A Tamil Singapore’s New President
Singaporeans have chosen Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam to be their next president by a decisive margin
On September 1, another person of Indian origin made India proud by getting elected as the President of Singapore.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be Singapore’s ninth head of state after getting more than 70 percent of votes ( 70.4 percent, to be exact) in the country in what was Singapore’s first contested Presidential Election in 12 years.
Shanmugaratnam, an Indian-origin politician and former member of Singapore’s ruling party, had faced stiff competition in a three-way contest, which included two candidates of Chinese descent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Shanmugaratnam on his victory in Singapore’s presidential election. “I look forward to working closely with you to further strengthen the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership,” Modi tweeted.
Shanmugaratnam was born in Singapore on February 25, 1957, to a Tamil father and a Chinese mother. His father, Kanagaratnam Shanmugaratnam, was a renowned pathologist and cancer researcher, while his mother was a homemaker.
Shanmugaratnam’s upbringing was shaped by the diversity of his cultural background, allowing him to become proficient in four languages: English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam began his education at the Anglo-Chinese School in his hometown. He later pursued higher education at the London School of Economics (LSE), earning a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. Notably, LSE recognised his achievements by awarding him an Honorary Fellowship in 2011.
Following his time at LSE, he continued his academic pursuits at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, where he completed a Master of Philosophy in economics. Shanmugaratnam then moved to the United States as a student at the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University. There, he completed his Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree and received the prestigious Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, an honour given to MPA students who demonstrate exceptional academic excellence and leadership.
During his time studying in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, he was involved in student activism. Although he initially held socialist beliefs, his views on economics underwent a transformation as he progressed in his professional career.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam embarked on his professional journey at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which serves as the central bank and financial regulator of Singapore. Over time, he rose to the position of chairman at MAS. Additionally, he held the role of deputy chairman at GIC, the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore.
Shanmugaratnam earned widespread recognition for his profound economic expertise and his pivotal role in steering Singapore through the challenges posed by the global financial crisis of 2008.
Shanmugaratnam started his political career in 2001 by participating in the general election in Jurong GRC. He was part of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and won with a 79.75 percent vote share. Over the years, he held various ministerial roles, including Minister for Education and Minister for Finance.
In 2011, after the general election, he became Deputy Prime Minister while still overseeing the finance portfolio. He also briefly served as Minister for Manpower. Tharman stepped down as Minister for Finance in 2015.
In 2019, he became a Senior Minister, advising on economic and social policies. He also held the role of Coordinating Minister for Social Policies.
In July 2023, Shanmugaratnam resigned from all government positions and the PAP to run for the 2023 Singaporean presidential election, which he won.
Political experts say that voters were prepared to keep in mind the prior affiliations, but also take into account the Shanmugaratnam’s experience, capability, track record, and whether he has the moral backbone to be able to get the job done. In all this Shanmugaratnam came across very high.
Indeed, Shanmugaratnam is seen in Singapore as a person who can “straddle the political divide” and garner support from across the political spectrum. Despite being in the ruling party (for about 20 years), he has been able to articulate views that sometimes may not be entirely aligned with the ruling party.