Why Tan Cheng Bock should be president

Posted: August 22, 2011 in Editorial, Politics
Tags: , ,

Singapore’s upcoming presidential election is keenly contested, with four candidates vying for the position of the head of state of the Republic of Singapore. The presidential elections, hot on the heels of this year’s parliamentary elections, has generated much interest in the role of the president.

The role of Singapore’s president is largely ceremonial, although the president has some powers in terms blocking the drawing of Singapore’s reserves by the executive, as well as the ability to block appointments of key civil service positions by the executive (for a fuller list of the powers of the president, see this Wikipedia entry). While the president is not as powerful as the prime minister, the discretionary powers afforded to the president necessitate a prudent choice by the electorate.

A president who gets along too well with the executive led by the People’s Action Party raises the important question of whether the president will be partial to the executive, while a president who constantly tries to obstruct the executive can hamper the effective making of important decisions. The president Singaporeans need is one who is neither a lap dog nor an obstructionist.

As such, presidential candidate Tony Tan, who has served in many different PAP-led executives and held several ministerial positions for a large part of his life, is not an ideal candidate to be Singapore’s president. While some may argue Tony Tan’s experience in various PAP-led executives throughout the years means that he has a better understanding of how the executive works and thinks, resulting in a more effective presidency, his overly close past ties with the executive raises too many concerns about his ability to be impartial.

The issue of impartiality plagues candidate Tan Jee Say as well. The former senior civil servant turned private investor contested the recently concluded parliamentary elections under the banner of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his fiery anti-PAP speeches still lingers in memory. If candidate Tony Tan has had an overly cosy relationship with the PAP, then Tan Jee Say has the completely opposite problem, which naturally rules him out as a good president.

The two other candidates left are Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian, the former being a medical doctor and ex-PAP member of parliament, and the latter, the ex-chief executive of the largest insurance cooperative in Singapore, who was also once a rank and file PAP member. Despite a history of affiliation with the PAP, both Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian are not close to the core of the PAP leadership, which is largely comprised of the PAP members in the executive. In addition, both of them have histories of being critical of the PAP when they disagree with their party. Hence, both of them are much less objectionable than Tony Tan.

Between the two, Tan Cheng Bock is the better choice. Both Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian have won the hearts of the common folk, and many Singaporeans would certainly prefer a “People’s President”. Tan Cheng Bock had a long career of providing medical services to the less well-off, while Tan Kin Lian has been at the forefront of championing the rights of small investors in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The difference between the two is, however, not in their ability to be independent and impartial.

The head of the state of the Republic of Singapore, other than being independent and impartial, is also the representative of the republic to the world. The president has to be some who can carry himself well on the international stage and be the representative of Singapore whom Singaporeans can be proud of.

Tan Cheng Bock is the clear winner on this count. He should be the next president of Singapore.

  1. Andrew says:

    Hello Aaron,

    I agree with your conclusions but then again I already have TCB in mind for president. Your process of elimination is fairly sound but I can’t imagine it having much effect on anyone who has set their head/heart otherwise. Up till recently I had TKL in mind (much for the reasons you highlighted.). In recent days TCB has impressed me with his manner and bearing.

    I agree that eliminating the two most polarizing candidates, the liberal conservative middle ground ‘should’ be choosing between TCB and TKL. Your method of separating the two seems to lie in “one would uphold our image” better then the other. I agree with this conclusion. But still I find it to be an unsatisfactory one for myself.

    If we take away these “external considerations” of the Presidency and just focus on the role of the President vis-a-vis everyday Singaporeans, I daresay that TKL’s more straightforward, ‘coffeeshop’ appeal would do him well in being a “people’s president’. I respect TCB’s reserve and attention to detail, but I would imagine TKL coming off much better with the working class crowd. TCB is quite clearly an academic, white collar type. i suspect that while his party ties may have withered, his basic ontological perspective remains closer to the technocratic tendencies of the PAP.

    Im suggesting that TCB would be my ideal and your ideal, but insofar as being an actual “voice of the people” TKL may in fact be ‘the real deal’ that TCB can never be.

  2. Aaron Ng says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Actually, Tan Cheng Bock has what you called the ‘coffeeshop’ appeal. How else can we explain his average of 77 percent of the vote in all general elections that he has contested, with his last election garnering 88 percent? You have to be a hardcore anti-PAP person to be blind to the things he has done for his people.

