The last time Singaporeans voted for a president, in 2011, the smartphone was only four years old and TikTok was still five years from creation. Media outlets recorded in-person debates between the candidates—four Chinese men surnamed Tan—and then uploaded them to YouTube. One was moderated by Viswa Sadasivan for The Online Citizen, two names that, for different reasons, have become far less prominent during Singapore’s election season.

This year, two of the candidates, Ng Kok Song and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, appear to have recruited competent social media teams to broadcast their views, particularly on TikTok. Sybil Lau and Jane Ittogi, their respective partners, make regular appearances. Fans have subsequently shared those videos on other platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, broadening their reach across generations.

The third candidate, Tan Kin Lian, appears to have a much less deliberate and sophisticated approach, relying mostly on lightly edited videos taken from his own smartphone. This unedited rawness, of course, has its own appeal. Yet, he may pay a price for his plain talking, given that many of his old posts have been flagged for apparent misogyny and racism.

Given the importance of social media, for the first time in history, to Singapore’s presidential election, Jom has compiled a greatest hits collection: four videos for each candidate.

This will be the first of two pieces on the presidency. Look out for our in-depth pre-election essay next Wednesday, Aug 30th, in which we scrutinise the three men’s candidacies.

Ng Kok Song

Ng’s more popular content involves financial literacy tips and details about his personal life. Ng’s social media pages are well-run, projecting an image of youth and demonstrating his relatability to young voters: emphasis on his hobbies; how he stays fit; how he found love; and his Gen Z slang. His challenge could be finding the right balance between showing his relevance and trying too hard to relate—already there are comments calling his posts “wayang” and “cringe”. Given his sudden appearance on the political scene, there’s a lot more interest in him at the moment.

  • “Singapore’s three treasures”: Ng on what the president safeguards

The elected president has the role of safeguarding our 3 treasures. These treasures make Singapore an exceptional country. So it is imperative that the president has the right experience to protect these treasures. #ngkoksong2023 #unitedforourfuture

♬ original sound - Ng Kok Song - Ng Kok Song
  • “Sleep, Handle stress, Interaction, Exercise, Learn, Diet (SHIELD)”: Ng on staying fit

Tan Kin Lian

Even though Tan’s social media accounts have been around for much longer than Ng’s and Tharman’s, he has no discernible social media strategy. His Facebook posts and livestreams, his primary channels, appear to showcase his unfiltered thoughts. His discussions of “pretty girls” in public and Indian migrants in Singapore have caused a furore. Ahead of the election, Tan has been emphasising his apparent independence from the government.

  • “A president who is truly independent of the ruling government”: Tan on what he might bring to the presidency

TAN KIN LIAN #fyp #singaporeelection2023 #PresidentialCandidate #foryourpage #singaporePresidentialCandidate #singaporeelections #singapore #tankinlian #foryoupageofficiall❤️❤️tiktok #foryou

♬ original sound - Tan Kin Lian
  • “Do you want lower cost of living, lower cost of housing so you can get married and have children? If you do, please vote for me.”: Tan on what he hopes to achieve (Note: it’s unclear how the president’s office can promote such policy changes or initiatives.)

Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Tharman’s most popular TikToks involve him discussing his personal life and family. His campaign-related content garners a lot of views, but not as much engagement (such as “likes” and shares) as compared to content about himself and his family. There doesn’t appear to be much negative content about him, though there are critical comments talking about his affiliation with the ruling People’s Action Party and the broader establishment. Tharman is one of Singapore’s most recognisable figures, though has never had to promote himself the way he’s doing now.

  • Integrity and independence of mind: Tharman on what he might bring to the presidency

If I am fortunate enough to be elected by my fellow Singaporeans, I pledge to bring my full experience and capabilities - on the ground, nationally, and internationally - to serve as your President for this new and more challenging era.

♬ original sound - Tharman Shanmugaratnam - Tharman Shanmugaratnam
  • “I intend to be very supportive of initiatives on the ground”: Tharman’s eagerness to support civil society

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