Singapore: Seasoned politician Tony Tan was on Sunday elected Singapore's new President, winning the first contested election for the post in 18 years by a wafer-thin margin following a recount.

71-year-old Tan, former deputy prime minister and a member of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), was declared elected as the city state's seventh president after he defeated his nearest rival Tan Cheng Bock by a margin of 0.34 per cent, or 7,269 votes.

Tan garnered 744,397 votes or 35.19 per cent of the 2.15 million ballots cast on Saturday.

This election was Singapore's first contested vote for president, who has mainly a ceremonial role in the country's parliamentary government since 1993.

Tan will take over from President S R Nathan at the end of this month when the Indian-origin leader retires. Nathan did not face any competition when he became president in 1999 and was returned unopposed to a second term later.

"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."

The returning officer in charge of the election ordered a recount because the difference in the number of votes cast form Tan and Bock was fewer than 2 per cent.

Bock, 71, a former PAP member of parliament, received 737,128 votes or 34.85 per cent of the votes, while two other presidential hopefuls went out of the race earlier.

"The president is a president for all Singaporeans, not only for those who have voted for me but even for those who have not voted for me. I pledge to work for each and everyone of you," Tan said.

"It has been a strenuous campaign, it's over now, the real work begins straight away."

Tan's share of vote was well below the 60 per cent received by Lee's long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in May parliamentary elections when the opposition made historic gains.

Tan comes with the experience of having served as minister with various portfolios, being the Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of Singapore's Government Investment Corporation.
Two other presidential hopefuls in the the four-cornered election went out of the race earlier.

A former civil servant and now a financial investment advisor Tan Jee Say, 57, received 529,732 or 25.04 per cent of the votes.

Tan Kin Lian, 63 and a former executive of an state insurance company, lost his deposit after receiving only 4.91 per cent or 130,931 votes.

Welcoming the results and election of Tony Tan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, "This is the first presidential election in 18 years. It is good that Singaporeans have had the chance to vote for their next President, and to focus on what the elected President is about. I thank the four candidates for putting themselves forward."

"Voters have chosen Dr Tony Tan as our Head of State, to represent us at home and abroad, and to exercise custodial powers, including over reserves and key appointments," said the Prime Minister in a statement this morning.

"Voters faced a difficult choice between Dr Tony Tan and Dr Tan Cheng Bock. This explains why the winning margin is so narrow, and why the winner only gained slightly more than one-third of the total votes. Nevertheless, under our first-past-the-post system, the election has produced an unambiguous winner, who has the mandate to be the next
President," Lee said.

The presidential candidates and Singaporeans debated them importance of the President over the last nine days of campaigning after nominations were submitted on August 17.

The debate focused on the power of President and those of the Prime Minister, the Parliament as per the country's constitution, with the government and the four candidates explaining and reasoning on the role of the Head of State.

Internet media reported Singaporeans' views on the need to have a President with a wider check on the government, then the current power to safeguard the prosperous city state's past reserves, power to protect or reject critical appointments in the civil service as well as the final decision on certain laws of the land.

However, he had retired from political office and resigned from the corporation to contest for the Presidency as mandatory requirement that the candidates should not be affiliated to any political party, and should have managed a corporation with assets of SGD100 million or served in an equal position in the government.

(Agencies)