His candidacy in the 2023 Presidential Election was predetermined by fate, presidential hopeful Tan Kin Lian said on Aug. 24.
Speaking to the media at a doorstop at Senja Hawker Centre, Tan talked about a series of events outside of his control.
Tan claimed he would not have qualified as a candidate if the eligibility rules had not been adjusted after 2011.
He referred to the requirement for private sector hopefuls to have held, for at least three years, the role of chairman of the board or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least S$100 million (since amended to require hopefuls to have been chief executive of a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders' equity).
Tan claimed that for the presidential election in 2011, candidates from the private sector were required to have served at least three years within the previous 15 years of the election.
Tan stepped down from his role as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NTUC Income in 2007, and would have left NTUC Income for 16 years as of 2023.
In Tan's understanding, this means he would not have qualified if not for changes to the rules, as he claimed the requirement for the qualifying criteria was changed from 15 years to 20 years after 2011.
"Why did the government and parliament approve this extension?" Tan asked.
"I [went] through the reason, I searched for the reason. I can't find the reason. It still remained a mystery to me."
What are the requirements?
The requirements in the Constitution, effective from Jul. 1 2010 to Dec. 31 2014, do not mention a limitation period for a potential candidate's qualifying tenure, whether in the private or public sector.
A 2016 Constitutional Commission Report did suggest that the period of an applicant's qualifying tenure should fall within 15 years preceding Nomination Day, to ensure that the applicant's leadership experience is relatively current. However, the current requirements in the Constitution, which were adopted following the 2016 report, stipulate that an applicant's qualifying tenure must fall within 20 years of the date of the writ of election.
When Mothership reached out to Tan to clarify this point, he replied simply: "Please do your own research".
Initially wanted to stay out of Presidential contest
Tan wanted to stay out of the contest initially.
Nonetheless, several of his friends encouraged him to step forward as a candidate to "provide the choice for the people to vote for an independent president" who is not aligned with the ruling party.
At that time, George Goh had expressed his interest in contesting for the 2023 Presidential Election.
Tan said he was "happy to step aside" and allow Goh to be the "standard bearer" for Singaporeans who preferred an independent president.
Goh ultimately did not qualify to contest.
"Technically, I should now step forward as the standard bearer," Tan said.
Important part of his campaign
In the doorstop, Tan also shared an "important part" of his campaign which he meant to deliver in the upcoming presidential candidate broadcast, which was recorded on Wednesday (Aug. 23).
However, Tan said three paragraphs of his broadcast script were removed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on the grounds that the issues he wanted to address were "outside of the President's prerogative".
Responding to Tan's comment in a joint statement, IMDA and Elections Department (ELD) said that Tan's original script contained "inaccuracies about the President's role" and that his election agent had amended the script without objection.
"We remind all candidates not to mislead the public about the President's role," IMDA and ELD said.
Investing with the country's reserves
The removed paragraphs, which Tan stressed was the most important part of his campaign, spoke about him wanting to "highlight" an "overall investment strategy" where the country's reserves will be invested by "professional investment managers" to "achieve the desired result".
Tan said he also planned to speak about how the "actual monitoring (of the reserves) will be the duty of the board of directors" who will "receive [his] advice and guidance on the approach to be taken", and said this part was also removed.
This part was removed as such matters were outside the powers of the president — a decision Tan disagreed with.
However, Tan shared that it was someone from his campaign team who agreed to the paragraphs' removal, as Tan himself was not present at IMDA.
"My campaign team tried to contact me [but] I was not able to respond within the deadline," he said, when questioned by the media.
He commended his campaign agent who "did what needed to be done on the spot" and used his own "initiative" to remove the paragraphs.
"That's not a problem to me," he said. "I’ve got other avenues to publicise those three paragraphs, which I’m doing today."
Three goals to improve the lives of Singaporeans
Tan also said he would utilise the president's office to "influence policies" that would improve the lives of the people of Singapore.
"I will focus on three critical areas: bringing down the cost of living, ensuring affordable housing for all, and securing jobs that provide a sense of stability and a path to progress," he said.
Expressing views of large segment of people
Tan stressed that he was not misleading the people by making promises that a president does not have the executive authority to deliver.
He said that he had made clear in many previous statements that he would be using the Office of the President to "convey to the government the hardship faced by the people" as well as their aspirations.
"I remain hopeful that I will be able to persuade the Prime Minister and the Ministers to modify some of their policies [to] give a better life for the people," Tan said.
He further explained that this includes advising the suspension of the one per cent increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rate due in 2024.
"I'm expressing the views of a large segment of people. Your voice should not be ignored. I believe many people will vote for me knowing that I do not have the executive authority on these issues. They will vote for me to do what I can to realise the vision and the three goals," Tan said, as he concluded his speech.
Candidates made declaration that they understood president's role
On Aug. 22, Ng officially became a candidate for the 2023 Presidential Elections alongside Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Tan Kin Lian.
On their nomination paper, candidates must make a statutory declaration that they have read the explanatory material and understood the president's role under the constitution.
"Candidates have signed an undertaking to campaign for election as president in a manner that is dignified, decorous and consistent with the President's position as the head of state and the symbol of national unity," said an Elections Department spokesperson.
"In addition, they have made a statutory declaration on their nomination paper that they have read the explanatory material and understand the president's role under the constitution.”
The explanatory material outlines the president's custodial functions and examples of what the president can and cannot do.
Top image via Daniel Seow.