7 Reasons Why DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam Should Be Prime Minister Of Singapore

There’s been a lot of talk lately about who should be the next Prime Minister.

From 3 potential candidates, to 4G16’s statement that it’ll all be decided “in good time”, Singaporeans are restless for the official succession to be settled.

But let’s imagine that we’re in an alternate universe for a moment.

To consider the many reasons why so many Singaporeans already have an ideal PM candidate in mind.

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1. Extensive political experience

Let’s talk about work experience. The next PM candidate should ideally have enough political experience to take on the job.

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DPM Tharman doesn’t disappoint as he holds an impressive portfolio of ministries across the board.

  • Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Trade and Industry (2001-2003)
  • Minister for Education (2003-2008)
  • Minister for Finance (2007-2015)
  • Minister for Manpower (2011-2012)
  • Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies (2015-present)
  • Deputy Prime Minister (2011-present)

Most notably, his 8-year tenure as Finance Minister helped Singapore navigate numerous financial crises in the face of global turmoil.

Mr Shanmugaratnam’s also credited with launching the ‘SkillsFuture’ programme in 2014 to promote lifelong learning in Singapore.

With over 17 years of service in so many different ministries, he’s definitely checked the boxes when it comes to having experience.

But what about his paper qualifications?

2. Overly qualified educationally

If you were impressed by his work experience, get this.

He’s collected degrees from basically three of the most prestigious universities in the world;

  • London School of Economics – Bachelor of Science in Economics
  • Wolfson College, Cambridge University – Master of Philosophy in Economics
  • Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University – Master in Public Administration

With academic credentials from LSE, Cambridge and Harvard, his resume looks rock solid.

Then again, being a good PM isn’t just all about being able to hit the books. You’ll also have to be popular with the people.

3. Popular with the people

DPM Tharman is widely considered one of the most popular politicians still active in the People Action’s Party (PAP).

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That’s saying a lot, since most Singaporeans don’t feel the same way about the 4th generation PAP leaders — yet.

Where’s the proof you say? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Back in 2001, Mr Shanmugaratnam was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Jurong GRC. And he has been re-elected a grand total of three times since.

In 2015’s General Election, Jurong GRC – led by Tharman – won in a landslide victory against their opposition team, with a whopping vote share of 79.3%.

To put that into context, 79.3% was the highest winning margin in the country. Even higher than his own party PAP’s 69.9% of the popular vote.

He seems to be doing no wrong in Jurong, we’ll give him that.

4. Voice of reason that Singaporeans trust

DPM Tharman is also loved by Singaporeans for his superb communications skills.

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His trademark baritone voice only serves to accentuate his sharp wit, humourous quips and impeccable speeches.

He certainly put his gift to good use when PM Lee Hsien Loong suddenly took ill during his National Day Rally speech.

During the break that followed, Mr Shanmugaratnam stepped up and spoke directly to national media to assuage the fears of citizens.

His magnetic screen presence was enough to sell the message of reassurance to Singaporeans, that PM Lee was alright.

More importantly, he heard their worries and managed to dispel their fears as the voice of reason that Singaporeans trust.

5. Not afraid to talk about the hard issues

DPM Tharman was the first minister to publicly address dissent over the contentious changes to the “Elected Presidency” scheme.

This caused a major upset with most Singaporeans due to a walkover that saw Singapore’s first female president being appointed.

Undeterred by possible public backlash, Tharman first acknowledged that most Singaporeans – himself included – would have preferred a fair contest.

But he drew attention to the “reality”, in which “race, ethnicity and religion matter” even in most mature democracies.

The reserved election was thus a way to ensure that “from time to time” we will have fair representation for our presidential candidates.

Coming from him, this meant a lot more as DPM Tharman does in fact represent the ethnic minority.

He reminded Singaporeans that “growing up as a minority is different from growing up as a majority” and we shouldn’t pretend it’s not.

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Well, when you put it that way, we’re definitely convinced.

6. Respected member of international political & financial circles

DPM Tharman’s close ties to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) since 2001 are testament to his solid background in finance. He rose from the position of Chief Executive, to current Chairman of MAS.

But Singapore’s clearly not the only country that appreciates Mr Shanmugaratnam’s economic prowess.

In 2011, he was selected by his international peers to chair the International Monetary and Financial Committee, a part of the International Monetary Fund.

Most recently, he’s been appointed the first Asian chair of Group of Thirty – an international group of leading economists and policymakers –  for the next five years.

Let’s not forget that he’s gotten commended by opposition members too.

Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr Paul Tambyah praised DPM Tharman for being “probably the most brilliant of our current ministers”.

7. #TharmanforPM since 2015

Since the 2015 General Election, calls for DPM Tharman to become our next prime minister have only grown louder.

From a Facebook fanpage with thousands of likes, to a dedicated hashtag #TharmanforPM, Singaporeans can’t seem to shake their preference for him.

And yes, even local comedian Mr Brown has given his signature stamp of approval on this.

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According to a poll by Yahoo, 69% of Singaporeans would have chosen DPM Tharman as the next PM.

In stark contrast, the current rumoured PM candidates garnered these numbers:

  • Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (25%)
  • Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing (24%)
  • Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (less than 10%)

So why are we not seriously considering this talented, popular and experienced politician as our next PM?

What’s stopping him?

1. Age

Most people have brought up the fact that Mr Shanmugaratnam, who’s currently turning 61 this year, will be too old for the job.

Mr Goh Chok Tong stepped up as PM at 49 and Mr Lee Hsien Loong was 52.

While Mr Lee Kuan Yew was only 36 years old when he became the first PM of Singapore.

That said, would we really prefer an inexperienced PM who’s of the right age, to an experienced PM who’s too old?

2. Race

DPM Tharman is of Ceylonese Tamil descent, which makes him a member of the ethnic minority in Singapore.

More than 20 years ago, founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew explicitly stated that Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese PM.

Given Tharman’s 2015 general election margin wins, we’re convinced that our society has long moved on from that mindset.

In any case, Mr Shanmugaratnam actually speaks a little Mandarin with a legit accent so we’re not worried he won’t be able to connect with Singaporeans on any level. Here’s the proof.

3. Personal preference

DPM Tharman has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of becoming PM, saying,

I’m not the man for PM. I say that categorically. It’s not me. I know myself, I know what I can do, and it’s not me.

He’s also used a sports analogy to explain his reluctance to place himself in the running for the job. Apparently, his position in sports has always been “centre-half rather than centre-forward”.

This means he prefers to not to be the face of government, but to be in a supportive role instead.

Counting the reasons

We’ve tried to count the reasons why DPM Tharman should be the next Prime Minister of Singapore.

The truth is, there’s really only one reason that matters — the amount of respect he’s garnered as a politician from people of all walks of life, after 17 years in politics.

Basically, he’s the one minister whom most of us are fully confident in entrusting our futures to as a nation.

Mr Shanmugaratnam’s reluctance to step into the spotlight after his long years of service, is a fitting testament to why we could not love him more.

Perhaps this is for the best. The job of PM is not an easy one after all.

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But in alternate universes, and also in our hearts, we’ll just keep wishing for the impossible.

Featured image from International Monetary Fund.