S R Nathan. Source: Wikimedia
Former Singaporean president S R Nathan has died in Singapore General Hospital aged 92 after a stroke, as the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, showed his own mortality by nearly collapsing in public.
Nathan was also closely associated with the city-state’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.
“The prime minister and his cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr S R Nathan and would like to convey their condolences to his family,” the prime minister’s office said. “Arrangements for the public to pay respects and for the funeral will be announced later.”
He was the sixth and the longest-serving president, taking the largely ceremonial role from 1999 to 2011 when Tony Tan Keng Yam succeeded him.
Nathan then worked as distinguished senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and at Singapore Management University’s School of Social Sciences.
Before becoming head of state he held security, intelligence and foreign affairs roles, including high commissioner to Malaysia in 1988 and US ambassador from 1990 to 1996.
Nathan is survived by his wife, daughter, son and three grandchildren.
Prime Minister Lee, 64, almost collapsed during a National Day speech on Sunday, founding father Lee Kuan Yew, whose death in 2015 marked for many an end of an era.
“Singapore is indeed going through one of the toughest times with the economy faltering and the threat of terrorism,” said Inderjit Singh, an ex-MP for the People’s Action Party, which has ruled the one-party city-state since 1965.
“It is a concern that we are quite late in putting in place the fourth-generation leadership.”
In last year’s election the PAP won almost 70 per cent of vote and won all but six of the 89 seats. But the vote covered growing resentment over a widening wealth gap, the rising cost of living and an increasing number of foreign workers who now make up nearly 25 per cent of the 5.7 million population.
After recovering, Lee said: “What just happened makes it even more important [to discuss succession].”
Lee mentioned Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who he said would soon return to his duties following a stroke earlier this year. Other candidates include: Chan Chun Sing of the prime minister’s office and Tan Chuan-Jin, minister for social and family development.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is also mentioned but his Tamil ethnicity might be an obstacle. “A smooth succession and policy framework is particularly credit-relevant for our assessment of the country’s susceptibility to event risk, given that Singapore’s political stability has never been tested through a transition away from the ruling PAP,” opined Moody’s analyst Anushka Shah.