Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Singapore’s Missed Opportunity for a Transformational President

Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s victory as Singapore’s next president may have disappointed many Singaporeans, who saw him as a wasted potential due to the largely ceremonial nature of the role. With an impressive track record as finance minister, deputy prime minister, and prominent positions in global institutions like the United Nations and the IMF, Tharman could have made his mark in the international arena or even become the country’s first non-Chinese prime minister. Nonetheless, his win is significant as the first non-Chinese president elected by the public, signaling progress in race relations and challenging the government’s racial realpolitik. However, questions remain about the PAP’s influence, as Tharman’s close association with the party raises doubts about his independence as president. Disqualification of potentially popular candidates and accusations of a rigged election process further undermine the credibility of Singapore’s presidential race. While Tharman’s campaign focused on “respect for all” and “respect for different views and political leanings,” it remains to be seen how he will achieve this within a system perceived as perpetuating the PAP’s power.