S R Nathan was elected the sixth president of the Republic of Singapore on 18 August 1999. He succeeded Ong Teng Cheong who had announced on 16 July the previous month that he would not be running for a second term as president.
Prior to becoming president, Nathan held key positions in security, intelligence and foreign affairs in the public service, and chaired various companies and academic institutions. He began his career as a medical social worker in the public service in 1955 after he graduated with a Diploma in Social Studies (Distinction) from the University of Malaya in Singapore. A year later, Nathan was appointed Seamen’s Welfare Officer before he was seconded to the Labour Research Unit of the Labour Movement as assistant director and later as director, where he remained until January 1966. The following month, Nathan was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he served as assistant secretary before being promoted to deputy secretary. In January 1971, he was appointed acting permanent secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and between August 1971 and February 1979, he was director of the Security and Intelligence Division (SID) at the Ministry of Defence.
During his tenure as director of the SID, Nathan dealt with a number of terrorist acts in Singapore, including the Laju incident in 1974, in which the Laju ferry was taken by four hijackers from the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Between 1979 and 1982, Nathan was first permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thereafter, he left public service and went on to hold chairmanships and directorships in various companies, including the Straits Times Press Holdings, Singapore Mint and Mitsubishi Singapore Heavy Industries. In 1988, Nathan returned to public service to take on the role of high commissioner to Malaysia, and later served as ambassador to the United States in 1990. In 1996, Nathan was appointed ambassador-at-large and concurrently served as the director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (now known as the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies) at the Nanyang Technological University. He was also appointed as one of the pro-chancellors of the National University of Singapore that same year.
After Ong announced his decision not to seek re-election, Nathan was approached by several senior leaders, including then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to submit his candidacy for the presidential election. Nathan accepted the request out of a sense of duty and was elected president on 18 August 1999 as the sole eligible candidate after the application of two other potential candidates were rejected because they could not meet the constitutional criteria for the post. Nathan was sworn in as president on 1 September 1999. On 17 August 2005, Nathan was re-elected for a second term as president and again without contest as there were no other eligible candidates. In July 2011, Nathan announced that he would not seek a third term as president. He was succeeded by Tony Tan Keng Yam who was elected the seventh president of Singapore on 27 August 2011 and sworn in on 1 September the following month.
The legacy of Nathan’s presidency was marked by his rapport with the people and his support for a diverse range of social causes, particularly the disadvantaged. As president, Nathan founded the President’s Challenge in 2000, which is an annual community-based fundraising charity event for the disadvantaged and underprivileged.
1. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Mr S R Nathan. Retrieved February 22, 2014, from the Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/content/istana/thepresident/formerpresidents/mr_s_r_nathan.html; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1999, July 17). President Ong will not run for second term. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. President’s Office, 25 Jan 2013, Mr S R Nathan.
3. He ran away from home when he was 16. (1999, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. President’s Office, 25 Jan 2013, Mr S R Nathan.
5. NUS gets two new pro-chancellors. (1996, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1999, August 7). Duty calls for S. R. Nathan. The Straits Times, p. 48; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1999, August 7). Nathan to run for president. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chua, M. H. (1999, August 8). Nathan set to be elected president. The Straits Times, p. 1; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1999, August 19). Nathan elected president. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Nirmala, M. (2005, August 18). President: My new priorities. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Toh, E. (2011, July 2). Presidential election; ‘I won’t seek 3rd term’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
10. Li, X. Y. (2011, August 28). Tony Tan is president. The Straits Times; Leong, W. K. (2011, September 2). Dr Tony Tan sworn in as president. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Chang, R. (2011, July 2). The quiet president. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
12. Ng, J. (2000, September 3). Wanted: New-age philanthropists. The Straits Times, p. 40; Nathan, S. R. (2012). An unexpected journey: Path to the presidency (p. 642). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 NAT.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.