Tharman will join fellow Cambridge alum Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in officeRobin / Wikimedia Commons

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, an alumnus of Wolfson College, was elected as Singapore’s ninth president earlier last week (01/09).

Gaining a record 70.4% of the vote, the Cambridge alum comfortably defeated his two rivals in the nation’s first contested presidential election in twelve years.

As president, Tharman will be Singapore’s head of state, a largely ceremonial role that also carries custodial powers over the nation’s financial reserves.

Tharman’s career has seen him work as managing director and chairman of Singapore’s central bank, serve as deputy prime minister from 2011-2019, and hold top council positions at the United Nations and International Monetary Fund.

Tharman studied economics as an undergraduate at the LSE before moving to Cambridge for his MPhil, where he graduated in 1982 and was made an honorary Wolfson fellow in 2006.

The Wolfson alum is of Sri Lankan Tamil descent and becomes the first president of a minority race to be elected by popular vote. To date, Singapore has never had a non-Chinese prime minister.

Remarking on Tharman’s election, Wolfson College President Jane Clarke said: “I am delighted to congratulate Tharman on his election as President of Singapore. When we met earlier this year, Tharman spoke of his fondness for Wolfson and his commitment to our shared vision of opportunity for all.”


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Tharman ran on the slogan of “Respect For All”, adopting the pineapple – associated in Chinese culture with fortune and prosperity – as his campaign symbol. Atypically for a minister in economically conservative Singapore, Tharman was a student activist affiliated with the intellectual left during his time in the UK.

While Tharman is the first Cambridge alum to be Singapore’s head of state, alumni are no strangers to high office in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s first prime minister from 1965-1990, graduated in Law from Fitzwilliam, while his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was Senior Wrangler at Trinity in 1973, graduating in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Tharman’s inauguration on September 14th will mean that both Singapore’s head of state and its head of government are Cambridge graduates.