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7 Epic Tharman Moments In His Political Career, Like ‘Trampoline’ BBC Interview & Chee Soon Juan Fist Bump

7 Epic Tharman Shanmugaratnam Moments, Now That He’s Running For President

On Thursday (8 June), Senior Minister (SM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced his intention to run for the upcoming presidential elections in Singapore.

As the tenure of Singapore’s current President Halimah Yacob’s term approaches its final stretch, the MP for Jurong GRC announced that he would be leaving the People’s Action Party and stepping down from his ministerial duties in a month’s time to prepare for the contest.

In light of this new development, here are seven of our favourite epic moments of the SM.

1. Tharman Shanmugaratnam declines to be Prime Minister

A popular politician beyond his Jurong GRC homebase, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s name has consistently come up in discussions about Singapore’s next Prime Minister (PM) before.

Source: A Nation of Skilled Talents – SG50 on Facebook

However, the former Deputy PM vehemently ruled himself out of that role. Back in 2016, he told The Straits Times (ST) that he is, simply, “not the man for PM”.

He made it extremely clear that he does not think he is suited for the premier role in Government, and acknowledged that while he is good at policymaking, advising younger colleagues, and supporting the PM, he does not believe he has what it takes to be the PM.

For sports lovers, it might be easier to understand the situation with a sports analogy. He once told Channel NewsAsia (CNA) that he enjoys playing half-back and making the long passes.

“I am not the striker unless I am forced to be,” he said, responding to queries on whether Singapore will have an Indian PM one day.

This points to him being a humble, self-aware person who knows his limitations. But the public interest hints at the support he has, which now puts him in good stead run for President.


2.  Compared Singapore’s governance to a ‘trampoline’ & not a ‘safety net’

BBC presenter Mr Stephen Sackur invited Mr Tharman to grace the 45th St Gallen Symposium back in 2015. During the dialogue, Mr Sackur asked Mr Tharman a difficult question.

His question implied that Singapore could do more to help those in need through a welfare state — sort of like having a “safety net”.

In response, Mr Tharman said that he believes in the idea of a trampoline instead of a safety net.

He defended Singapore’s focus on meritocracy, working hard and bouncing back from challenges, just like a trampoline.

Mr Tharman stressed that it is crucial that he lives in a culture where one can earn success through his job to raise his family.

3. He uses the Uni-Ball Signo Blue Pen we had as students

While watching the footage of the aforementioned dialogue, we spotted a familiar sight in his pocket — a Uni-Ball Signo Blue Pen.

The Jurong GRC MP was sporting not a fancy pen, but rather, one that many of us had in our stationery boxes as students.

Instead of using luxury writing materials that can set one back about hundreds of dollars, we’ll go out on a leg and say that he clearly prefers the wallet-friendly S$2 pen we all used at one point.

We stan a frugal man of the people.

4. He spoke Chinese. Well, sort of.

For some reason, people speaking in a language other than their perceived ethnicity always seem to impress others. That was precisely what Mr Tharman did during Chinese New Year in 2016.

That year, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) hosted a Chinese New Year reception, where the SM was a guest of honour.

He opened his speech with a new year greeting in Mandarin, saying, “各位嘉宾,朋友们,大家早上好。祝大家新年快乐 (In Mandarin: Good morning to all guests, friends, and everyone present. I wish everyone a happy Lunar New Year).”

He also added a few greetings in dialect. Judging from the audience’s cheers, it was the right move.

5. When he fist-bumped Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party

It is usually an awkward moment when you bump into someone you don’t necessarily agree with. However, Mr Tharman managed to turn one such run-in into a wholesome moment.

He ran into Dr Chee Soon Juan, the Secretary-General of the opposition party Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), during a routine walkabout.

Mr Tharman then reached out to Dr Chee and offered a fist bump, which the latter gamely returned.

This spontaneously heartwarming moment between two members of opposing political parties is definitely among the most epic things that the SM has done.

6. When he briefly intervened Parliament session to urge Jamus Lim not to resort to ‘strawman argument’

In 2020, Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim made a speech in Parliament on policies relating to minimum wage.

In response, Mr Tharman took the chance to remind fellow MPs not to make “strawman arguments”, like saying the Government is only interested in efficiency, not equity. “Try to avoid that manner of argument, of painting everything in binary terms.”

“I would like to suggest that none of us have a monopoly over compassion, and I say this not to discredit anyone, and, in particular, I really respect where member Jamus Lim is coming from, intellectually, emotionally and so on,” Mr Tharman said.

“But no one should assume you have a monopoly over compassion.”

The SM highlighted that the issue at hand is complicated and that they try to address it in many different ways.

7. First Asian to become chairman of global economist group G-30

In 2016, the leading global economist group, the Group of Thirty (G-30), appointed Mr Tharman as its chairman from 2017 onwards.

Per ST, he is the first Asian ever to lead the prestigious body of financial experts.

Source: World Economic Forum Video on YouTube

He succeeded the previous G-30 chairman Jean-Claude Trichet, who is a former president of the European Central Bank.

Mr Tharman’s journey with the G-30 began in 2008 when he became the first Singaporean to be inducted into the group.

At that point, he was still Singapore’s Finance Minister, until 2015. In addition, he chaired the international monetary and financial committee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 2011 to 2015.

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Featured image adapted from the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises – ASME on Facebook.

Amanda Yeap and Valerie Yuam

Amanda is obsessed with wet tissues, especially 100% antibacterial bamboo organic ones. She also likes to use them to chope tables at eateries.

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