S. Dhanabalan

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Suppiah Dhanabalan

சு. தனபாலன்
Minister for Trade and Industry
In office
Prime MinisterGoh Chok Tong
Preceded byLee Hsien Loong
Succeeded byYeo Cheow Tong
Minister for National Development
In office
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Goh Chok Tong
Preceded byTeh Cheang Wan
Succeeded byRichard Hu
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
1 June 1980 – 12 September 1988
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byS. Rajaratnam
Succeeded byWong Kan Seng
Member of Parliament for Toa Payoh GRC
(Kuo Chuan)
In office
Preceded byWong Kan Seng
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Member of Parliament for Kallang SMC
In office
Preceded byAbdul Aziz bin Karim
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1937-08-08) 8 August 1937 (age 81)
Political partyPeople's Action Party
Spouse(s)Christine Tan[2]
Children2 [3]
Alma materUniversity of Malaya
OccupationBusiness executive

Suppiah Dhanabalan DUT (First Class), born 8 August 1937)[4], also known as S. Dhanabalan, is a former Singaporean politician. He was a high-profile political leader in Singapore in the 1980s and held several cabinet positions in the 1980s and early 1990s under prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Early life and education[edit]

Dhanabalan was born in 1937 to a Singaporean Indian family of Tamil descent. He was raised as a Hindu by his father, Arumugam Suppiah, a clerk at a naval base. But later in his life he became a devout Christian (Brethren). His mother is Gunaretnam Suppiah. He went to Victoria School; and later to University of Malaya where he earned his B.A. degree in Economics, earning a Second Class Honours (Upper Division). He was the third child and the eldest son in a Tamil family of three girls and three boys.

Early career[edit]

He joined (Ministry of Finance) as an Administrative Officer from 1960–68. During his tenure, he helped to form the Economic Development Board and DBS Bank.

He subsequently left the Civil Service and joined DBS as a Vice-President from 1968–1970. He was promoted to the position of Executive Vice-President and continue to serve from 1970–1978.[5]

Political career[edit]

In the 1976 Singapore general election, Dhanabalan was elected as Member of Parliament for Kallang SMC, as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate. He was promoted to a Cabinet Minister and served in various portfolios, including Foreign Affairs, Culture, Community Development, National Development and Trade and Industry.[5]

When Lee Kuan Yew was preparing for his successor, he identified a handful of ministers he considered suitable for the job, including Tony Tan, Ong Teng Cheong, Goh Chok Tong and Dhanabalan.

In his public account of why he chose them and what he felt were their strengths and weaknesses, Lee said his preferred successor was Tony Tan, who went on to become the 7th President of the Republic of Singapore. He felt that while the other three were all of prime ministerial calibre, each had a particular weakness: Goh was too stiff, lacking eloquence in public speaking, and Ong was too closely aligned with the Chinese-speaking masses, lacking appeal to other communities. In the case of Dhanabalan, Lee felt the 76% ethnic Chinese electorate was not yet ready for a prime minister of Indian ethnicity. Lee left the ultimate decision to the second generation ministers themselves, who went on to choose Goh.


  • 1960 : Graduated from university and joined the civil service.
  • 1961–1968 : Economist with Economic Development Board.
  • 1968–1978 : Helped to establish the Development Bank of Singapore.
  • 1976–1991 : Member of Parliament for Kallang.
  • 1980–1988 : Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  • 1981–1984 : Minister for Culture.
  • 1981–2005 : Director of Government Investment Corporation.
  • 1984–1986 : Minister for Community Development.
  • 1986–1991 : Minister for National Development.
  • 1991 : Retired from politics.
  • 1991–1993 : Returned to government as Minister for Trade and Industry.
  • 1993–1996 : Chairman of Singapore Labour Foundation.
  • 1996–1998 : Chairman of Singapore Airlines.
  • 1996–2013 : Chairman of Temasek Holdings.
  • 1998 : Appointed a permanent member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
  • 1999–2005 : Chairman of DBS Group Holdings.
  • 2004–present : Member of the Council of Presidential Advisors.
  • 2007 : Received the Order of Temasek (Second Class).[6]
  • 2015 : Received the Order of Temasek (First Class)

Career after politics[edit]

Other contributions[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Dhanabalan is a devout Christian (Brethren) and attends a small church in Bukit Panjang – Bukit Panjang Gospel Chapel.[7] He is married to Christine Tan Khoon Hiap, a Chinese Singaporean of Hokkien ancestry and they have one son, Ramesh Dhanabalan, and one daughter, Shandini Dhanabalan.[6]


  1. ^ "Singapore Parliamentary General Election 1976". singapore-elections.com.
  2. ^ "Up, up and up". The New Paper. 27 March 1999. p. 4.
  3. ^ Doraisamy, S (6 July 1999). "From village boy to bank chairman". The New Paper. p. 20.
  4. ^ Corfield, Justin (2 December 2010). "Historical Dictionary of Singapore". Scarecrow Press – via Google Books.
  5. ^ a b Teo XuanWei (23 July 2013). "Dhanabalan's illustrious career". TODAY. Singapore. p. 2.
  6. ^ a b Singapore, National Library Board,. "S. Dhanabalan - Infopedia". eresources.nlb.gov.sg.
  7. ^ "Graduates' Christian Fellowship via WaybackMachine". Archived from the original on 9 December 2004. Retrieved 24 July 2013.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
S. Rajaratnam
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1 June 1980 – 12 September 1988
Succeeded by
Wong Kan Seng
Preceded by
Ong Teng Cheong
Minister for Culture
Succeeded by
Yeo Ning Hong
Preceded by
Minister for Community Development
Succeeded by
Wong Kan Seng
Preceded by
Teh Cheang Wan
Minister for National Development
Succeeded by
Richard Hu Tsu Tau
Preceded by
Lee Hsien Loong
Minister for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by