Singapore crypto concept

Singapore’s new president is a digital asset sceptic who once called crypto ‘slightly crazy’

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Singapore has a new president, and he’s a vocal digital asset skeptic. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who won the election by a landslide, has pledged to usher in a new era of optimism for the island nation.

Tharman got 70.4% of the votes in a statement victory for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). He defeated Ng Kok Song and Tan Kin Lian, who attained 16% and 14% of votes, respectively.

Tharman is a stalwart in the Singaporean political and public service sphere. Until his resignation in July to run for office, he was the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), a position he has held since 2011. He has also served as the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance. In 2019, following the resignation of Christine Lagarde, he was one of the nominees for the top job at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While he’s one of the most beloved leaders in Singapore, the ‘crypto’ world isn’t as fond of the 66-year-old.

Earlier this year, Tharman was part of a panel at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos conference where he called out ‘crypto’ as speculative assets. He stated that ‘crypto’ should not be regulated in the same way as traditional finance, as that would validate the asset class.

“Does that legitimise something that’s inherently purely speculative? And, in fact, slightly crazy? Or are we better off just providing ultra clarity as to what’s an unregulated market and if you go in, you go in at your own risk. I lean a bit more towards the latter view,” he said.

Tharman’s stance on digital assets has evolved over the years. Prior to labeling them risky assets, he dismissed them as inconsequential to Singapore’s financial sector for years.

However, in recent years, Singapore has been caught up in some of the industry’s biggest scandals, throwing the MAS regulatory approach into question. Tharman was the chairman of the central bank when two major Singapore-based crypto players—crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3AC) and LUNA’s parent company Terraform Labs—imploded, sparking a global contagion that brought down dozens of major players.

His stance on the asset class—and that of the MAS—has changed significantly since. The latest is a stablecoin regulatory framework the MAS announced last month, which seeks to bring value stability to a sector marred by scandals. It requires stablecoin issuers to redeem their tokens within five days of request, maintain minimum base capital and liquid assets, and provide appropriate disclosures to consumers.

As the chairman of the central bank, Tharman contributed directly to some of its digital asset directives. As president, his direct influence will be more limited. In Singapore, the presidency is mostly ceremonial—he can only pitch in on using the government’s financial resources and sign off on top civil service appointments.

However, Tharman has vast experience in the political sphere and is arguably Singapore’s most beloved politician. This gives him influence in key decisions, and with long-serving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expected to step down soon, Tharman’s role in the Singaporean government will only become more prominent, which could be bad news for speculative ‘crypto’ assets.

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