Elected as the ninth president of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a distinguished economist, became the third Indian-origin person to head the prosperous city-state for the next six years.
Born to Tamil ancestors from the Singapore Indian community that forms approximately nine per cent of the over 2.7 million Singaporean voters, Tharman is one of the most qualified citizens of the resource-scarce city-state that has witnessed various development phases for over 50 years.
“I have been deeply privileged to serve you in many ways over the decades – working on the ground as well as shaping national policies for a fairer and more inclusive society, and flying the Singapore flag high internationally,” said the 66-year-old economist, sportsman and poet just days before the Presidential Elections was held on September 1.
Tharman beat Ng Kok Song, a former chief investment officer with the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC), and Tan Kin Lian, the former chief of the NTUC Income, a state-owned union-based insurance group by a huge margin, bagging over 70 per cent votes in the first contested presidential election since 2011.
Incumbent President Halimah Yacob’s six-year term will end on September 13. The elected president serves a six-year term.
Born on February 25, 1957, in Singapore, Tharman is a multi-generational Singaporean of Tamil ancestry from the 19th century. One of three children, Tharman is the son of Emeritus Professor K. Shanmugaratnam, a medical scientist known as the “father of pathology in Singapore”, who founded the Singapore Cancer Registry and led a number of international organisations related to cancer research and pathology.
Tharman is married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, a Singaporean lawyer of mixed Chinese-Japanese ancestry, who is actively engaged in social enterprise and the non-profit arts sector in Singapore. The couple have one daughter and three sons.
Tharman attended the Anglo-Chinese School before graduating from the London School of Economics (LSE) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. (LSE later awarded him an Honorary Fellowship in 2011). He subsequently went on to Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, where he completed a Master of Philosophy degree in Economics.
He then became a student at the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University, where he completed the Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree and was a recipient of the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award (given to MPA students who demonstrate academic excellence and leadership).
An economist by profession, Tharman has spent his working life in public service roles principally related to economic and social policies. He has also led various high-level international councils and panels.
Tharman has served as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister between 2011 and 2019 and as Senior Minister in the Cabinet between 2019 and 2023. In June 2023, Tharman announced his intention to be a candidate in the 2023 presidential election and resigned from all his positions in the government and as a member of Singapore’s governing People’s Action Party (PAP) in July 2023, as the presidency is a non-partisan office.
A student activist while studying in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, Tharman originally held socialist beliefs, but his views on economics evolved over the course of his working career.
While serving as director of the Economics Department of the MAS in 1992, Tharman was charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) in a case involving the publication of Singapore’s 1992 second-quarter flash GDP growth projections in a local newspaper. He contested the case and was fined SGD1,500.
Putting all that behind, he went on to serve the public sector and worked his way into the Government in various ministerial positions.
Having joined the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), and making a debut as a politician in 2001, he was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Education in 2003 and served in this role until 2008.
The president-elect has also held the roles of Minister for Finance between 2007 and 2015, Minister for Manpower between 2011 and 2012, and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies between 2015 and 2023.
The other roles he has served include Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the de facto central bank, between 2011 and 2023, and that of Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) between 2019 and 2023.
Tharman was a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Taman Jurong division of Jurong GRC between 2001 and 2023 as a member of PAP. He was re-elected to Parliament four times at subsequent general elections in 2006, 2011, 2015 and 2020.
He has also led various high-level international councils and panels. Tharman has served as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Group of Thirty, a global council of economic and financial leaders from the public and private sectors and academia.
Tharman has also been a member of the Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, which will make recommendations on Effective Multilateralism for the UN Summit of the Future in 2024.
From 2011 to 2014, he chaired the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), the policy advisory committee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), becoming the first-ever Asian chair. From 2019 to 2022, he co-chaired the Advisory Board of the Human Development Report (HDR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
An active sportsman in his youth, Tharman has highlighted the way sports instil lessons for life. He spoke about sports as a form of education, saying “Children learn the value of teams. They learn the discipline of repeated practice, and how there is no other way to develop expertise. Plus, the ability to fall or lose in competition and pick oneself up… with humility.” He has been engaged in Chinese calligraphy since 2002.
Tharman has also served in Non-Governmental Organisations and chaired the Board of Trustees of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), which seeks to uplift educational performance and aspirations in the Indian community in Singapore.
He also chaired the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute and the National Jobs Council aimed at rebuilding skills and jobs for Singaporeans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also garnered multiple awards and accolades, including those at international platforms.
Sellapan Ramanathan, popularly known as S R Nathan, a Singaporean politician of Tamil origin, served as the president of Singapore since 2009 while Malayali-origin Chengara Veetil Devan Nair, better known as Devan Nair, served as the third president of Singapore from 1981 until his resignation in 1985.
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