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BLOG: President Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Charting Singapore’s Future

On September 14, 2023, President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister of Singapore, was sworn in as the country’s ninth president. This historic moment follows his resounding victory in the presidential election, where he garnered 70.4% of the votes. 


President Tharman’s journey to the presidency and the “Tharman effect” that contributed to his landslide victory have sparked discussions about the implications of his presidency for Singapore and the broader region. In this article, we will explore how President Tharman’s term as President may impact Singapore and its neighboring countries.



The “Tharman Effect” in a Landslide Victory

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s victory in the presidential election can be attributed to what many have called the “Tharman effect.” This effect can be summarized as the overwhelming support and trust the Singaporean people have in President Tharman’s leadership, characterized by his international standing and dedication to social inclusion.


International Standing: President Tharman is widely recognized for his international stature. His reputation was bolstered by his orientation toward social support, as exemplified by his “trampoline” comments at the St Gallen Symposium in 2015. He is associated with past government efforts to design social support systems that help people bounce back from adversity rather than merely providing a safety net.


Commitment to Social Inclusion: President Tharman has made deep connections with the Singaporean public through his commitment to social inclusion. Ordinary citizens and supporters from various sectors of civil society rallied around him during his campaign. His proposer, seconder, and assenters represent a diverse range of pursuits in civil society, including clan associations, trade unions, sustainability, humanitarian work, and public intellectualism.


President Tharman’s ability to connect with people at all levels of society played a significant role in his victory. However, his candidacy was not without controversy, particularly regarding his “independence” to act as a check on the government’s use of reserves and key appointments in the public sector.


President Tharman responded by emphasizing the importance of a candidate’s character and ability to understand the system, rather than simple labels and assumed identities. He assured voters that he would exercise the key custodial powers of the President effectively, ensuring checks and balances within the government.


Implications on Future Elections

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s election as Singapore’s President carries broader implications, especially considering his status as the first non-Chinese presidential candidate to win an open, contested, and direct election. His victory reaffirms Singapore’s commitment to egalitarianism, multiracialism, and meritocracy.

Multiracial Meritocracy: President Tharman’s election highlights the importance of these principles in Singaporean society. He campaigned on these values and lived by them, which resonated with citizens. President Tharman’s election serves as another milestone in Singapore’s evolution, emphasizing that while race plays a role, it is not the sole determinant of leadership.


Future Leadership: President Tharman’s victory raises the possibility of Singapore eventually electing a non-Chinese Prime Minister. This shift would occur only if the candidate demonstrates competence, experience, and a commitment to the well-being of the people. President Tharman’s presidency could inspire more leaders from diverse backgrounds to emerge in Singaporean politics.


President Tharman’s “Respect for All” campaign slogan, resonating with many Singaporeans, underscores the importance of respecting diverse views while working toward common goals. His presidency is seen as a “vote of confidence” in Singapore’s progress and unity as a nation.



Regional Impact

Singapore occupies a unique position in Southeast Asia, both as a regional economic powerhouse and a hub for diplomacy and trade. President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s presidency is expected to have several implications for the region:


Regional Diplomacy: President Tharman’s extensive international experience and connections are expected to enhance Singapore’s role in regional diplomacy. As a respected statesman, he can strengthen Singapore’s relationships with neighboring countries, contributing to regional stability and cooperation.


Economic Stability: Singapore’s economic policies and financial stability have been a hallmark of its success. President Tharman’s background in economics and finance, including his role as the chief economist of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, can help maintain economic stability in the region and promote sustainable economic growth.


Soft Power: President Tharman’s presidency can boost Singapore’s soft power on the global stage. His reputation for pragmatism, social inclusion, and economic expertise can enhance Singapore’s influence in international organizations and forums.


Regional Leadership: Singapore often plays a leadership role in regional initiatives. President Tharman’s presidency may see Singapore taking a more proactive stance in addressing regional challenges, from climate change to security issues.



Navigating Ahead

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s inauguration as Singapore’s ninth president is a historic moment for the nation. His “Tharman effect” and landslide victory underscore the values of egalitarianism, multiracialism, and meritocracy that Singaporeans hold dear. His presidency is not only significant for Singapore but also carries implications for the region.


As a respected international figure with a strong commitment to social inclusion and economic stability, President Tharman is poised to contribute to Singapore’s diplomatic efforts, economic growth, and soft power. His presidency reflects Singapore’s evolving identity as a diverse and inclusive society while emphasizing its continued role as a regional leader. 


In a changing geopolitical landscape, President Tharman’s leadership will be watched closely as he navigates the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Singapore and the broader Southeast Asian region.

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