List of Presidents of Singapore
Before Singapore earned a self-governing status under the rule of the British, the country’s head of state was referred to as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara. The Malay term was used between 1959 and 1965 to replace the position of governor at the time. On August 9, 1965 when Singapore attained independence however, the position of Head of State was renamed as the Office of the President.
Between 1965 and 1991, the president had a largely ceremonial role and was appointed by Parliament to serve a term of four years. The constitution was amended in November 1991, making the provision for a president to be elected by Singaporean citizens. Elected presidents were to serve for a six-year term, while the presidency has no term limits.
Below is a list of Singapore’s presidents since the country gained independence.
Yusof Bin Ishak
Former chairman of the Public Service Commission and founder of the popular Malay newspaper, Utusan Melayu, Yusof was the first Malay-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara. On the day of Singapore’s Independence, he was sworn in as the nation’s first president, during his second term of office as Yang di-Pertuan Negara. On December 4, 1967, he was re-elected to serve a second four-year term. Yusof however died on November 23, 1970 during his second presidential term, as a result of a heart failure.
Benjamin Henry Sheares
Following the death of Yusof Bin Ishak, this renowned gynecologist and obstetrician was on December 30, 1970, elected by parliament as the country’s second president. Assuming office on January 2, 1971, Sheares was re-elected in November 1974, and December 1978 for a second and third four-year term respectively. During his third term as president, he suffered a coma for about five days and died on May 12, 1981.
C.V. Devan Nair
Singapore’s parliament elected C.V. Devan Nair as its third president on October 23, 1981. Becoming a president at age 58, Nair had earlier worked as the first secretary general of the National Trades Union Congress, which he helped form in 1961. He had also served as a member of parliament for Anson Constituency between 1979 and 1981.
He is noted as the first Singaporean president to resign from office. In March 1985, prior to the end of his term as president, he tendered in his resignation. His decision was announced on March 28, in a parliamentary statement which explained that he had developed certain symptoms of exhaustion and weakness associated with mental confusion and strange behavior. A team of six doctors examined and diagnosed that he had been suffering from alcoholism. Nair therefore resigned as a result of his health condition.
Wee Kim Wee
Former journalist Wee Kim Wee was elected the fourth Singaporean president by parliament on August 30, 1985. The diplomat stepped into office at age 69, and served two four year terms.
Kim Wee is remembered as the country’s last president to be appointed by Parliament and the first president to be given the powers of a constitutionally elected president. He however did not run for presidency in Singapore’s first election due to the fact that he was aging and didn’t want to be subject to the votes. He retired on September 1, 1993 when his second presidential term ended.
Ong Teng Cheong
Former Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong, won Singapore’s first presidential election against Chua Kim Yeow, with 58.7 percent of the votes. He became the island nation’s first citizen-elected president on September 1, 1993. As the fifth president, his term lasted for six years, after which he did not re-run for the next election. He retired on August 31, 1999.
S. R. Nathan, prior to becoming the country’s sixth president, served as the ambassador to the United States. He was elected unopposed in the 1999 elections since no other candidate was eligible to contest. At age 75, S.R Nathan was sworn in on September 1, 1999.
Again in 2005, Nathan contested unopposed in the presidential election, winning another six year term and continuing his presidential term on August 17, 2005. By the time his second term was over, Nathan was about 87 years old. By virtue of this, he decided not to pursue another term due to his old age. His 12-year presidential term qualifies him as one of Singapore’s longest serving presidents.
Tony Tan Keng Yam
Singapore’s 2011 presidential election is considered one of the toughest with a total of four eligible candidates contesting the seat. These included the following:
- Former deputy prime minister, Tony Kan Keng Yam
- Former NTUC Income CEO, Tan Kin Lian
- Investment manager Tan Jee Say
- Former member of parliament, Tan Cheng Bock
At the end of the elections which was held on August 27, 2011, Tony Tan Keng Yam, was in the lead with 35.2 percent of the valid votes. On September 1, 2011, he was sworn in as Singapore’s seventh president and served a six year term. On August 31, 2017, he stepped down from office.
Halimah Yacob, on September 14, 2017 was sworn in as Singapore’s eighth president, and first ever female president. She also happened to be the first Malay Muslim president, after Yusof Ishak. Yacob won the elections unopposed as no other candidates were eligible. The election was also the country’s first reserved presidential election for the Malay community.
Prior to becoming president, Halimah, from 2013 to 2017, served as the 9th Speaker of Parliament. She also once served as an MP.