SINGAPORE – Hours after Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam won big at the presidential election, cries of “huat ah” and “ong lai” continued to ring out on Saturday morning.
The former senior minister won a resounding 70.4 per cent of the ballot after more than 2.5 million people had cast their votes on Sept 1.
To thank voters, the 66-year-old travelled to different parts of Singapore, greeting residents and gamely taking photos with many of them.
Mr Tharman started in Taman Jurong, his former ward in Jurong GRC, where scenes of jubilation had played out the night before.
Members of the Jurong Hong San See Association had prepared two truckloads of pineapples, about 500 in all, to celebrate the win. The fruits were unloaded outside the three-storey Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre at about 8.40am, just before Mr Tharman and his wife, Ms Jane Ittogi, arrived at 9.15am.
Residents and supporters helped themselves to the pineapples, raising and waving them when Mr Tharman arrived.
Mr Tharman, Singapore’s ninth president, had picked the pineapple as the symbol of his campaign. Ong lai means pineapple in Hokkien and also good fortune to come, while huat ah is a Hokkien phrase used to express prosperity.
The President-elect stayed there for about 30 minutes and was swarmed by well-wishers who wanted to shake his hand and grab a selfie with him.
Mr Mohamed Rafeek, who owns beverage stall Raja Tarik, described Mr Tharman as a regular customer. The stall has been at Taman Jurong food centre for the last seven years. It was previously located in Amoy Street.
The stallholder placed a garland around Mr Tharman’s neck.
“When we heard he was coming, I quickly rushed out to buy the garland because I am proud of him,” said the 53-year-old, who also embraced the President-elect.
“Now he’s going to be the president and I can no longer meet him as often. One part of me is sad and the other happy… we can go and see him in the Istana if we want,” he said with a smile.
Mr Tharman’s next stop was Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre. When he arrived at 10.20am, the crowd erupted into cheers, with many residents rushing forward to shake his hand.
Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad was also there to welcome Mr Tharman and his wife.
Within minutes, more than 50 people had formed a queue to take a photo with him, while other supporters passed around pineapples and yelled: “Huat ah, Tharman!”
Madam Teo Man Lang, 59, who runs a dessert stall with her elder sister at the hawker centre, said she was surprised to see Mr Tharman and his wife show up there.
“I feel very honoured that he decided to come here and thank his supporters. It was nice to see so many people surround him and congratulate him. I really wanted to take a photo with him, but there were just too many people,” she said.
“I voted for him because I trust that he’ll fly Singapore’s flag high while always thinking about the interests of Singaporeans,” she added.
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In a Facebook post, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong congratulated the President-elect.
“As Mr Tharman has said, the election outcome is a vote of confidence in Singapore’s future, and augurs well for the stability and unity we all want for our little red dot.”
DPM Wong added that he is looking forward to Mr Tharman strengthening Singapore’s solidarity as a country, bringing out the best in its people and representing the country’s interests abroad.
At about 11am, Mr Tharman headed to Our Tampines Hub to greet voters there. He then made an appearance at Toa Payoh Hub, arriving there at about 12.30pm to applause and fanfare.
As with his earlier stops, large crowds quickly formed at both locations, with long queues of people hoping to catch a glimpse of Singapore’s next president.
In Tampines, Mr Tharman and his wife posed for photos with students from Greenridge Secondary School’s concert band, who were waiting to perform in a band fiesta there.
They also stopped for pictures with a large group of full-time national servicemen and members of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, who were there after a passing-out parade.
A Tampines resident in her 70s, who wanted to be known only as Madam Tay, held back tears as she shook hands with Mr Tharman. She reached out and kissed Ms Ittogi’s hand.
The woman, who was in a wheelchair, said in Mandarin: “He is Singapore’s pride, I wish him the best. Do well for our country.”
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