Former Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan won a narrow victory to become the country's seventh president, officials said Sunday, a sign that the popularity of the Southeast Asian city-state's ruling party is eroding.
The 71-year-old Tan received 35 percent of about 2.1 million votes in Saturday's election, edging former member of parliament Tan Cheng Bock by just 7,269 ballots, Elections Department chief Yam Ah Mee said early Sunday. Tan Jee Say earned 25 percent of the vote, while Tan Kin Lian got 5 percent.
The announcement of the results was delayed by a few hours as election officials recounted the votes because of the tight contest between the top two candidates.
The election was Singapore's first contested vote for president _ mainly a ceremonial position in the country's parliamentary government _ since 1993.
"I plan to work my utmost for Singaporeans whatever be their political affiliation," Tan said after the results were announced. "The presidency is above politics."
Analysts were closely watching the performance of Tony Tan, who was backed by most of the political establishment, as a barometer of voter discontent with the ruling People's Action Party, which has held power since 1959.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the PAP did not officially endorse Tan, but Lee praised Tan last month and didn't mention any of the other three candidates. Until last month, Tan was executive director of sovereign wealth fund Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and chairman of media company Singapore Press Holdings.
In May, the PAP's vote total in parliamentary elections fell to 60 percent _ its lowest since Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965 _ amid a backlash against soaring housing prices, a surge in foreign workers and rising income inequality.
The PAP maintains a large majority in parliament, with 81 of 87 seats. But its grip on power _ once so complete that it controlled every parliament seat and PAP candidates won most districts unopposed _ appears to be slipping.
"The overwhelming majority of the voters didn't vote for the government-sponsored candidate," said Tan Jee Say, who lost a bid for a parliament seat in May representing the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. "More than 60 percent wanted some checks and balances."
Singapore's constitution allows the president to veto the use of the country's reserves and some public office appointments, but doesn't give the post any executive authority.
Tan Cheng Bock was a PAP member of parliament from 1980 to 2006, but said during the campaign that he would put the interests of the country above those of the party and speak out if the government makes a mistake.
"I'm not a proxy to any political party. I'm not a proxy to the PAP," he said early Sunday before the results were announced. "I'm the one who can unify all Singaporeans."
Outgoing President S.R. Nathan, who won two six-year terms unopposed, consulted with the prime minister and Cabinet in private but avoided public comment on government policy. Tony Tan and government spokesmen sought in recent weeks to quell calls for an expanded role for the president.
Tan will take office Sept. 1.