Speaking at Tharman's inauguration at the Istana, the President's official residence, Lee said that the Presidential Election – which Tharman won with a dominant 70.4 per cent vote share – showed that race was a “smaller factor now than it used to be” for Singaporeans.
Lee said he was happy to congratulate Tharman on winning the election, so decisively. "It was good that there was a contest and Singaporeans had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote," he said.
"It is indeed a good sign that in a national vote, Singaporeans have elected a candidate from a minority community as President, on his merits, by an overwhelming majority,” Lee said.
Indian-origin Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon administered the oath of office to President Tharman at a ceremony held at Istana, a 154-year-old palace in the heart of Singapore’s Shopping and Hotel Belt of Orchard Road.
Tharman, 66, will serve a six-year term. He succeeds President Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first female president, whose tenure ended on September 13.
"Singaporeans have chosen a candidate who is eminently qualified for this high office,” Prime Minister Lee said as he described the former senior minister as “someone who not only has the ability, experience and stature to carry out his duties both at home and abroad but also sound judgement and unquestioned integrity”.
These are “all vital prerequisites for being President”, the Prime Minister said.
Lee also pointed out that Tharman’s experience in public service had prepared him well for his new responsibilities.
He highlighted the newly sworn-in President’s “long and distinguished" career in the public service, beginning with his role as an economist at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
Tharman eventually rose to become MAS’ managing director and later, chairman. He also held key appointments in the Cabinet, first as Education Minister and then Finance Minister.
He then “shouldered broader responsibilities” as Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies and most recently Senior Minister, said Lee.
He added that as a Member of Parliament for Jurong for 22 years, Tharman served his constituents “with all (his) heart” and was “always there for them, solving their problems and improving their lives”.
The Prime Minister in his speech also said he was "very happy” to congratulate Tharman on winning the election so decisively.
“It was good that there was a contest, and Singaporeans had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” he said.
“The strong vote share you garnered showed the regard and support voters had for you, and for your message of unity expressed in your campaign theme, Respect for All.”
The election showed that voters now have a greater understanding of the roles and duties of the President, added Lee.
“Singaporeans understood that they were choosing a President for the nation, and not electing the next government,” he said.
Lee noted that the President is “someone who represents all of us with dignity and grace, and fulfils his custodial duties with integrity and independent judgement while staying above the dust and heat of politics”.
As head of state, Tharman has an important symbolic role – to "strengthen our unity and cohesion as one nation”, said Lee.
The government shares Tharman’s “declared goal” to build a more inclusive society where everyone is valued for who they are, and every Singaporean has a place, he added.
Noting that Tharman, a former sportsman, has spoken about his passion for sports and the arts, Mr Lee said “we look forward to your support in these areas, which will help to make us a rich and rounded society”.
He also touched on the President’s custodial responsibilities, such as holding the “second key” to the nation’s reserves.
“Given your wealth of experience in economic and financial matters, and your familiarity with how the system of the second key works, I have every confidence in your ability to fulfil this important duty,” Lee said.
Beyond domestic duties, Tharman will be Singapore’s top diplomat, added Lee.
He noted that Tharman was “very familiar” with this role, “having participated actively in international discussions on economic and monetary issues, and having held high-level appointments in international organisations and blue-ribbon advisory panels”.
“The government will work closely with you and support you to make the most of your experience and personal standing, in order to advance Singapore’s interests and enhance our status in the world,” he said.
Lee also welcomed Tharman's wife Jane Ittogi Shanmugaratnan to her new role, calling her the “one person whose personal support will matter greatly" to her husband.
The Prime Minister said he was sure Tharman would, like his predecessors, be a “President for all Singaporeans” and serve Singapore with “dedication and distinction”.
“We wish you every success as you embark on your Presidency," said Mr Lee. "And will work closely with you to take Singapore forward towards a better, brighter future for all Singaporeans."