I’m running for president again: Tan Cheng Bock

(Scroll down at the end of the story for “live” updates of Tan Cheng Bock’s news conference)

(Tan Cheng Bock at the news conference. Photo: Nicholas Yong)

It’s official: Tan Cheng Bock is making another bid to become president of Singapore.

The 75-year-old medical doctor and former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP announced his candidacy at a press conference this morning at the MHC Asia Healthcare building.

“I intend and will contest the coming presidential election in 2017,” Tan said.

“If you strongly believe something is wrong, you must speak up and stand by what you say.”

Tan said that if elected, he has no intention to be “an armchair president".

“The president is apolitical… I cannot be beholden to any political party,“ he said. "The role of the president is to take care of your money, and that’s what I intend to do. I will be fearless in what I want to do.”

He added, “I think the president must be very watchful of what is happening. The president cannot deal with the bread and butter issues of Parliament, but he cannot be a sleeping president.”

Tan and the Constitutional Commission

Surrounded by a panel of former grassroots leaders from his old Ayer Rajah ward and campaign volunteers, Tan outlined his extensive experience in the political, corporate and charity fields to underscore his qualifications to be a president. Among others, Tan served on the PAP Central Executive Committee - the only non-minister to do so, he said - , was chairman for Chuan Hup Holdings, and also helped set up Credit Counselling Singapore.

He also explained why he was announcing his candidacy early when the next presidential election is only due to be held on or before 26 August 2017. “I still have to work hard. I must score this election early. Seventeen months is not too long. It’s a good time.“

The news comes as a nine-man Constitutional Commission mulls over possible changes to the Elected Presidency. The group has been directed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to review the qualifying process for Presidential candidates and whether the eligibility criteria should be updated, whether the powers of the Council of Presidential Advisers should be beefed up and recommendations to ensure that minority candidates can be periodically elected as President.

Tan has urged Singaporeans to submit their feedback on the Elected Presidency to the Commission.When asked by Yahoo Singapore if he has submitted feedback to the Commission, he confirmed that he would be doing so, but added, “That’s between me and the Commission.”

But is Tan concerned that the Commission might set new criteria for presidential candidates that may disqualify him? “We’ll leave it to the Commission to talk about it and then we’ll see,” he said. 

Tan Cheng Bock speaks to reporters at the end of his press conference. Photo: Nicholas Yong

‘A strong prospect to become president’

Founder and editor-in-chief of socio-political site Inconvenient Questions Viswa Sadasivan, told Yahoo Singapore that the timing of Tan’s announcement was a “masterstroke”, as he had gained first-mover advantage. 

“He has the prestige of being someone who almost became president, he’s very personally amiable and he has walked the talk, and he has a lot of political experience. Even when he was rising in the political cadre (system), he was known as someone who spoke his mind. He is a strong prospect to become president and he has a strong level of adulation. Not everyone has both,” said Sadasivan. 

The former Nominated Member of Parliament added that the ball is now in the government’s court, “What is the political price that the PAP has to pay, if the Commission disqualifies him, or if it comes down hard on him? They may still decide on the hard option, but they will be forced to think harder.”

Furthermore, said Sadasivan, Tan has also kickstarted a discussion on the Elected Presidency. “Every sector of society, from students to coffeeshop discussions to alternative media sites like Yahoo and IQ, will be discussing the Elected Presidency and its criteria. Everyone will start asking these questions, either in their heads or openly.”

Tan was first elected to Parliament 36 years ago, becoming the MP for the now-defunct Ayer Rajah SMC in 1980. He was subsequently re-elected five times, and also served as an elected member of the PAP’s Central Executive Committee. He retired as an MP in 2011.

In the 2011 presidential election, Tan came within a hair’s breadth of becoming Singapore’s head of state. He lost to Tony Tan by a mere 0.34 percentage points, or 7,382 votes.

Tan has remained in the public eye since, maintaining a Facebook page with more than 66,000 followers. He also attended PAP and opposition rallies during the 2015 general elections, while some opposition politicians and grassroots leaders attended a Lunar New Year gathering at his home last month.