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Tan's election win loosens Lee's grip

FORMER deputy prime minister Tony Tan has narrowly won Singapore's presidential election in a sign that support for the party that has ruled the city-state with an iron grip for more than four decades is eroding.

FORMER deputy prime minister Tony Tan has narrowly won Singapore's presidential election in a sign that support for the party that has ruled the city-state with an iron grip for more than four decades is eroding.

Mr Tan was tacitly endorsed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the first contest for the largely ceremonial position since 1993.

The closeness of the vote will ring alarm bells in the People's Action Party that was founded by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

It comes after May's parliamentary election where the PAP's total vote fell to 60 per cent, it's lowest since Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965.

The PAP still maintains a big majority in parliament with 81 of 87 seats, but analysts say the party is facing a backlash over issues including soaring house prices, a surge in foreign workers and rising income inequality.

Murray Hiebert, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies' south-east Asia program, said the closely fought race shows Singaporeans are divided between those who wanted to support the candidate most closely associated with the PAP and give the government a vote of confidence and those who wanted a more independent president.

Mr Tan, 71, received 35 per cent of about 2.1 million votes in Saturday's election, beating former MP Tan Cheng Bock by 7269 votes.

However, election officials have ordered a recount because of the closeness of the vote.

"I plan to work my utmost for Singaporeans whatever be their political affiliation. The president is above politics," Mr Tan said after the results were announced.

During his 27 years in parliament Mr Tan was a senior minister under Lee Kuan Yew before heading the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.

The president has veto powers over key government appointments and safeguards Singapore's foreign reserves, which now total around $US250 billion.

Prime Minister Lee appealed for unity after intense campaigning by four candidates.

"Now that the election is over, we should all come together again as Singaporeans, to tackle the challenges that Singapore faces, and take our nation forward," Mr Lee said.

After the May election, Mr Lee made key cabinet changes that included the retirement of his 87-year-old father, Lee Kuan Yew and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.


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