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Tan Cheng Bock to make second bid for S'pore presidency

SINGAPORE — Some 17 months before the next Presidential Election (PE) has to be held, former People’s Action Party (PAP) stalwart Tan Cheng Bock on Friday (March 11) declared his intention to make another run for the Istana, following his narrow loss in 2011.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock at the press conference announcing his candidacy. Photo: Robin Choo/TODAY

Dr Tan Cheng Bock at the press conference announcing his candidacy. Photo: Robin Choo/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Some 17 months before the next Presidential Election (PE) has to be held, former People’s Action Party (PAP) stalwart Tan Cheng Bock on Friday (March 11) declared his intention to make another run for the Istana, following his narrow loss in 2011.

Dr Tan’s surprise move led some political analysts to describe it as a “calculated and strategic” attempt to pre-empt the ongoing review by a Constitutional Commission of certain aspects of the Elected Presidency, which could see the bar raised for prospective candidates.

However, Dr Tan, who was a Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006, dismissed such a suggestion at a press conference held on Friday — two days after invitations were sent to the media.

“No, it is not my intention (to pre-empt the committee),” said Dr Tan. Instead, he felt he had to let Singaporeans — in particular, those who had voted for him in the 2011 PE — know whether he intended to run again.

“I owe an answer to the 738,000 Singaporeans who have been asking me whether I want to stand (in the coming PE) or not,” he said.

Dr Tan received 34.85 per cent of the vote share, or 738,311 votes, in the four-way contest for the Elected Presidency five years ago. He lost by only 7,382 votes to Dr Tony Tan, who received 35.2 per cent of the votes.

Citing his experience in the last PE, he also pointed out that preparations for the polls have to start early in order to cover enough ground.

Conceding that he felt “a little bit lost” during the 2011 PE where he had to campaign all over the island, he said: “We are very prepared (now) ... I still have to work hard because nobody who doesn’t work hard ever achieves good success in any election.”

Stressing that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his team must have a “good reason” to review the Elected Presidency scheme, Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he did not want to speculate whether he would meet the new qualifying criteria, if these are revised.

Adding that he would take things “step by step”, he joked: “I don’t think I’m so great (that) the commission is setting out to eliminate me (as a prospective candidate), right?”

In January, Mr Lee announced a raft of proposed changes to Singapore’s political system, including the Elected Presidency scheme. Last month, a nine-member Constitutional Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was appointed to review and make recommendations on certain aspects of the scheme.

The commission is studying three areas: The qualifying process for candidacy, provisions to safeguard minority representation in the presidency, and the framework governing the exercise of the President’s custodial powers, particularly the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan felt that Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s announcement had a “signalling effect in staking his legitimate expectation to contest” in the coming PE.

“As he had contested in the last PE, it would give rise to suspicion of lack of fair play should the new criteria disqualify him from being a candidate in the next PE,” said Assoc Prof Tan, adding that, since the first PE in 1993, it was unprecedented for a prospective candidate to declare his bid so early.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore felt that Dr Tan Cheng Bock should have held back his declaration, or at least tempered it as his candidacy is uncertain.

Nevertheless, Assistant Professor Woo Jun Jie from the Nanyang Technological University felt that the general practitioner, who had served 20 years as non-executive independent chairman of investment holdings company Chuan Hup Holdings, should not have a problem meeting any revised criteria. He was merely trying to be a step ahead of potential rivals, said Asst Prof Woo.

Assoc Prof Tan agreed that the announcement “puts pressure on other Presidential Election hopefuls and the incumbent as well to unequivocally indicate their intent early”.

Among those who contested in the 2011 PE, former NTUC Income CEO Tan Kin Lian had previously told TODAY that he had no intention to run again.

Opposition politician Tan Jee Say, who is the chief of Singaporeans First party, said on Friday that he would not rule himself out, pending the review.

On Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s move, he said: “He wants to have a leap start … and maybe he wants to let his potential supporters know early ... Well, the problem is that if the new rules come out and he doesn’t qualify, then it is a bit tricky.”

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