On the evening of September 1, hundreds of supporters gathered at the Taman Jurong Market and Food Center to wait for the voting results of Singapore’s first presidential election in 12 years.
When it was announced that Tharman Shanmugaratnam had been elected with 70.4% of the vote, becoming the ninth president, the crowd erupted in cheers. Later, 66-year-old Tharman Shanmugaratnam and his 69-year-old wife Zhenyi Fujiki appeared in the crowd, with supporters chanting “ong lai” and “huat ah”. “ong lai” means pineapple in Hokkien, which means good luck. In this election, pineapple is also the campaign symbol of Tharman Shanmugaratnam. And “huat ah” means prosperity in Hokkien.
In his first speech after winning the election, Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that this was a vote of confidence in Singapore and future unity. It also represented the future that he insisted on and believed in, that is, regardless of differences and backgrounds, everyone should be united. Deepening mutual solidarity and mutual respect among Singaporeans. He also said, “In the future, Singapore will not be regarded as a small country. In the future, we will be valued internationally, become the first choice for partners, and be able to make a rational voice internationally.” Professor at the Singapore Management University Law
School Chen Qingwen told China News Weekly that Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected with a high vote because he has the experience and abilities required for the position of president. Some even think that his qualifications are enough to hold more important positions. Singaporean voters realize that they need to cast their votes across political, racial and other factors. It is very important to have a president who can represent Singapore internationally.
In almost all recent interviews, a Chinese calligraphy work written by Tharman himself – “Mutual Respect” – hangs on the wall behind him. He said he wanted to build a society that respected everyone’s culture, regardless of their status.
On July 7, Tharman announced his resignation as State Counselor and Coordinating Minister for Social Policy, and officially ran for president on July 26. The campaign slogan was “Mutual Respect.”
August 22 is the nomination day for the presidential election. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Huang Guosong, and Chen Qinliang were nominated for the Singapore presidential election and became presidential candidates. The three need to win the final votes of Singaporean voters during the nine-day campaign. On this day, Tharman announced the pineapple as his campaign symbol.
”In this presidential election, Tharman Shanmugaratnam is the only non-Chinese candidate. As an experienced campaigner, Tharman Shanmugaratnam knows that for Chinese Singaporeans, who account for 74% of the population, pineapples are very easy to identify. The symbol also has a special attraction for them.” Chen Qingwen analyzed.
In nine days, Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s campaign was impressive. In addition to daily parades, his campaign posters and banners are plastered across Singapore. At a campaign rally held at the Pasir Panjang Power Plant, he delivered a 20-minute speech to an audience of about 650 people and spent up to an hour answering questions from the audience. When asked about his cats, Tharman introduced the names of the three cats in detail: Judy, Socks and Awan, which means “cloud” in Malay. “). Tharman also told the audience that these cats often come to wander in front of the screen during Zoom meetings with his colleagues. He is grateful that his colleagues do not mind such “interludes.”
The rally was also very modern. In the huge industrial space, people can stand or sit, and they can also move around and communicate freely. At the rally, Tharman focused on explaining the impact of race on politics. He said that race is a factor affecting politics everywhere in the world, and even former US President Obama is not immune. “But race is not the only factor. Compared with forty or fifty years ago, today’s Singaporeans will not only consider race, but also other factors, such as a person’s ability, courage, character, and contribution. They will consider it as a whole.”
Tharman is very active on social media and even shared his Spotify playlist with voters during the campaign, which included songs by rock band Bon Jovi, Malaysian musician Bee Nam Lee and Jay Chou. The photos he posted of his intimate interaction with his wife Jinichi Fujiki showed his tender side. The couple has a daughter and three sons.
Although in Singapore, the presidential spouse does not have the title of first lady, Lin Jiaying, a 24-year-old sales communications executive in Singapore, still said that she especially likes to watch interviews with Zhen Ituoki, a lawyer dedicated to social development. “To me, she has the ‘Michelle Obama effect.'”
Compared to the other two candidates, who have expertise in their narrow fields, Tharman Shanmugaratnam has always been very popular in Singaporean politics. Even as early as 2016, a survey of about 900 Singaporeans showed that nearly 70% of the respondents believed that Tharman Shanmugaratnam was the candidate to succeed Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister.
Whether Singapore can accept a non-Chinese prime minister has been a hotly debated topic for years. As an Indian born in Singapore, when he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister ten years ago, Tharman Shanmugaratnam once said that “it is entirely possible that a non-Chinese prime minister will appear in the next 20 years.”
