Here’s Tharman’s Response After Tan Kin Lian Says Locals Prefer “First Lady” to be “True Singaporean from Birth”

Presidential hopeful Tan Kin Lian has said some provocative stuff this election season.

Besides inciting online outrage by commenting on “pretty girls”, he also made comments about other candidates.

On the morning of 25 August, Mr Tan commented that Singaporeans would prefer a president and spouse born in Singapore.

Presidential candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam has since responded to these comments.

Mr Tharman’s Response

On Friday morning, Mr Tan said, “My wife, like me, we were born in Singapore. We are blue-blooded Singaporeans.

“We respect other people from other countries who come to Singapore to become citizens. But I think deep down, our locals would prefer at least a chance to have the President and the ‘first lady’ to be true Singaporeans from birth.”

He made this claim while speaking to reporters before a walkabout at Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre.

Mr Tan’s comments appear to be referencing the wife of Mr Tharman and the fiancée of other presidential candidate, former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song.

If you didn’t know, Mr Tharman’s wife, Jane Yumiko Ittogi, was born in Japan to a Singaporean Chinese mother and Japanese father. 

Her parents met in Singapore.

Mr Ng’s fiancée, 45-year-old Sybil Lau, was born in Canada. 

Mr Tharman told the media that he would prefer not to comment on tactical statements made by other candidates.

He added that he preferred for people to judge for themselves.

Mr Tharman responded to the comments during his walkabout at Amoy Street Food Centre on 25 August.

Though he declined to comment directly on Mr Tan’s comments, he cited Mr George Goh, who was disqualified from the presidential race, as an example of the Singapore story.

He explained, “The fact that he was born in Malaysia… started off poor, worked very hard, came to Singapore and succeeded… It has always been the Singapore story.”

Mr Tharman added that commenting on statements made by other candidates was not his style, saying, “My life is an open book. Everyone knows me.”

What did Tan Kin Lian Mean?

Mr Tan clarified the meaning of “blue-blooded” in a WhatsApp response to TODAY.

And no, he didn’t mean that his blood was literally blue.

He said, “Blue-blooded Singaporean typically refers to someone who comes from a long-standing and respected lineage within Singaporean society, often implying a strong connection to the country’s history, culture and traditions.”

In his definition of “blue-blooded”, Mr Tan added that the phrase may also be used “metaphorically to describe individuals who exhibit a deep and unwavering patriotism for Singapore.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “blue-blooded” as a “person who has been born into a family that belongs to the highest social class”.

Notably, there’s no official role for the President’s spouse.

Speaking to TODAY, Associate Professor Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University (SMU) noted that while Singapore used to have the official title of “first lady” for the spouse of a male president, this title has not been in use since at least 2000.

He added that before 2000, the use of the label “first lady” was “merely a practice that had no legal basis”.

Thus, it is uncertain if Singaporeans would vote for their president based on Mr Tan’s claims.

Mr Ng previously said that Ms Lau is a Singapore citizen and has lived here for 18 years.

Mrs Tharman, though born in Japan, has lived in Singapore since she was three years old.

She attended local schools.

She is currently in her late 60s and a lawyer by training.

Supporting Civil Society and Community Efforts

During his walkabout at Amoy Street Food Centre, Mr Tharman talked about other topics he felt were important.

Mr Tharman commented on the importance of building confidence in the underprivileged.

He said, “Confidence doesn’t come naturally. When you are poor and disadvantaged, you cannot underestimate how people can lose confidence and feel that they are being looked down upon.

“So, earn their trust, respect them and help them to develop themselves.”

Noting that this has been a topic he and his wife have been passionate about for a long time, he wants to “scale that up”.

He added, “It is not easy to overcome a disadvantaged background. You have to stay with people through their lives and give them real confidence in themselves, I believe strongly in that.”

He also talked about his campaign budget, saying that it is within the requirements mandated by the Elections Department.

He said that his budget was low and that he had spent “much less” on social media compared to other candidates.

He said, “The good thing about Singapore is that we have, if not the tightest, one of the tightest rules anywhere in the world on spending money in politics.”