    If you read the anecdotes given by people who have some kind of dealing with Tan Cheng Bock, nobody has anything bad to say about him. He’s well known to be a caring doctor who will not charge poor patients a cent. This, I would say, is big ‘coffeeshop’ appeal.

    I think the problem with Tan Cheng Bock is that he is not as well-known online compared to Tan Kin Lian. I think Tan Kin Lian is better at grabbing headlines, whereas Tan Cheng Bock prefers to keep a lower profile. Both, however, are good choices for becoming a “people’s president”.

  3. […] Fish Tank: Presidential Elections – Putting the worms back in the can – Chapter Two:Reload: Why Tan Cheng Bock should be president – The Lycan Times 狼人時報: Current Affairs – Presidential Elections 2011 – pe2011facts: […]

  4. rehtul says:

    Tan CB will be another nathan. He tells others “not to make promises that they cannot deliver” but wants to move PMO out of Istana. Can he deliver this promise? He also said if he “disagrees with the cabinet on very serious matter, he will resign”. When others lead by example and pledges to donate theri salary, he gets defensive criticises them.

    He is a typical PAP man, playing up all the small non-issues and keep silent on the big ones. But most important of all, his personal principles are in doubt. My vote will not be going to him for sure.

  5. Aaron Ng says:


    All the candidates are worthy of criticism, not Tan Cheng Bock alone. I would suggest putting aside those tinted glasses and look carefully at each of them. Who doesn’t have flaws? The question is, who has less flaws? Your criticisms of Tan Cheng Bock appear to me to be that of the typical PAP man as well: playing up all the small non-issues and keeping silent on the big ones. 🙂

  6. Swiss says:

    Very well put. I think , by logic, it should also be TCB.

  7. bluex says:

    I’d vote for Tan Cheng Bock too if Tony Tan hadn’t joined the race, because both are the PAP stalwarts who really championed and appreciate PAP policies for the greater good of Singapore.

  8. S L Koh says:

    Many years ago I saw him panicked on TV when the SARS crisis hit Singapore. Then he was talking about “Life & Death” issues. Just a feedback and no ill-will meant!

  9. Aaron Ng says:


    I would say Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock are not the same type of PAP stalwarts. One is much more involved than the other. It’s a question of what the voter prefers. Both contributed in different ways, but the sticking point for me about Tony is he has never appeared to disagree with the PAP, at least not until now.

  10. Melody says:

    I can’t agree more with Aaron. I did not see him so much a PAP puppet as I see TT. Importantly, I like of him to ensure the govt is treating all sporeans fairly, regardless of any political afiliation. “Staying united” as the PM has been saying, does not mean opposition supporters has to crossover to the PAP camp, in opinions, ideas, etc. in order to be united as one with them. There should be unity among all since all have the same goal – its all for the good for the people of this country.

  11. bluex says:

    Yes, Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock are of course not exactly the same but at least they are mostly aligned in their general principles and ideals. This was why he was the first non cabinet minister elected into the PAP Central Executive Committee. I am gratified that Tan Cheng Bock spoke up in 1987 in support of the arrest of the Marxist conspirators. This is a man who understands putting the nation above the individual. He is a safe pair of hands who will not rock the boat and threaten the stability of Singapore. Therefore I will be very comfortable with Tan Cheng Bock as President. However, if I have to choose, my vote definitely first and foremost goes to Tony Tan.

  12. bluex says:

    I have decided to vote for Tan Cheng Bock instead. He has said that he will work within the boundaries of the constitution. I think he will be more unifying than Tony Tan. Even though Tony Tan is more qualified, the President’s role is custodial and it is more important to have someone likeable like Tan Cheng Bock as President.

  13. Aaron Ng says:


    It’s great that you have come to a decision. However, no matter who wins, he will get my fullest support. I just hope it is Cheng Bock who will be victorious.

  14. bluex says:

    Tan Cheng Bock spoke up in 1987 in support of the arrest of the Marxist conspirators. This is a man who understands putting the nation above the individual. He is a safe pair of hands who will not rock the boat and threaten the stability of Singapore. This is why he was the first non cabinet minister elected into the PAP Central Executive Committee. Therefore I will be very comfortable with Tan Cheng Bock as President.

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