a two-cornered fight in the upcoming presidential race instead of a walkover

Ng’s entry: Signifying a two-cornered fight in the upcoming presidential race instead of a walkover

Ng Kok Song, chairman and co-founder of Avanda Investment Management, has confirmed that he is contemplating a run in the forthcoming presidential election.

Speaking to Lianhe Zaobao, Ng shared that he expects to make a final decision within a week.

The announcement follows a report by Wake Up Singapore predicting the 75-year-old financier’s entry into the presidential race, scheduled for no later than 13 September 2023.

If Ng indeed declares his candidacy, it is almost guaranteed he will meet the qualifying criteria, given that Avanda Investment Management, a discreet fund supported by Temasek among others, reportedly commands roughly S$10 billion in assets, far exceeding the S$500 million shareholders’ equity required by a private sector candidate as laid out in Article 19 of the Singaporean Constitution.

Bloomberg reports that Avanda’s founding clients were the Singapore Labour Foundation, Temasek, and GIC, who together launched the firm with an initial $4 billion in assets.

Prior to establishing Avanda in 2015, Ng served nearly three decades at GIC, a professional fund management company handling the Singapore government’s foreign assets.

He has previously expressed the belief that full transparency could potentially disadvantage GIC in financial markets due to the sensitive nature of the information shared.

Ng commenced his distinguished career in 1970 at the Ministry of Finance’s overseas investment department.

He joined the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1972 to 1986, earning a Meritorious Service Medal from the Singapore Government in 2012 for his outstanding contributions.

Following his retirement from GIC in February 2013, Ng served on the board of directors of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) from 2013 to 2018.

He currently sits on the board of governors of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

The presidential race has so far attracted only two other potential candidates – Entrepreneur George Goh Ching Wah and Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam from the People’s Action Party (PAP).

While some have suggested that this could turn out to be a three-cornered fight, I am more inclined to believe that this election will resemble the 1993 Singaporean presidential election.

In that race, the late Ong Teng Cheong, a former PAP Deputy Prime Minister who received 58.7% of the vote, contested against Chua Kim Yeow, the first auditor-general of Singapore. Chua was a reluctant candidate who did not campaign and even asked voters to vote for Ong.

It was reported that then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong urged Chua to run in the country’s first presidential election in 1993 to give voters a choice of candidates.

Chua agreed, but openly acknowledged his reluctance to do so, calling his opponent, then DPM Ong, “a far superior candidate.”

He did not have any posters, pamphlets, rallies, or most other materials and events usually associated with elections. Instead, he limited his campaigning to two 10-minute television broadcasts, and later relented to give a media interview.

Given the recent public sentiment leading up to the presidential election, it’s evident that another uncontested win for the presidential appointment could be highly detrimental to both PAP and public trust in the presidency.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that a relatively unknown candidate, while still pro-establishment, has been introduced into the fray to provide at least a semblance of competition.

It should be noted that even in the event of a three-cornered fight, votes will not be evenly split among the three candidates.

This was exemplified in the 2011 Presidential Election when votes that might have otherwise gone to Tan Cheng Bock were diverted to Tan Jee Say, an opposition candidate who decided to run shortly after the 2011 General Election.

It’s worth noting that the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) allowed Tan Jee Say to participate despite his not meeting the criteria for a private-sector candidate.

In this case, involving Tharman, Ng, and Goh, pro-establishment votes will be split between Tharman and Ng, while Goh will maintain his share of the votes, making a victory for PAP’s preferred candidates even harder.

Therefore, the more likely scenario is that the PEC will deny Goh a certificate of eligibility due to his companies not meeting the criteria despite his confidence, resulting in a two-way fight.

Regardless of who wins in such a fight, PAP will not come out as the losing party. Instead, it will be the public who will have been made to cast their votes in a contest that may seem predetermined, as was the case in the 1962 Singaporean integration referendum.

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