In this Singapore presidential election, Tharman Shanmugaratnam became the first ethnic minority president elected by universal suffrage in Singapore’s history. In this regard, Chen Qingwen believes that more than two-thirds of Singaporeans voted for Tharman Shanmugaratnam, which means that this voter vote has transcended political differences and racial boundaries.
After winning the election, Tharman also pointed out that racial issues exist in politics anywhere in the world, even in some non-political elections. “Singapore is changing and I hope my election can be a milestone in that process.”
Students from elite schools who often miss classes
Tharman Shanmugaratnam was born in Singapore in 1957 and is of Tamil descent. In an earlier interview with Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao, he shared his growth experience. Tharman Shanmugaratnam admits that he has never been a dedicated student. While studying at Yinghua School, he could not fully concentrate during a 35- to 40-minute class, and his mind would always wander during class. During that time, he was obsessed with sports and participated in hockey, cricket, football and track and field.
Tharman kept a notebook to record what he did every day. In the three years of high school, I only did not participate in sports activities for three days. He said that his sports experience has deepened his experience of Singaporean society and made him feel the real social atmosphere.
When talking about how his ideological system was formed, he specifically mentioned a book he read when he was 17 years old, the documentary novel “The Grapes of Wrath” by American writer John Steinbeck. This book describes the various aspects of human nature during the Great Depression in the United States. In the book, the author speaks for the working class and attempts to promote social change.
Since then, Tharman Shanmugaratnam has developed a great interest in books on social and political fields. When he was admitted to the London School of Economics in the 1970s, Tharman already knew what he wanted. In 1981, Tharman Shanmugaratnam graduated from the London School of Economics with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. Later, he also received a Master of Philosophy in Economics from Cambridge University and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University.
During college, he often skipped classes, but this did not mean that he did not study. On the contrary, he spent a lot of time studying on his own and researching topics that interested him. He also persuaded professors to allow him to customize his own curriculum and encouraged a group of classmates from different nationalities to join in, combining elective courses in economics, sociology and socialist economics.
Tharman also likes poetry. In 1978, he co-authored the poetry collection “But We Have No Legend” with his classmates Zhou Qingquan and Yang Nanqiang. In this collection of poems, there are four poems written by Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
When he graduated from his undergraduate degree, Tharman Shanmugaratnam was thinking, “We have to explore ways to ensure that the market economy is not for people to benefit themselves, but to bring benefits to everyone without adopting radical solutions.” Prosperity.” He also said in the interview that we need to solve some problems, how to help disadvantaged groups, how to help people with a low starting point, how to create employment opportunities so that they can achieve something. This is also the “social democratic vision” Tharman hopes to create.
”I was very idealistic at the time, but it was a pragmatic idealism that spurred me to find real solutions.” After graduating from university, Tharman went to work at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and gradually became the chief economist and Singapore’s chief economist. Director of the Monetary Authority.
He began his political career in 2001, running as a candidate for the People’s Action Party in Jurong GRC.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam became famous for his education reform policies when he took over as acting education minister in 2003, when he called for a “less teaching, more learning” approach and the phasing out of grading students based on results.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam has always advocated the inclusion of Chinese and Malay languages in basic education, but he also appealed that he did not want to increase the burden on students, so there was no need to include them in examinations. He said that his four children learned Chinese through sports training, and daily communication was very helpful for language learning. Not only that, Tharman himself has been practicing calligraphy at the Singapore Calligraphy Center for the past 20 years. His wife, Zhenyi Tengmu, can easily recite in Hokkien during an interview, “The mountains will not be fat unless the fire burns them, and no one will be afraid of people unless they do evil.”
In 2004, he became Minister of Education and two years later became Second Minister of Finance. In December 2007, he was promoted to Minister of Finance and Minister of Education. After the general election in May 2011, Tharman Shanmugaratnam was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister of the government, concurrently serving as Minister of Finance and Minister of Education.
Over the years, as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam also played an important role in the restructuring of the country’s economy and the overhaul of Singapore’s financial industry.
In 2013, when delivering the fiscal budget, Tharman Tharman announced that buyers of large and luxury cars, and homeowners of high-end and non-owner-occupied residences will need to pay higher taxes, while more low-income earners will receive With employment subsidies, children from disadvantaged families don’t have to worry about losing out at the starting line. At that time, many people called Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s series of policies a move to “rob the rich and give to the poor” and questioned that the Singaporean government had begun to deviate from pragmatism and gradually showed a left-leaning trend.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s strength has also been recognized by the international community. He served as Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee of the International Monetary Fund from 2011 to 2014, becoming the first Asian to hold this position. He also led the Group of Twenty (G20) “Global Financial Governance Expert Group” and served as chairman of the Group of Thirty (G30).
