SINGAPORE – Presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song believes that as a politically neutral person who has never belonged to any political party, he is in a better position to help unify the country.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, the former GIC chief investment officer was asked if he was worried that people may perceive him as an establishment candidate.
Mr Ng, 75, said that while he is proud of his 45-year record in public service, “we must make a difference between establishment and the ruling party”.
“I have never belonged to any political party. I’ve never belonged to the People’s Action Party,” he said during a visit to the Central Sikh Temple, his first public appearance since announcing his presidential bid.
“As a politically neutral person who can rise above politics, I will be in a better position to help unify our country so that our differences of views, our differences of political affiliations do not become divisions in our society and tear our society apart,” he added.
He noted that many Singaporeans want to see a balance between the presidency and the Government. “This balance can be better achieved if we have a president who has never belonged to any political party,” he said, adding that he hopes this will raise the trust and confidence of people in him.
During his visit, Mr Ng had breakfast with the temple representatives, posed for pictures with some healthcare professionals of the Sikh community, and went through a blessings ritual.
He was accompanied by his brother Charles Ng, 60, a business adviser, who told The Straits Times that he would be supporting Mr Ng throughout his presidential campaign.
Mr Ng announced his intention to run for president on Wednesday, making it a potential three-way fight at the polls later in 2023 if he receives his certificate of eligibility from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC).
He had emphasised his lack of political affiliations, and that Singapore needs a president who is “independent of any political party to safeguard the integrity of our institutions”.
Entrepreneur George Goh, 63, and former senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66, have also indicated their intention to run for the presidency.
Both Mr Ng and Mr Goh do not automatically qualify for the post.
Asked whether he is confident that he will qualify for the presidential race, Mr Ng said this is up to the PEC to decide.
“My work in the public service is on the record – 45 years at a very senior level, 30 years in the GIC, where I was, for six years, the group chief investment officer. So I feel that those qualifications would be equivalent to those who qualify automatically,” he said.
He will be submitting his application form for eligibility, listing out all his qualifications “in the hope that they will deem me eligible”.
Mr Ng, who retired from the sovereign wealth fund in 2013 after 27 years there, is now executive chairman of investment firm Avanda Investment Management. He is also chairman emeritus and founder of the Wealth Management Institute that was established in 2003 by GIC and Temasek, and sits on investment management firm Pimco’s global advisory board.
The Catholic said he believes very strongly in inter-religious harmony, which means respect and understanding beyond tolerance. All religions subscribe to the fact that all men and women are brothers and sisters, he added.
Raising his palm to reporters, he said the tips of the fingers are separate, representing how every religion has its unique features.
“When people of every religion can go deep, we all meet in the centre of the palm,” he said. “This centre of our palm is our common ground.”
Mr Ng added that as president, he would do more to promote racial harmony. While Singapore has “financial treasure” in the form of its reserves, the country’s “social treasure” – racial harmony – is more important, he said.
He is also passionate about the issue of mental health, and highlighted the importance of devoting more resources into addressing it.
On young people, he said his message to this group is that there are opportunities for them, and a bright future if they work hard.
He also visited the Leong Nam Temple in Sengkang on Sunday, and will go to the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre on Tuesday.
The presidential campaign will give him the opportunity to get to know Singaporeans better and listen to them, he said. “And in turn, I hope they will listen to me, and what my hopes are for Singapore, and why I’m coming forward to serve the people of Singapore.”