Featured News "Singapore’s presidency a consolation prize for Tharman" — Prominent historian

“Singapore’s presidency a consolation prize for Tharman” — Prominent historian

Follow us on Instagram and Telegram

Calling Mr Tharman Singapore's most popular politician as well as the smartest and "most imaginative reformer in Singapore’s Cabinet in recent decades, Dr Barr wrote: "Opinion polls routinely name Tharman as the best candidate for prime minister

SINGAPORE: Echoing the regret many Singaporeans have expressed over the fact that veteran politician Tharman Shanmugaratnam is planning to contest the presidential election instead of taking what is perceived in the eyes of the public to be his “rightful” place as Singapore’s next Prime Minister, prominent historian Michael Barr has called the presidency a “consolation prize” for Mr. Tharman in a new essay published by the East Asia Forum.

Dr. Barr, an Associate Professor teaching International Relations at Adelaide’s Flinders University, is widely considered an authority on Singapore’s political landscape, given his significant contributions to the academic discourse surrounding the city-state’s history and governance. He has written and commented extensively on Singapore’s politics and history and has published several books on Singapore’s ruling elite.

In an essay published on Tuesday (25 July), Dr. Barr suggested that Mr. Tharman is gunning for the presidency as he has no prospect of political advancement given the ruling party’s view that Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese PM.

Calling Mr. Tharman Singapore’s most popular politician as well as the smartest and “most imaginative reformer in Singapore’s Cabinet in recent decades, Dr. Barr wrote:

“Opinion polls routinely name Tharman as the best candidate for prime minister. This is particularly so since Lee announced in 2017 that he planned to step down in 2019, notwithstanding the reality that more than five years later, Lee remains prime minister.

“Given his popularity and mastery of economics and public policy, Tharman should have been an obvious candidate to succeed Lee. But in 2008, Lee declared that only a candidate from Singapore’s majority Chinese community was acceptable. This verdict was confirmed in 2019 by Lee’s then-designated successor, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.”

See also  "Can you feel the PASSION?" — Die-hard fan screaming ‘MR THARMAAAN’ over and over grabs netizens' attention

Pointing out that Mr. Tharman’s bid for the presidency is unsurprising, Dr. Barr said, “In the same year, Tharman stepped down as Deputy Prime Minister to make way for Heng. This is the lot of a talented Indian in Singapore’s supposedly meritocratic society.”

See also  Singapore must strengthen social compact and make sure no one is left behind: SM Tharman

“On 8 June 2023, Tharman announced that he was stepping down from Cabinet to run for President later in the year. This should not have been a surprise, given that he had no prospect of advancement in Cabinet.”

The notion that Singaporeans are not ready for a minority PM has been repeated by Singapore’s top leaders, over the decades. In the 1980s, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said he had considered Cabinet Minister S Dhanabalan to be the next PM but decided that the country was not ready for an Indian head of government.

Current PM and Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s son Lee Hsien Loong echoed his father’s views in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama got elected as the first black President of the United States of America. He said:

“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—are sentiments that 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.”

In March 2019, Heng Swee Keat – identified as PM Lee’s successor then – also asserted that the older generation is unprepared to accept a minority PM.

Noting that many students might be happy to have a non-Chinese PM, Mr. Heng said that his “own experience in walking the ground, in working with different people from all walks of life, is that the views — if you go by age and by life experience — would be very different.”

See also  Post-Covid world: Priority of any economy is to re-centre govt policy on provision of key public goods, says Tharman

Mr. Heng added that he witnessed Singapore’s reluctance to accept a non-Chinese PM as he observed the elections: “I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But for an election, it becomes an issue.”

See also  Ng Kok Song says electing him as President would allow Tharman to return to Govt

Survey results over the years have only debunked the PAP leaders’ perspectives.

Days after Mr. Heng said that he does not believe Singaporeans are ready for a non-Chinese PM, a whopping 92 percent of 19,900 individuals responding to a viral Facebook poll voted for Mr. Tharman to succeed PM Lee and become the nation’s next head of Government, instead of Mr. Heng.

The sentiments Singaporeans expressed in the latest poll matched the result of The Independent Singapore’s poll in 2017 when we asked our readers who should be the next PM. Out of 2,316 responses, most (1882 votes) voted for Mr Tharman to lead Singapore into the future.

A Blackbox survey commissioned by Yahoo Singapore confirmed the results of our poll. In that survey, 69% of 897 respondents said they would support Tharman as a candidate to become PM.

In 2016, an IPS survey showed that the majority of Singaporeans were already accepting of a non-Chinese PM. 60.8 percent of respondents said they would accept a Malay Prime Minister, while 64.3 percent said they would accept an Indian head of government.

A similar survey conducted more recently by CNA-IPS in 2022 shows that Singaporeans have only grown more open to the idea of a non-Chinese Prime Minister. Last year, 69.6 percent of respondents said they would accept a Malay PM, and 70.5 percent said they would accept an Indian PM.

In his essay, Dr. Barr said that backing Mr. Tharman for president “solves several problems” for PM Lee. Pointing to what he perceives to be a longstanding “patron-client” relationship between the PM and Mr Tharman, Dr Barr wrote:

See also  Singaporeans who've had personal encounter with Tharman explain why there's 'no bad press' about him

“The presidency provides an august reward for Tharman’s loyalty and stunted executive mobility. Tharman’s popularity also guarantees Lee will not be embarrassed by the spectacle of an establishment candidate almost losing to a strong alternative candidate.

See also  Singapore must strengthen social compact and make sure no one is left behind: SM Tharman

This nearly happened in the presidential election of 2011. The risk had already been reduced by the government’s successful effort to drive Lee’s estranged brother, Lee Hsien Yang, out of the country under threat of legal harassment.”

He added, “Tharman’s loyalty to Lee ensures there will be no repetition of the awkwardness of 1993–1999, when another former deputy prime minister, President Ong Teng Cheong, stunned his former colleagues by taking his constitutional duty to protect Singapore’s capital reserves seriously.”

Despite this, Dr. Barr noted that Mr. Tharman’s retirement also brings deep disadvantages for the ruling party as it would lose a strong election campaigner and policymaker who could help stave off potential electoral losses caused by a recent spate of scandals involving PAP MPs and cost-of-living issues.

Dr. Barr said: “Lee could have kept Tharman’s talent and popular profile in Cabinet and on the campaign trail if he had been willing to appoint him as Singapore’s first non-Chinese prime minister. But racial considerations pushed that option off the table, leaving the presidency as the consolation prize.”


Read also:

Singapore goes to the polls: Tharman, Ng Kok Song, Tan Kin Lian qualify as presidential candidates

Tharman draws attention to climate change, calls it Singapore’s biggest challenge  

Calvin Cheng predicts a two-horse Presidential race — Tharman and Tan Kin Lian – Singapore News 

George Yeo backs Ng Kok Song’s bid for presidency, amid scrutiny over “Tharman wants it” comment – Singapore News 

Ng Kok Song confident in mounting a good challenge against Tharman – Singapore News 


- Advertisement -
Follow us on Instagram and Telegram

Follow us on Instagram and Telegram