By D.B.S. Jeyaraj/www.dbsjeyaraj.com
Tharman Shanmugaratnam whose grandparents are from Urelu in the Jaffna district of Northern Sri Lanka made history on September 1st 2023 by getting elected as President of Singapore. Generally referred to as Tharman, the 66 year old London School of Econimics,Cambridge and Harvard educated economist is also the first “Ceylon Tamil” to be elected as Singapore president. He has earlier served as Singapore’s deputy Prime Minister and Finance minister.
Tharnan Shanmugaratnam registered a landslide win in Singapore’s first Contested vote in more than a decade for the largely ceremonial post of President. He obtained 70.4% of the vote to win the six-year term presidency.
His main rival Ng Kok Song, a former chief investment officer of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, which manages the country’s foreign reserves, conceded after winning only 15.7% of the vote.
“The result is clear,” he told reporters, adding Mr. Shanmugaratnam “has indeed earned a mandate from the people of Singapore.”
Another candidate, former insurance executive Tan Kin Lian, 75, had gained the support of several opposition leaders but only picked up 13.88% of votes.
“I’m humbled by this vote. It is not just a vote for me, it is a vote for Singapore’s future.” “I believe that it’s a vote of confidence in Singapore. It’s a vote of optimism for a future in which we can progress together and support each other as Singaporeans,” said Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Singapore’s government is run by the Prime Minister. The current PM is Lee Hsien Loong of the Peoples Action Party (PAP) which has ruled Singapore continuously since 1959. Lee is the son of the legendary Lee Kuan Yew
“Singaporeans have chosen Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam to be our next President by a decisive margin,” Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.
Singapore is a multi-ethnic country with a Chinese majority. The ethnic breakdown according to 2020 estimates is 74.3% Chinese, 13.5% Malay, 9.0% Indian and 3.2% others. Ceylon or Sri Lankan Tamils are classified under the Indian category.
In the run d-up to the election, some social media posts insisted that Singapore must have Chinese leaders. Mr Tharman’s two competitors were both Chinese
Although Singapore has had non-Chinese presidents in the past including a Tamil of Indian origin S.R.Nathan, , Tharman is the first one voted in by the public.His supporters could claim his victory as a win for representation and a repudiation of racism.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam was born on February 25, 1957 and is of Sri Lankan-Tamil Ancestry. His father is Emeritus Professor K. Shanmugaratnam, a renowned histopathologist and is known as the “Father of Pathology in Singapore”. Tharman’s maternal grandfather was Dr.Arumugam Vuswalingam a renowned medical practitioner and scientist who migrated from Urelu in Jaffna to Kuala Lumpur in Malaya during British rule.
Tharman is married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, a Singaporean lawyer of mixed Chinese-Japanese ancestry, She is actively engaged in social enterprise and the non-profit arts sector in Singapore. The couple have one daughter and three sons together.
Thaman studied in an Anglo-Chinese school, then went on to the London School of Economics, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. He went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Economics from Cambridge University as well as a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. He also received a Lucius N. Littauer Fellow Award from Harvard because of his outstanding performance and potential.
Most of Tharman’s earlier career as a professional was spent at the Monetary Authority of Singapore where he served as a Director of Economics and eventually went on to become the Managing Director.
He was awarded the Singapore Public Administration Gold Medal in 1999.
Tharman entered the world of politics in 2001 and was appointed as a Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the Ministry of Education. He became the Minister of Education in 2003 until 2008. He was also appointed to the post of Second Minister of Finance back in May of 2006 and became the Minister of Finance in December of 2007.
In March 2011, he became the chairman of the policy steering committee, the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) and was the first Asian to do so. The International Monetary Fund expressed that Tharman’s broad experience, active engagement with global policy makers, and deep knowledge of economic and financial issues were a great asset to the IMFC.
During the 2011 general election, Tharman’s team, Jurong Group Representation Constituency, won 66.96% of the votes against the team from the National Solidarity Party. After the elections, Tharman was appointed as one of two Deputy Prime Ministers of Singapore. He was also appointed as the Minister of Manpower from May 2011 until July 2012.
After the 2015 general elections, Tharman became the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.
Following is the text of the speech made by Tharman after his Presidential election victory —
“My Fellow Singaporeans, I am truly humbled by the strong endorsement you have given me in our nation’s Presidential Election.”
“My fellow candidates put full effort and energy into their campaigns, and made this a worthy contest. I thank and commend them. “
“Above all I thank my fellow Singaporeans, whichever way you voted, for your interest and calm engagement in the issues raised in the Election.”
“I believe the vote for me and what I stood for is a vote of confidence in Singapore itself, a vote of optimism in how we can progress together and support each other as Singaporeans. “
“It can, and must, be a future of deeper respect for each other, regardless of backgrounds and educational achievements.”
“A future of closer interactions between our different faiths and cultures, so that we deepen our multicultural identity.”
“A future of solidarity even as we hold to diverse views, which is natural in our democracy. “
“A future where every generation derives confidence and benefit from our national reserves, and feels fortunate that we are Singaporeans. “
“A future where Singapore continues to be a partner of choice internationally, and is able to project its voice of reason in an endangered world. “
“It will be my duty to use the roles and responsibilities of the President to help us advance this future of optimism and solidarity. I will honour your trust in me, and serve you with all my heart in the years to come.”