Should former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan throw his hat into the ring to contest the office of the Elected President? Well, the mainstream media seems to think so, judging by the slant of the article published in Friday’s edition of The Straits Times.
Maybe the newspaper knows something we don’t. Dr Tan is after all Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings, the parent company of the newspaper, or maybe the newspaper is trying to foment public opinion and create sufficient critical mass to make Dr Tan’s candidacy a reality.
To date, Dr Tan has not ruled himself out of the presidential race since the question was posed to him, hence allowing the idea of his possible candidacy to take on a life of its own and gain momentum.
This latest effort to push for the former Cabinet member as a presidential candidate comes hot on the heels of former Foreign Minister George Yeo’s decision not to contest the election – a move that had been received with both disappointment and praise by Singaporeans.
Citing qualifications, personality and stature, the newspaper comes across as being overly effusive about wanting Dr Tan as a presidential candidate.
I am puzzled about this unrelenting desire to put up a candidate who, for all intents and purposes, is very closely associated to the power centre within the People’s Action Party (PAP), especially in light of statements that had earlier been made by a retired minister and a PAP Member of Parliament (MP) about the likelihood of being unacceptable to voters if one is seen to be closely linked to the party.
Unless of course, such pronouncements had been made without consultation to the party’s centre, which in effect would mean that it’s most likely a case of ‘foot-in-mouth’, and unfortunately, any effort to ‘repair’ this error would be perceived negatively by a public that is already unhappy with the PAP-led government. It would also be quite embarrassing for the PAP to make an about turn to endorse Dr Tony Tan when some of their own had earlier pooh-poohed Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s candidacy.
Let us also not forget that 40 percent of the electorate had voted against the PAP, and given the manner and extent of changes which the PAP government has introduced following the May 2011 general elections, there is a possibility of swing voters casting their votes against anyone deemed a PAP-man in the hopes of securing even more pro-citizen concessions from the government.
For all we know, the government may decide against publicly endorsing Dr Tan to avoid any negativity towards their preferred candidate. So, if Dr Tan does decide to run for president, he may have to proceed without the endorsement of the government.
Despite having stepped away from politics in 2006, the 71-year-old Dr Tan is currently the deputy chairman and executive director of the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore (GIC), which together with Temasek Holdings, is responsible for managing Singapore’s reserves.
This fact could be an issue with voters since many would wonder if Dr Tan could be impartial when it came to the protection of the reserves, given his close association with one of the vehicles used for investing the country’s reserves. Lest we forget, the GIC suffered a substantial loss of about 30 percent of its US$200 billion portfolio as a consequence of the 2008 economic downturn.
Nonetheless, there are also those who believe that given Dr Tan’s track record of having stood up to prime ministers on key policy issues, he would make a good candidate for president as he could position himself as the conscience of the nation. Among the issues that Dr Tan had spoken against include the Graduate Mothers Scheme and the introduction of integrated resorts (casinos) to Singapore.
However, the $64,000 question is would Dr Tan adopt a similar approach on matters related to the reserves and key public sector appointments if he was elected President?
Should Dr Tan decide to enter the fray as a presidential hopeful, one interesting point would be that the presidential election would be a contest of the three Tans – Dr Tony Tan, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian. We may very well find ourselves having to decide between a banker, a doctor and an insurance man for our next president.
But at least, we’ll have the chance to decide and give our mandate to the man who would be president. And that, my friends, is a huge improvement over the last two presidential elections.