Singapore to hold a Presidential Election 

On 18 August 2023, the Singapore Election Department announced that the country would hold its presidential election on 1 September with three contesting candidates, including Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Ng Kok Song, and Tan Kin Lian. At the time of writing, the election has not been conducted.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66 years old, was a senior minister and is a well-known figure in Singapore. He introduced major economic reforms to achieve a broader and more flexible system of meritocracy. He also oversaw the team that provided support to the Covid-19 victims and created jobs for Singaporeans during COVID-19. Mr. Tharman hopes to “deepen the culture of respect” in Singapore to create a more inclusive society while also understanding that the world will be difficult in the future because of  US and China tensions. Mr. Tharman doesn’t support the death penalty, as people deserve “second, third, and fourth chances”. He also has a positive view on LGBTQ issues believing that individuals should not be discriminated against and should be able to live fully regardless of their preferences. 

In addition, Ng Kok Song, 75 years old, is a former GIC chief investment officer skillful in monetary management and entrepreneurship. He played a critical role in managing investments in public markets and vastly expanding investment capability during his employment at GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. Mr. Ng’s policy is to safeguard the country’s reserves and allow people to exercise their rights to vote while having no thoughts on acquiring power, fame, or money. With his experience in finance, he claims to ensure that Singapore’s reserves would be used wisely by the government and that none of the reserves get squandered.

Furthermore, Tan Kin Lian, 75 years old, is a former NTUC Income chief executive and is a candidate to run for the presidency for the second time since 2011. As an independent candidate, Mr. Tan was a member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) from the 1970s to 2008, who “wants to be the voice of the people” despite leaving the party in 2008. Shall he become Singapore’s head of state, Mr. Tan will bring up the issue of the withdrawal age for Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and the length of national services (NS) with the Government. However, he is also aware that under Singapore’s Constitution, the president does not possess any executive power to advance his or her policy agenda but is only responsible for safeguarding the national reserves and public service’s integrity.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to “vote wisely” for the best candidates in the upcoming election as “the President represents all Singaporeans and stands as a symbol of unity and aspirations”. Many acknowledged that Mr. Tharman would be a strong candidate based on his popularity, credibility, and international profile while another hopeful potential politician, Mr. George Goh, did not qualify to stand as a presidential candidate because his experience and ability to manage several smaller private sector companies is not equivalent to managing one very large organization.

The election result showed that Mr. Shanmugaratnam won a landslide victory of 70.4 % of the total vote. Former GIC chief investment office Ng Kok Song won 15.72% while former NTU Income chief Tan Kin Lian got 13.88% of the votes. More than 2.8 million votes were cast while 50,152 rejected votes.

The US, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines conducted joint naval drills

On 24 August 2023, Japan, the United States, Australia, and the Philippines conducted joint naval drills in the South China Sea.

The exercise intended to “strengthen collaboration towards the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific” after a recent show of Chinese aggression in the disputed waters, on 5 August, in which the Chinese coast guard ships used water cannons against the Philippines vessels in the contested waterway. Japan sent its largest destroyer, JS Izumo, and destroyer Samidare while the US Navy’s combat ship Mobile, Australia’s assault ship Canberra, frigate Anzac and F-35A fighter jets, and the Philippines’ landing ship Davo Del Sur were involved in the exercises. Manila and Canberra also conducted a separate drill near Scarborough Shoal, on 26 August 2023, for the strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center, believed that the trilateral exercise serves to maintain US hegemony, which in their eyes is being challenged by China. The drills, as said by Ordaniel – the non-resident director for maritime security at the Pacific Forum, are a “consequence of China’s bad behavior at sea and by coercing a US-treaty ally, Beijing is seeing more Western maritime forces in the South China Sea, not less”.  

Srettha Thavisin elected as Thailand’s new Prime Minister

Thai lawmakers approved tycoon Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai party as the kingdom’s new Prime Minister (PM), on 22 August 2023, ending three months of political deadlock after May’s election.

Mr. Thavisin won 482 votes, 165 against and 81 abstentions from the 728 politicians in the Thai parliament and will lead a coalition of 11 parties that includes two pro-military parties affiliated with the outgoing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, while the Move Forward Party was excluded from the coalition. Mr. Thavisin also received a formal endorsement letter to be appointed prime minister from King Maha Vajiralongkorn securing the royal support for his prime ministerial role. Srettha vowed to transfer 10, 000 baht (USD 286) into digital wallets of people aged over 16 years across the country to be spent in small shops aiming to stimulate private spending to help boost the sluggish economy while raising the minimum daily wage from 300 – 330 baht to 600 baht per day.

Supporters celebrated as Srettha Thavisin was elected as Thailand’s new prime minister after winning a simple majority in the parliamentary vote while the US congratulated Mr. Thavisin on his selection as Thailand’s next premier and are looked forward to working with the PM to build US – Thailand Communique on Strategic Alliance and Partnership. Despite Srettha’s pledge to “do the job to the best of his ability”, critics called the new government a betrayal of the election results while the Pheu Thai party leaders defended it as a necessity for ending political deadlock and creating reconciliation. Despite being in the Pheu Thai party, some believed Srettha won’t be able to impose his agenda on politics and policy as the party only has 141 lower house seats while the Bhumjaithai Party, the PPRP, the UTN, and the Charttaipattana party have 157 seats combined.

The selection of Srettha as the Prime Minister will pave the way for Thailand to focus on the next step – formulating its new government.


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.