As recently as July 7 this year, when Tharman Shanmugaratnam attended a public event for the last time as a cabinet minister, he publicly stated that in order to help people in need, the country can collect more taxes and allow the government to issue more subsidies. This is also part of European and American welfare state practices, but this has limitations. He went on to point out that the more correct approach should be to establish a welfare society, allowing Singaporeans to be responsible for each other, help each other, and build a more active and resilient society.
In 2016, when Singaporeans speculated that the prestigious Tharman Shanmugaratnam would become the first non-Chinese prime minister, he voluntarily withdrew from the election, emphasizing that he “knows what he can do.” Starting from 2019, Tharman Shanmugaratnam has been appointed as State Counselor. Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew also held this position after he resigned.
After serving for 22 years in the People’s Action Party, Tharman Shanmugaratnam resigned from the party and ran for president. This surprised some political analysts, and many more were curious that he was willing to run for president after he had firmly stated that he did not want to be prime minister.
In this regard, Tharman used an analogy to explain: “I have never liked being a center and have no particular interest in the role of scoring goals. But what I enjoy very much and am quite good at is playing as a central midfielder, left midfielder, and sometimes a defender. Not bad. I like to surprise the forwards with the ball and create the best shooting opportunities. That is more in line with my personality. I am not a forward, always a central defender… but we all play key roles in the team.”
1991 , the Singapore Parliament passed major revisions to the Singapore Constitution and established a democratically elected presidential system, which is also regarded as a system of internal checks and balances in Singapore. The president is considered a symbol of national unity and the gatekeeper of the national “treasury”, holding the second key to the national treasury. But the role of president is vested with only minimal powers, attending official events, overseeing the country’s financial reserves, signing off on key civil service appointments, and instructing anti-corruption agencies to continue investigations even over the objections of the prime minister.
It is because of these attributes that many analysts believe Tharman Shanmugaratnam could contribute more to Singapore if he stayed with the People’s Action Party rather than serving as president with less power.
Especially in recent months, a series of scandals have occurred in Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party. First, Minister of Home Affairs and Law Shanmugam and Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan caused heated discussions over their long-term renting of “black and white mansions”. Later, Minister of Transport Yihua Yan Arrested in connection with rare high-level corruption probe. Immediately afterwards, Speaker of the National Assembly Chen Chuanren and Assemblymember Zhong Lihui resigned from the party due to extramarital affairs. Therefore, the outside world has also worried that these scandals will drag down Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s election.
In this regard, Tharman Shanmugaratnam clarified: “My character is non-partisan. I have absolutely no regrets over the past 22-plus years of serving on the ground in the People’s Action Party government, working with people across the country, and helping our policies move in what I believe is the right direction.” The change is also true internationally. I have no regrets at all.” He also said that his resume is an “open book” and called on the people to transcend partisan disputes, avoid “simple labels” and cast their votes.
In this regard, Chen Qingwen pointed out that judging from the results, the recent controversies involving People’s Action Party politicians did not affect voters’ vote of confidence in Tharman Shanmugaratnam. But for the People’s Action Party, they still have a lot of work to do in rebuilding voters’ trust and confidence.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam has also repeatedly reiterated his optimism about the current situation and future of Singapore. He believes that the country can survive it because no one thinks that it is acceptable to completely follow the populist line or irresponsible politics. Most political parties are competing in strategies to deal with reality and still take the middle road.
Although the President of Singapore cannot formulate policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam said during the campaign that he would still promote a series of social projects, including assisting single mothers, releasing prisoners, and helping children who have been disadvantaged at the starting point. He said that he and his wife have been doing this work for many years.
On September 1, more than 70% of Singapore’s 2.7 million voters voted for Tharman Shanmugaratnam. In a statement after the results were announced, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected with a “decisive advantage” and had full confidence that Tharman Shanmugaratnam “will perform the duties of the president excellently.”
Regarding Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s new role, Chen Qingwen believes that “Tharman Shanmugaratnam will become one of the most influential leaders in Singapore in the next 6 to 12 years.” He further said that in view of the high status that Tharman Shanmugaratnam received from voters, With his approval rating, as well as his political experience and strength of character, he will be able to influence Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership team in a convincing way. “He will become a transformative president, which will mean that the presidency will play a more important role in Singapore in the coming years.” Tharman himself said on September 2, the day after he won the election, His presidency will coincide with a very important transition in Singapore’s government, and he hopes his relationship with Prime Minister-elect Lawrence Wong will be one of “mutual trust and mutual respect.”