News Update


Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Singapore chooses a president who may have been considerably more effective.

Singaporeans have chosen Tharman Shanmugaratnam as their next president, but many would have sighed with regret.

On Friday, the former prime minister received a record 70.4% of the vote, easily defeating two other candidates in the country’s first contested presidential election in over a decade.

Mr. Tharman was always the clear favorite. He is widely respected by Singaporeans and consistently ranks as one of the island’s most popular lawmakers. He is urbane, well-spoken, and knowledgeable.

As a result, when Mr Tharman announced he was leaving the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to run for president few months ago, many Singaporeans were perplexed by what they saw as a waste of his potential.

The president’s function is mostly ceremonial, with little power other than some influence over the use of Singapore’s enormous financial reserves. It has even less say in public matters because the administration, which has the right to dismiss the president, has made it apparent that the president cannot speak freely and has compared the function to that of the British monarch.

Many consider it as a figurehead post that should be filled by a pleasant, uncontroversial person, as has been the case with previous presidents. Mr Tharman, on the other hand, is much more.

In addition to serving as finance minister and deputy prime minister of Singapore, the former economist has held high council posts at global organisations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He was even considered to be the next chairman of the IMF.

Some Singaporeans believed that if he ever left the PAP, he would create a name for himself on the international stage.

Even more people hoped he’d become Prime Minister. In a survey conducted several years ago, he was ranked as the top choice to succeed incumbent Lee Hsien Loong. In general elections, Mr Tharman’s electorate frequently comes in second to Mr Lee’s.

Mr Tharman’s popularity originates in part from the fact that, as a long-serving deputy, his reputation has been sheltered from the slings and arrows of public criticism that Mr Lee has had to suffer.

However, unlike some other politicians, the 66-year-old has developed a gentlemanly reputation and has refrained from participating in personal assaults. This has resonated with an electorate that like its leaders to be courteous and statesmanlike.

Many thought he had the skills and stature to become that nearly mythical monster – Singapore’s first non-Chinese leader – and shatter a glass ceiling that the government has long claimed is concrete.

PAP officials are well-known for their racial realpolitik, frequently stating that Singapore, a Chinese-majority country, is not ready to tolerate a minority PM.

Mr Tharman remained silent on the subject until last week, when he stated that he believed Singapore was prepared, increasing the sting of disappointment among his fans.

But Mr Tharman has also stated that he would not make a good PM, and with the PAP’s new leadership in the wings, it might be argued that he is already on his way out.

As a result, he decided to run for president instead. Although Singapore has previously had non-Chinese presidents, Mr Tharman is the first to be elected by popular vote.

His supporters may see his triumph as a victory for representation and a rejection of prejudice. Some social media messages in the run-up to the election stated that Singapore needed Chinese leaders. Both of Mr Tharman’s challengers were Chinese.

Ironically, he has also demolished the case for a crucial PAP racial policy.

Prior to the 2017 presidential election, the government enacted legislation to ensure that some surveys would be confined to minority race candidates. They contended that the measures were necessary to ensure better representation of Singapore’s minorities, which include Malays, Indians, and Eurasians.

Because such criteria did not apply this time, Mr Tharman demonstrated that a minority race candidate can win resoundingly on their own.

As a result, his triumph “is certainly a win for race relations” in Singapore, according to Mathew Mathews, a principal research fellow specializing in race at the Institute of Policy Studies.

However, he stressed that the findings “do not necessarily imply that Singapore society is race-blind,” as race would likely be a stronger impact in a more level playing field. The other contenders had less remarkable CVs or were less well-known than Mr Tharman.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *