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'Humbled' Tharman steps up to lead at a time of evolving challenges

Bryan Wu
Bryan Wu • 4 min read
'Humbled' Tharman steps up to lead at a time of evolving challenges
Singapore’s leadership will have to tackle new global crises and ensure the city-state’s appeal and relevance in a more divided world, says Tharman. Photo: Albert Chua / The Edge Singapore
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After 22 years in politics, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced on June 8 his resignation from all positions in government and the People’s Action Party (PAP) to run in Singapore’s next presidential election, which will be held by Sept 13.

Earlier on the same day of the announcement, Tharman delivered the keynote address at the inaugural Financing Asia’s Transition conference, in which he called for “significantly higher” carbon taxes in an overall bid for better sustainability practices. “The political economy doesn’t encourage [higher carbon taxes],” he adds.

“I have been humbled by the requests I have received in recent months, from Singaporeans from different walks of life, to stand in the presidential election if President Halimah [Yacob] chose not to stand again,” says Tharman in a Facebook post on June 8.

He describes Singapore, and the world, to be in a period of transition. While the 4G team under Lawrence Wong is shaping up very well, “the challenges they have to take on will keep evolving, well beyond the handover of leadership”, says Tharman.

“They will have to tackle new global crises that will surely emerge, work closely with Singaporeans to retain trust in a changing domestic environment, and ensure Singapore’s appeal and relevance in a more divided world,” he adds.

In his response to the announcement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked Tharman for his “distinguished service” to Singapore for the past 40 years and wished him well as he embarks on this “new journey”.

See also: S'poreans say air-con, holidays, dining out are essentials: SMU, IPS study

First elected Member of Parliament (MP) in 2001 for Jurong GRC (group representation constituency) as one of the “Super Seven” first-time candidates, Tharman has since been entrusted with various heavyweight economic portfolios. After stepping down as the Deputy Prime Minister to become Senior Minister, he concurrently served as Coordinating Minister for Social Policies while also advising the Prime Minister on economic policies.

Prior to entering politics, Tharman — an economics graduate from the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge — began his career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), an organisation with which he has remained closely associated.

While serving as the central bank’s director of the economics department in 1992, he was one of five persons charged under the Official Secrets Act after a set of quarterly flash GDP numbers were published in The Business Times ahead of official release.

See also: MAS imposes civil penalty action of $70,000 against Tay Joo Heng for insider trading

Evidently, his conviction in 1994 did not prove to be a stumbling block to his subsequent career — as can be shown by his later appointment as managing director of the MAS — nor to his eventual foray into politics. Tharman has won re-election in Jurong GRC four times since 2001, always with above-national average margins.

With his intellect, eloquence and gravitas, as well as his steady hand at the helm of Singapore’s central bank where he has served as chairman since 2011, calls for him to succeed Lee as prime minister reached a crescendo in 2016, compelling Tharman to categorically rule himself out.

Aside from the governmental roles that he will relinquish, Tharman will also step down as MAS chairman, deputy chairman of GIC, as well as chairman of the Economic Development Board’s International Advisory Council.

Beyond the non-governmental capacity through which Tharman has shaped the country’s economic policies and investment strategies, his political career has also focused on building inclusive social policies and improving opportunities for lower-income Singaporeans.

On the global stage, Tharman has chaired international councils on financial governance, contributing to economic and financial reform, including the G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance.

Were he to be elected President, Tharman, who is married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, says he will be “thorough and impartial” in fulfilling the constitutional duties of the president with regard to the prudent use of the nation’s reserves and the key appointments which preserve the integrity of the Singapore system.

“I will also work to the best of my abilities to project Singapore’s interests and voice of reason in an increasingly turbulent world,” he adds.

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