Tan Kin Lian: Why I won't stand for president again
Former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian on why he won't stand for president again
Even if the bar is raised for presidential candidates, he is still likely to qualify to stand for office.
But Mr Tan Kin Lian, 68, is adamant he will not stand in the next Presidential Election (PE).
Mr Tan, who stood in the 2011 PE, told The New Paper yesterday: "Well, I didn't get many votes the last time... I don't see anything that will happen to make me change my mind.
"I'm sure there are many, many qualified people, so I don't think there's any need for me to come forward."
The Constitutional Commission, which was tasked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to review the elected presidency, released its recommendations on Wednesday.
Among them were:
- Unbundling the president's symbolic and custodial roles. An appointed president will play a symbolic role as head of state, while an appointed body of experts could take over the custodial functions;
- Tightening the eligibility criteria for candidates;
- Ensuring minority representation by triggering reserved elections; and
- Requiring the president to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers before exercising his discretion in all fiscal matters touching on Singapore's reserves, and all public service appointments.
Mr Tan, the former head of insurance cooperative NTUC Income, received the lowest number of votes - 4.9 per cent - in the 2011 PE, which was won by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam with 35.2 per cent of the vote.
Former MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock placed second, followed by former civil servant Tan Jee Say.
Mr Tan Kin Lian, who now runs his own IT consultancy, said he had hoped for the president's role to extend beyond its custodial and ceremonial duties.
Speaking to TNP in his office, he said: "I wanted the president to be more (of) an office for the views of the people to be heard. That's why I campaigned on the voice of the people, which, I think by now it's quite clear, is not welcome.
"That's the extra reason why I shouldn't be running. I might get into trouble," Mr Tan added before breaking into laughter.
Asked if he felt the president's role is too narrowly defined or limited, he said he had not read anything in the Constitution that said the president should not be allowed to comment on anything.
If that is the case, better to make the president's role a ceremonial one, he said, adding that he was in favour of the commission's idea to revert to an appointed president and then unbundle the president's custodial and ceremonial roles.
"But even a ceremonial president sometimes feels that there is moral duty to speak up. For instance, in Malaysia, the Sultan of Johor spoke out on issues which he thought were important... Even a president without powers should also be allowed to speak out.
"Unfortunately, not enough people supported my idea," said Mr Tan, alluding to his poor showing in 2011.
Singapore Management University constitutional law expert Jack Lee told TNP that the Constitution does not expressly say the president cannot comment on matters.
But what it does say is that the powers of the president are split into two categories - those he may exercise in his own discretion over reserves and appointment of public service officers, and those he must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet.
"(In the Constitution, it) sounds like the president can listen to the Cabinet's advice, but choose not to follow. But legally speaking, it means the president has to follow what the Cabinet says," Assistant Professor Lee explained.
This is contrary to what some of the 2011 presidential candidates did. Mr Tan, for instance, said he would introduce state pensions for the elderly, which is a breach of election rules.
Under the commission's recommendations, a criminal sanction could be imposed on candidates who breach election rules.
Asked about this, Mr Tan would only say: "I think it was targeted at me."
He declined to comment further.
To him, the most important is the commission's recommendation of returning to a system of appointed presidency, and unbundling the president's roles.
"I find the current system of elected presidency to be unworkable. Take a look at what happened to (former) president Ong Teng Cheong. He tried to understand what his duty was and tried to fulfil his duty. But he found it so difficult. So it's unworkable."
The late Mr Ong was involved in a dispute with the Cabinet over the access of information regarding Singapore's financial reserves.
Mr Tan added that "25 years is a long time to realise that the elected presidency is not working well".
"You just cannot carry on because if one day the president decides to act against the wishes of the Government, how do you resolve that? That can be very difficult," he said.
PM Lee: Enough qualified S'poreans of all races
There are enough qualified Singaporeans of all races to vie for the post of an elected president, even with the qualifying criteria looking set to become more stringent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
"There are qualified Malays, there are qualified Singaporeans of all races," he told reporters at the end of the Asean Summit in Laos.
Mr Lee had been asked if there were enough qualified Malay candidates for the elected presidency, after the Government accepted in-principle on Wednesday the main recommendations of the Constitutional Commission that reviewed the elected presidency.
Among the proposed significant changes is the doubling of the period that potential candidates must have held their positions at work to qualify them to stand for the presidency.
It was raised from three to six years.
The commission also suggested that the definition of a large and complex company be revised from $100 million in paid-up capital to $500 million in shareholders' equity.
Mr Lee said the Government wants the criteria strengthened to ensure that the elected president is well-qualified.
"Furthermore, we minimise the risk that we will not have minorities become president from time to time," he said, referring to another recommendation by the commission that an election be reserved for a particular race if no one from that racial group had been elected president for 30 years.
"That is very important - I've explained this multiple times - and that's the fundamental reason why I asked the commission to study how we can make an arrangement so that we make sure that minorities get a chance to be president from time to time.
"They've made a good proposal. We're studying their proposal," Mr Lee said.
- The Straits Times Online.