7 Facts About Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Who’s Likely Going to be Singapore’s Next President


By now, you should have heard that Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam is going to resign from his ministerial positions, quit the ruling party of Singapore, and join the upcoming presidential elections.

Given that a potential figurehead of Singapore has arisen, people are naturally curious as to who Mr Tharman is.

We bring you seven facts about Mr Tharman, who we think may be Singapore’s next president (given his wealth of experience serving the public and his general popularity amongst the citizens).

Fact #1: He was previously charged under the Official Secrets Act

Back in 1992, Mr Tharman was charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA). This pre-dated his entry into the political fray in 2001 (and he worked his way up to positions including Deputy Prime Minister).

Back then, Mr Tharman was a high-ranking officer with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He had some confidential documents on his table regarding flash estimates of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Singapore.

Unfortunately, these documents were not stashed away from sight when a private sector economist, Manu Bhaskaran, visited Mr Tharman in his office.

The visitor spied the flash estimates and passed them on to a colleague, who had shared the then-unreleased information with a prying news correspondent from Business Times.


This resulted in the figures being leaked via public media before they were officially announced, and the Internal Security Department (ISD) got involved to figure out who was responsible for the leak.

For those who are unaware, the OSA is a piece of law in Singapore which aims at preventing the “disclosure of official documents and information”.

Depending on the violation, punishments under this act could involve fines of up to $20,000 and imprisonment of up to 14 years.

In this case, Mr Tharman and four other colleagues who were implicated in the leak pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them.


After the trial took place in 1993, Mr Tharman was found not guilty of the charge of communicating the flash estimates for Singapore’s GDP. He, however, did not escape scot-free as he was found guilty of negligence and fined $1,500.

The other four individuals were fined $2,000 each.

Fact #2: He Has Two Master’s Degrees

Of course, the figurehead of Singapore cannot be an airhead.

For those who support Mr Tharman’s upcoming presidential candidacy, be rest assured that the man you support has plenty of substance.

Mr Tharman has had a prestigious education journey throughout his life. He attended Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in economics at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE).

Due to his undergraduate studies, he was an Honorary Fellowship in 2011 by LSE.

Mr Tharman’s journey to enrich his mind did not stop there. He continued to pursue his first master’s degree (a Master of Philosophy degree in economics) from the University of Cambridge.

Then, he went on to Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University to complete a Master’s in Public Administration degree. He also won a Lucius N. Littauer Fellow award at Harvard for his outstanding performance and potential.

Fact #3: He Has an Affinity for Poetry

You may want to tune in to Mr Tharman’s presidential rallying speeches, as they may be littered with phrases which reveal the man’s affinity for poetry.

Mr Tharman, together with some of his ACS kakis (friends), wrote four poems called “but we have no legends”. These poems made it into a 1978 collection.


Together with fellow poets and ACS schoolmates Chew Keng Chuan and Yeoh Lam Keong, the triplets were serving the country and were part of the Young Writers’ Circle at the National Library when they achieved this feat.

For those who may know, Chew is a former chairman of The Substation, and Yeoh is a former GIC chief economist.

It also appears that the trio were tight as thieves, so comfortable that they could casually throw jabs at one another. In the preface of the book they contributed to, the trio mentioned that they had “violent quarrels over strange things like grammar, meaning and whose poetic license had expired”.

In spite of achieving such feats, Mr Tharman remains humble. In a 2015 interview with The New Paper, Mr Tharman shared that he did not regard himself as a poet, “much less a good poet”.

Fact #4: He Was Sporty in His Younger Days

While it may not be immediately apparent to the general public, Mr Tharman actually came from a sporty background.

During his youthful days, Mr Tharman reportedly held a strong passion for a variety of sports. The sports Mr Tharman dabbled in included football, athletics, hockey, cricket, volleyball, sepak takraw and rugby.


He would practise almost every day and participated in the combined school’s team as a hockey representative.

In an interview in 2004 with The Straits Times, Mr Tharman revealed that he was “shaped” by his “school days”, which were spent “playing sports – almost every day of the year, sometimes two sports in a day and, often, until it was too dark to see the ball”.

With such a fiery passion for sports, you would expect Mr Tharman to have become a professional athlete or, at the very least, hold a job that involved more activity.

However, that was not to be, as Mr Tharman’s sporting journey was cruelly cut short by health issues.

He developed severe iron-deficiency anaemia at 17 and had to pop 25 pills a day for several years, which meant that strenuous sports and competitions were out of the question.


Fact #5: His Father Established the Singapore Cancer Registry

Mr Tharman is well-known in his own right and has made a name for himself despite having a famous figure as a father.

For those who may not know, Mr Tharman’s father was the late Professor Kanagaratnam Shanmugaratnam.

Professor Kanagaratnam was dubbed Singapore’s “Father of Pathology” as he had dedicated his life to the profession of pathology. Pathology is the medical discipline that provides diagnostic information to patients and clinicians.

In 1967, Professor Kanagaratnam established the Singapore Cancer Registry to provide data on cancer trends in the country.

His other achievements include playing a major role in developing the World Health Organisation’s classification of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a cancer of the upper respiratory tract.

Even though Professor Kanagaratnam had so many accomplishments under his belt, he was still a “true gentleman”.

According to Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, who spoke to The Straits Times in 2018, Professor Kanagaratnam was known to be a “very humble man” with a “brilliant mind” who was “always kind and gentle with everyone”.

Professor Kanagaratnam eventually passed away in 2018 at the ripe old age of 97.


Fact #6: He Is a Family Man

Now that we have learnt more about Mr Tharman in his “official” capacity, we can turn our attention to the more “kaypoh” (nosy) side of things.

Apart from making significant achievements in his professional life, Mr Tharman also appears to be quite the family man.

The presidential hopeful-to-be is married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, who is of mixed Chinese and Japanese descent. His wife is a lawyer by training and is now actively engaged in social development initiatives.

Mr Tharman also has four children, one daughter and three sons, to complete his immediate family.

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Fact #7: He Enjoys Taking Pictures and Sharing Them on Social Media

If you expect a candidate who is interested in running for president to be stoic and boring, you are wrong.

Mr Tharman defies that stereotype by being relatively active on social media (particularly Facebook) and enjoys sharing pictures of nature and wildlife which he takes.

On his official account, Mr Tharman’s profile picture is that of him with two parrots on his shoulder. He is also holding equipment which two other birds are sitting on.

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Image: Facebook (Tharman Shanmugaratnam)

Mr Tharman also appears to have a soft spot for birds, as his Facebook header is a picture of four birds with their beaks wide open, giving the impression of asking for food.

Amongst the posts that Mr Tharman has shared is one taken “in the countryside outside the small town of Shuzenji in Japan” when he was on holiday with his family. Mr Tharman challenged his followers to spot the “white crane in the distance”.

Interestingly enough, Mr Tharman also shared images in the comments section with a circle around the crane to help those who are less eagle-eyed.

No photo description available.
Image: Facebook (Tharman Shanmugaratnam)

He had also previously shared images of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis when wishing Christians “a blessed Good Friday and Easter”.

Here's a rather unexpected timeline of the $2.8 billion money laundering case in Singapore as revealed by Minister Josephine Teo during a parliament sitting on 3 October 2023:

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