(Singapore Sep 14, 2023) Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a former Senior Minister of Singapore, has been sworn in as the city republic’s ninth President, vowing to be “scrupulous and independent” in making judgements that involve the second key of the reserves.

He also pledged to use his strong mandate to work with the Government, community groups and the whole nation to “strengthen our multiracialism and nurture a more inclusive society”.

“As I stand before you as your newly elected President, I pledge to discharge my duties diligently, faithfully, and to the best of my abilities, for the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans…”I will serve with all my heart,” said President Tharman in his inauguration speech, which was televised and streamed live last night.

Screenshot of CNA

He spoke after inspecting the guards at the Istana’s ceremonial plaza before taking his oath of office at the State Room. Earlier last evening, the outgoing President Halimah Yacob and her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee also inspected the guards before departure.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Mr Tharman’s wife Jane Ittogi Shanmugaratnam were present among other guests at the State Room.

Two weeks ago, Tharman won the presidential election by 70.41% of the votes, the biggest ever vote share in a contested presidential election. He also became the island country’s first non-Chinese to win a contested presidential election. 

Before setting his sights on the Istana, Tharman had served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Jurong Group Representation Constituency (Jurong GRC) Taman Jurong Division for over two decades where he made his political debut in the 2001 General Election. 

This presidential election result is similar to Mr Tharman’s performance during the previous General Elections when he consistently polled between 70 to 75 per cent in Jurong GRC.

Tharman was Singapore’s Minister for Education from 2003 to 2008, Minister for Finance from 2007 to 2015, as well as Deputy Prime Minister from 2011 to 2019. He had served as Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies since May 2019.

President Tharman said in his post-victory speech that his election was “a vote of confidence in Singapore’s future”. As the head of state, the President holds a non-partisan office and can stand above the political fray.

On the use of the reserves, he noted that Singapore has drawn on the reserves twice in history, namely during the global financial crisis in 2009, and the Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 will not be our last crisis. We must gird ourselves for more crises in a far more uncertain and volatile world,” said Tharman.

“There are also longer-term threats to Singapore’s existence and the lives of future generations. Climate change will be a defining challenge for the world, and especially so for a low-lying island.”

He said the past reserves are a result of many years of diligent saving, especially in Singapore’s earlier phase of economic development. Now, the reserves have become “a very significant resource and advantage in securing our future.”

On this, he has pledged to be “scrupulous and independent in making judgements that involve the use of the ‘second key’ on our reserves”.

“Should the need arise in future to use the reserves to tackle such crises and existential threats, we will weigh the matter carefully. We will have to balance between meeting immediate needs and preserving the reserves so that every generation, now and in the future, enjoys their benefits,” he said.

Apart from his custodial powers, Tharman said the head of state has to act on the advice of the Cabinet on most matters, including foreign relations.

While Singapore has built a cohesive, multiracial society with a high level of trust and unity, it is not assured or permanent, given the “tides of change” occurring in many countries. With Singapore’s own society also maturing, people must expect a greater diversity of views and preferences too, Mr Tharman added.

“We must not allow any of our differences to divide us… Now, more than before, we must grow our sense of togetherness as fellow Singaporeans. It will make us a better society and add to our ballast as we face a more turbulent world.”

To this end, he said he would work to “add depth and resilience” to Singapore’s hard-won multiracialism and never let this fray.

Tharman also said he will continue his life’s purpose of making Singapore a more inclusive and socially just society.

“Government policies have shifted significantly to help us achieve this, and they remain essential. But to build a truly inclusive society, we need something more, that involves all of us.

“We must build a strong culture of kinship and respect, where we empathise with our fellow citizens, bring out the best in each other, and feel that we only truly succeed when we succeed together,” he said.

“We can do more to nourish the soil for ground-up and purpose-driven initiatives to sprout and grow. From giving confidence to disadvantaged youth; to supporting those who need a second or third chance; to helping those among us who face mental health challenges; and to neighbourhood initiatives to support our caregivers and befriend seniors at risk of being lonely.”

As for Singapore’s interests abroad, President Tharman said he will represent the Republic “in line with the objectives and priorities of the Government”.

Amid global uncertainties wrought by the ongoing Ukraine war, the troubled relations between the United States and China, as well as the rising trend of protectionism, Singapore must advance its long-term national interests “by standing up firmly for our principles rather than choosing one side or the other”.

“As President, I will do my part to reflect Singapore’s values and views and to enhance our standing amongst the community of nations. I will work to deepen existing partnerships and build new ones,” he said.