Tamil-origin politician Tharman Shanmugaratnam won Singapore’s presidential elections over the weekend by a landslide, securing 70.4% of the votes in a three-cornered fight that included two candidates of Chinese descent — Ng Kok Song and Tan Kin Lian.
The scale of the victory surprised Shanmugaratnam, who called it “a vote for an optimistic future and a vote for unity”.
Speaking to reporters, he said, “I did not expect such a high degree of endorsement, which also means there were a fair number of people who would normally not vote in favor of the ruling party, who decided that this was not a political election,” he said.
Tharman will be sworn in as Singapore’s ninth president at the Istana on September 14. Incumbent Halimah Yacob’s six-year term ends on 13 September.
Singapore’s next general election is due in 2025, and Tharman’s six-year term will coincide with a change of leadership within the ruling People’s Action Party.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Shanmugaratnam on his victory. “I look forward to working closely with you to further strengthen the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership,” Modi tweeted.
Shanmugaratnam was born in Singapore in February 1957 to a Sri Lankan Tamil father and a Chinese mother. His father, Kanagaratnam Shanmugaratnam, was a pathologist and cancer researcher, while his mother was a homemaker. Raised in a multilingual environment, Shanmugaratnam mastered English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin.
By winning an overwhelming mandate, Shanmugaratnam joins a long list of leaders from the subcontinent who have risen up the ranks to dominate politics across nations.
Rishi Sunak, who became the UK’s first South Asian-origin prime minister last year, is the youngest British premier in 210 years. Goan-origin Suella Braverman serves as Sunak’s home secretary. Claire Coutinho is the second Goan-origin minister in the Sunak cabinet.
Kamala Harris, as the first female and first person of color to become vice president, exemplifies the rising prominence of the Indian-American community in the US. Harris, who was a senator for California from 2017 to 2021, was born to Indian and Jamaican parents in California.
Other Indian-origin leaders such as Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy have launched their bid for the White House in 2024.
Leo Eric Varadkar serves as Ireland’s Prime Minister, known locally as Taoiseach, and comes from an Indian heritage. He was born to Ashok Varadkar, who was born in Mumbai and later relocated to the UK in the 1960s.
Antonio Costa is of both Indian and Portuguese descent and has led Portugal as its prime minister since 2015.
Similarly, Christine Carla Kangaloo, the president-elect of Trinidad and Tobago, was born into an Indo-Trinidadian family, while Mohamed Irfaan Ali, the President of Guyana, was born into a Muslim Indo-Guyanese family in Leonora.
Pravind Jugnauth, whose great-grandfather migrated to Mauritius from Uttar Pradesh in the 1870s, has been serving as prime minister of Mauritius since January 2017.
More than 200 leaders of Indian origin have reached the top echelons of public service in 15 countries across the globe, with more than 60 of them holding cabinet positions, data compiled by the non-profit Indiaspora for its 2021 Government Leaders’ List showed.
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