We asked our readers on Sunday (4 Sep) who should be the next Prime Minister of Singapore. As at 12pm today (6 Sep), we have had 2,316 responses to the poll – and most (1882 votes) voted for Tharman Shanmugaratnam to lead Singapore into the future.
Born in 1957, Mr Shanmugaratnam is 5 years younger than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and just four years older than the person who got the next most number of votes in our poll (288 votes), Heng Swee Keat.
Mr Tharman who is currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, has contested four General Elections since 2001, and is hugely popular among many Singaporeans. Jurong GRC, which was led by the Deputy PM, enjoyed the biggest win in the last General Election.
Mr Shanmugaratnam had previously said that it is only a matter of time before Singapore gets a non-Chinese prime minister. He said, “it seems to me inevitable that at some point, a minority prime minister – Indian, Malay, Eurasian, or some mixture – is going to be a feature of the political landscape. We’ve got a meritocracy, it is an open system.”
But he also indicated that he himself does not prefer to be the Prime Minister, unless he has no choice.
“Let me put it this way, we all have our preferences. And I was always, in sports, a centre half rather than centre forward. I enjoy playing half back and making long passes, but I am not the striker. Unless O am forced to be, I don’t think I will be forced to it, because I think we have got choices.” – Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Besides his own unwillingness, Tharman may have other hurdles to cross to be the Prime Minister of Singapore as per the wish of many Singaporeans.
In the 1980s, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said that he had considered then-Minister for National Development, S Dhanabalan, to be the Prime Minister of Singapore, but decided that the country was not ready for an Indian head of government.
Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong too echoed his father’s views in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama was voted in as the first black president of the United States of America:
“Will it happen soon? I don’t think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments – who votes for whom, and what makes him identify with that person – these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it.” – Lee Hsien Loong
The younger Lee though has softened his stance in recent times, acknowledging that the younger generations are more accepting of a non-Chinese Prime Minister – although he still notes the need to communicate with voters in Mandarin.
If Mr Tharman is to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore, he may have to face other hurdles besides those of his own preferences, race and language.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) Chairman, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, in taking the former editor of The Straits Times to task for suggesting that the ruling party chooses its top leader in an opaque manner, said that “the next prime minister will be chosen by the next generation of leaders from among themselves.”
“Older ministers, including the current PM, will stay out of the deliberations,” he added.
It is unclear if the PAP will consider Mr Shanmugaratnam as being among the ‘older Ministers’ and not include him in the party’s deliberation as to who should lead Singapore into the future.