Singapore

Dr Tan Cheng Bock: I'll be a president who will speak up

Dr Tan Cheng Bock to contest next Presidential Election, due by August next year


"I will be back!" was the promise Dr Tan Cheng Bock made after he lost in the 2011 Presidential Election.

He is keeping his promise. Yesterday, a former People's Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah, announced he will make a second bid for the presidency.

The next presidential election must be held by August next year.

"The election is 17 months away. I feel it's now timely to state my decision. I intend to and will contest the coming Presidential Election in 2017," Dr Tan, 75, told reporters at a press conference, held at the MHC Asia Healthcare in One Commonwealth.

Here are some of the questions he fielded:


Why now?

Dr Tan: I've been in politics for 26 years. I fought six general elections and (at) every general election, I did pretty well.

And how did I do pretty well? It's because I did a lot of preparation. I never take my voters for granted...

In 2011, I was a little bit lost because I suddenly realised that from a tiny constituency of Ayer Rajah, I had to now comb the whole of Singapore.

Now my team is a different team. We are very prepared...

When I was contesting the other elections, I spent years, so 17 months is a good time. And I want to do well.

PHOTOS: THE STRAITS TIMES


The Constitutional Commission was formed only last month, but many expect it could be limiting the age of the (elected) president to 75. By next year, you will be 76. What then?

Dr Tan: I'm a doctor. I take care of my health. The only thing that will be against us is not age but our mental capacity.

Anyone of us who develops mental deficiency should be honourable enough to step down from any political or even presidential election.

So if I'm not good here (pointing to his head), I will not stand because I'll be doing Singapore a disservice.

So I don't think age is a problem. Look at Dr Mahathir (Mohamad).

He is 90 and he is still trying to improve the country.

We are friends. I'd better go and ask him for advice on how to live older and be active.


The Government had said the president's job is to safeguard the reserves and appoint key civil servants, and not to be the voice of Singaporeans or influence policies. If you agree with that, then will you be toeing the line?

Dr Tan: I'm a bit confused, because if Singaporeans elect the president, the president must have some say, and not keep quiet.

Imagine if I find something that's very wrong, let's say, with (a) government policy, can I keep quiet? I think I have a right to say and having a right to say doesn't mean I must go to the whole world and blast it out.

I will probably call up whoever (is responsible) and say, 'Look, (let's) have a review on this policy, I think it's affecting Singaporeans' lives.'

That is what I would want to do. But... suppose they lend money to some people from my reserves, they dipped into the reserves, then I have a right to tell them, 'No, you can't do that, you must let Singaporeans know why you want to do that.'

If I cannot speak for Singaporeans, I can warn Singaporeans of wrongdoings. That is the role of the president.

Of course, I will abide by looking after the two issues, but still, I feel, these are what we call the soft powers of the president.

And the soft powers of the president may not be well articulated, but that doesn't mean that you all shouldn't know.

I think over time, we have to let Singaporeans know what a president can do, what a president cannot do...

But we must not distract from the role of the president and the role of the president is primarily to check on your reserves and the appointments...

I think the president must be very watchful of what is happening.


Was there, at any time during this period, that you might have had second thoughts about running for president or has it been a sure thing all along?

Dr Tan: When I believe in a cause, I would never back down. Sometimes I make stupid mistakes, but I never back down if I strongly believe what was and is right.

I feel that I have to fight hard to get your support. So when I say 'I will be back', I WILL be back.


You mentioned "stupid mistakes". So, reviewing your past bid, do you think you have made any stupid mistakes?

Dr Tan: Tactically, I didn't comb the ground so well. I realised that the last election, I was alone. There were many odds against me.

I was trying to work with my good old friend (G.K.) Singham. We were like what Joshua, my son, called 'dad's army'.

He said: 'Dad, (with) your Dad's Army, you're fighting a whole organisation. You're going to die.'

It was true. That was our shortcoming.

But never mind, we learnt from that mistake now. We have to re-organise, we got to re-plan. We got to get every sector combed.

