SINGAPORE: While news outlets around the world have reported on former Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s overwhelming win in last Friday’s (Sept 1) polls, an op-ed on BBC pointed out that the president-elect “could’ve been much more” given the nature of the president’s role in the country.
The BBC piece pointed out that because the role of President in Singapore is largely ceremonial when he announced in June that he would run for the position, “many Singaporeans were baffled by what they viewed as a waste of his potential.”
“It is a figurehead role that many see suitable for a pleasant, uncontroversial person to inhabit, as has been the case with past presidents. But Mr Tharman is much more than that.
The 66-year-old has also cultivated a gentlemanly image, and has refrained from engaging in personal attacks unlike some other politicians. This has played well with an electorate that likes its leaders genteel and statesmanlike.
Many felt he had the chops and stature to become that almost mythical creature – the first non-Chinese prime minister of Singapore – and break a glass ceiling that the government has long insisted is concrete.”
In the first contested Presidential election in more than ten years, Singaporeans trooped to the polls on Friday and elected Mr Tharman by a wide margin, giving him 70.4 per cent of the vote.
The other candidates trailed by a wide margin, with former group chief investment officer of GIC Ng Kok Song, 75, getting 15.72 per cent, and former chief executive officer of NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian, 75, getting 13.88 per cent of the vote.
Mr Tharman, a longtime People’s Action Party MP who represented Jurong GRC from 2001 to 2003, is well-liked and respected by many. He was also a Senior Minister for the past four years until he stepped down to mount his presidential bid; was Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank; and had been Finance and Education Minister.
He has also co-led the Global Commission on the Economics of Water and the G20 High-Level Independent Panel on Global Financing for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and is the chair of the G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance.
An eminent economist, he is also on the Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum and is the first-ever Asian chair of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), the policy advisory committee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Impressive credentials aside, in 2016, Blackbox, a market research consultancy, conducted a survey that revealed that Mr Tharman was the top choice among Singaporeans to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with 69 per cent of almost 900 respondents indicating they would support Mr Tharman to be the candidate for Prime Minister. /TISG