Speaking to the media for the first time since the Government published White Paper on the Elected Presidency, Dr Tan Cheng Bock has said that “race was never a factor in the elected presidency when the system was introduced 25 years ago”.
He told South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language newspaper, that “the role of the president, as envisaged by Lee Kuan Yew, was to hold the second key to the reserves and to approve the appointment of key positions in the public sector.”
Adding: “Singaporean voters are mature enough to vote objectively. A minority race candidate can also be elected as president if he or she is a good candidate in the eyes of the electorate. There is no need to amend the constitution to ‘reserve’ certain presidential elections for them.”
“It would be a sad day for Singapore if a constitutional change is made because of an individual” – Dr Tan Cheng Bock
Dr Tan lost in 2011 Presidential Election by just 0.35 percentage points to President Tony Tan.
Another former Presidential candidate, Tan Jee Say, speaking to the same newspaper said that “these changes would certainly not have come about if not for Tan Cheng Bock who came within a whisker of the presidency.”
The Government of Singapore responded to the newspaper’s questions asking if the pending changes to the Constitution were proposed to block certain individuals or critics said:
“The facts speaks for themselves:
1. The proposals were made by a constitutional commission headed by the chief justice. The commission received more than 100 written representations, including from political parties, academics, many others. The commission also held public hearings, which were extensively reported. The government has largely accepted the commission’s proposals, though there were areas where the government has disagreed. The government’s views have been set out in a white paper.
2. The proposals are supported by a large majority of Singaporeans. A recent survey by Blackbox, (a private research company), showed that:
a) More than 70 per cent of respondents felt there should be “tighter criteria on presidential nominees coming from the private sector to ensure only top executives who have led major companies can qualify”.
b) More than 70 per cent of respondents felt there should be a mechanism to ensure that minorities be given a greater opportunity to become president.
3. The government has directly answered the question as to whether the proposed changes are meant to prevent Dr Tan Cheng Bock from running.The government has made it clear that the changes are not directed at anyone. As stated above, the changes were recommended by a constitutional commission, headed by the chief justice. Thus, the suggestion specifically is factually false. The suggestion overlooks the above facts, and the fact that the changes were recommended by an independent constitutional commission. The government is looking at strengthening the system, and is not looking at individuals.
4. With regards to reserved elections for specific races, if you need more information, you can contact us. No decision has yet been made on the next election, for reasons which have been made public.
5. We reserve the right to make public our exchange on this issue as well as the above responses to the question that you have posed on this matter. And we will take seriously any suggestion that the changes were directed by the government, for the purposes as set out in your question.”
“Overall, when evaluating the changes they would like to see for the elected Presidency, Singaporeans ranked tougher checks for governmental use of Singapore’s reserves as their top priority, with support for candidates who have contributed greatly to the community over a long period of time coming in second. More stringent criteria for those applying for the top job coming out of the private sector only came in third. This juxtaposes with the large degree of media attention the proposed recommendation has been receiving in local media. Stronger opportunities for minorities ranked fourth, while the need for greater opportunities for a female President came in a distant last.”
Writing in his Facebook since the interview, Dr Tan said that Singaporeans are very concerned about the pending changes to the Presidential Election.
Referring to his last Facebook post where he highlighted the comments of Law Minister K Shanmugam at a dialogue on the pending changes to the Elected presidency, Dr Tan said that the post reached 324,411 people with 1,369 shares as at 23 Sep.
In the post, Dr Tan claimed that Mr Shanmugam said: “Sorry, Dr Tan Cheng Bock you are disqualified to stand in PE 2017.”
Dr Tan further referred to a Facebook user’s comment to his post. The user Cheah Kok Keong said: “When the Head of State is defined more by his wealth and race rather than his character, integrity and his track record of leadership in public, community, charity, volunteer, social services, what legacies are we leaving for our future generations?”