Did Dr Tan jump the gun? Experts say...

Dr Tan Cheng Bock's announcement of his intention to stand for President was well-timed and deliberate, said political analyst Eugene Tan.

It is in light of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement in January that there will be a review of the Elected Presidency system.

In particular, the qualifying criteria for President will be relooked by the Constitutional Commission.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said: "It is a political masterstroke as it allows Dr Tan to rally support early... but with due consideration for not violating any laws. His campaign will centre on social media and by riding on public opinion."

So is Dr Tan's announcement premature, considering he might not be eligible?

Dr Bilveer Singh, associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore said: "If the rules disqualifies him, people will say that the rules were made to disqualify him and he remains an important part of the Presidential Election (PE) narrative.

"But in a way, it was also jumping the gun as it would also be wise to wait for the Constitutional Commission to complete its report."

Associate Professor Tan, who is from Singapore Management University, said Dr Tan has a "legitimate expectation" to be able to qualify for the polls.

He said: "He was eligible in 2011 and narrowly lost. Dr Tan's announcement will be on the back of their minds as the Commission deliberates.

"Even though the Government has rational reasons for the changes, the online chatter cannot be ignored. If he is ineligible, Dr Tan can still be influential as he could endorse another candidate at the PE."

Dr Singh said: "While eventually merit will decide the winner, Dr Tan has stolen the march by being the first to announce his candidature."

Elected Presidency and proposed changes

Under the Elected President Act, the elected President:

  • Must not be less than 45 years old
  • Must have at least three years' experience as Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General, Permanent Secretary,chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board or of a company with paid-up capital of at least $100 million
  • Has a six-year term
  • Has veto powers over the spending of national reserves and monetary policies and the appointments of key positions in the civil service, government companies and statutory boards
  • Appoints the prime minister (whom Parliament must have approved by a majority vote)
  • Has the right to withhold consent for the dissolution of Parliament
  • Is not allowed to hold any office or profit or engage actively in commerce

A nine-member committee was formed last monthto study the Elected Presidency and recommend how it can be updated.

It was formed two weeks after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that the President had to remain elected, but certain aspects of the process had to be reviewed.

Leading the group of eight men and one woman is Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The three areas to be reviewed are:

  • Who is eligible to stand, as the President's custodial role over the reserves and public service requires "individuals of character and standing" with experience and ability to do the job "with dignity and distinction"
  • Provisions for minority candidates to have "fair and adequate opportunity" to be elected, given the President's status as a unifying figure who represents a multiracial Singapore
  • Council of Presidential Advisers will be refined to ensure that key decisions are made after careful consideration from people with substantial suitable experience in the public and private sectors

Former PE candidates say...

Politician Tan Jee Say, who contested the Presidential Election (PE) in 2011, said that he does not rule out contesting in the upcoming one.

But he will not be expressing his intentions to run for President anytime soon.

Mr Tan said: "I prefer to wait until the review of the Elected Presidency system is completed and the criteria is announced."

After Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced changes to the Elected President scheme, Mr Tan wrote in a Facebook post on Jan 27 that there was no need to change the criteria.

He wrote: "Existing eligibility criteria are sufficiently tight and yet flexible to permit candidates from a broad background to come forth and contest."

Mr Tan, a former principal private secretary to then-deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, received 25.04 per cent of the votes when he contested in the PE in 2011.

Mr Tan admitted that Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who announced his intention to contest in the PE yesterday morning, now has an advantage over other potential candidates.

"By setting his position, he can start his campaign early and make himself more familiar to a sizeable number of new voters who were not able to vote in the previous PE."

Mr Tan, who is the secretary-general of opposition party Singaporeans First, said he has to discuss any plans to run for president with his party members.

When contacted, former NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian, who received 4.91 per cent of the votes in 2011, said he would not be making a bid this time. He declined further comment.

HOPEFULS? Mr Tan Jee Say (left) and Mr Tan Kin Lian.(right)  TNP AND ST FILE PHOTOS

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