SINGAPORE: Mr Tan Kin Lian was praised for “the courage of his convictions” by The Straits Times before he ran for President. A Straits Times report on March 28, 1998, headlined “No anonymity for Tan Kin Lian”, said:
“If you are familiar with the Internet forum soc.culture.singapore, you would have known that it is a freewheeling arena where most contributors hide behind a cloak of anonymity. But one regular writer stands out for having the courage of his convictions to sign off with his name: Mr Tan Kin Lian, chief executive officer of NTUC Income.
“Oh, one more thing: he is not shy about giving out his e-mail address,” the report added.
Mr Tan’s email address continues to appear on his blog and Facebook account.
Mr Tan, who has been on Facebook since 2011, has also been blogging even longer. Tan Kin Lian’s Blog has entries dating back to 2005. This is in addition to his Tan Kin Lian & Associates website, whose domain name, tankinlian.com, was also created in 2005, according to the WHOIS database found on GoDaddy.com.
Interestingly, the earliest post on Tan Kin Lian’s Blog is on casinos. Dated March 26, 2005, written during the integrated resort controversy before Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa were built, the post was about a visit to the Genting Highlands resort.
Mr Tan wrote in favour of the resort. Many people were gainfully employed there, and less than 20 per cent of the visitors frequented the casino while the others enjoyed the resort’s other “excellent facilities”, he noted. He acknowledged that gambling could become an addiction but claimed that the problem could be minimised by not allowing people to bet more than a certain amount.
Gambling became an issue when Mr Tan ran for President in 2011. The newspaper Today reported a reader’s complaint that Mr Tan’s company, Tan Kin Lian & Associates, made and sold an app for TOTO. “Even though betting on TOTO and 4D is legal, what is legally right may not be morally right. Given the fact that Mr Tan is running for presidency, he should aim for some moral high ground, especially with public unhappiness over gambling,” said the reader.
In reply, Mr Tan told Today: “This concern is exaggerated… if some people like to try my app to get their unique numbers, I will be delighted. But I do not think that it will be addictive, and I certainly do not encourage them to be addicted to any form of gambling. But as a pastime and fun, it is all right.”
He added that his company made apps for TOTO and 4D because they were popular and well-known games.
That is a defining characteristic of Mr Tan. The former NTUC Income chief tries to identify with the people. His posts and statements are often about bread-and-butter issues like the cost of living, housing problems and the competition for jobs.
Despite his concern for the common people, he is not a universal favourite. The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) recently expressed concern over his candidacy, given his “history of objectifying women,” as there had been pictures of “pretty women” on his Facebook page.
The writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh also criticised him on Facebook, saying that while Singapore needs “more enlightened immigration policies… yet the unthinking way TKL goes about criticising migration is nativistic and dangerous. ‘I boarded SMRT 857 and found that I was in Mumbai. Hahaha,’ he said, in a 2015 post, since taken down.”
What You See Is What You Get?
Maybe Mr Tan, a long-time netizen and veteran blogger, is a real-life version of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) with a history of oversharing?
Mr Tan doesn’t mince his words. He made his disappointment plain at the 2011 presidential election when he blamed his rival, Mr Tan Jee Say. He said he asked Mr Tan Jee Say for help, but the latter stood for election instead and cost him votes. Mr Tan finished last in the four-cornered election contest in which Dr Tony Tan was elected President with 35.2 per cent of the vote while Dr Tan Cheng Bock secured 34.8 per cent, Mr Tan Jee Say 25 per cent, and Mr Tan 4.9 per cent.
This time, both Mr Tan Jee Say and Dr Tan Cheng Bock are supporting Mr Tan.
He is contesting the election to give Singaporeans a chance to vote for a President independent of the Government, Mr Tan says.
“I come from a humble background,” he adds. “I have been in close touch with the ordinary people. I know of their hardship and aspirations.”
He also rose to head a multibillion-dollar company.
Mr Tan, according to his Tan Kin Lian & Associates website, “joined NTUC Income in 1977 as the general manager (later re-designated as the chief executive officer). Over a period of 30 years, he built up the business, assets and sphere of influence. From a base of $28 million, the total assets increased to over $17 billion as the time of his retirement on 28 February 2007.”
He is concerned about livelihood issues, and it showed at the Presidential Forum broadcast by Channel NewsAsia on Monday (August 28).
The three presidential contenders were a study in contrasts. Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam was thoughtful, knowledgeable and authoritative. Mr Ng Kok Song was smooth and well-prepared, saying all the right things and occasionally checking his notes. Mr Tan, on the other hand, spoke slowly, taking his time to find the right words at times, checking his notes every time he spoke, and smiling after answering every question.
Mr Tan was thinking of the cost of living even when asked how he intended to be a unifying figure for the nation.
“People should feel financially secure,” he said. “They should be hopeful in their life. Therefore, sorting out the economic situation is very important. The key problem now is that people find the cost too high, housing too expensive, and jobs are insecure. If we can solve this problem, which is my main thrust, then people got more time to think beyond themselves…Then they become more unified… So my focus is, let’s make life easier for people so they can be more unified.”
However, it’s the Government’s job to make life better for the people. The President can advise the Government, but privately. Oversharing may not be possible at the Istana.