Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Final Presidential vote tally (including overseas votes) and candidate expenditure


The final vote tally, including the overseas votes, is:

Tony Tan                     745,693 (35.20%)

Tan Cheng Bock          738,311 (34.85%)

Tan Jee Say                  530,441 (25.04%)

Tan Kin Lian                104,095 (4.91%)

Total valid votes        2,118,540

Rejected votes                 37,849

Total votes cast          2,156,389

A mere 0.348% of valid votes separates Tony Tan from Tan Cheng Bock. This margin of victory is even narrower than the 0.516% of national popular votes that separated Al Gore (winner in popular votes) from George W. Bush (winner in electoral votes, hence the elected President) in the 2000 US presidential election (source).  However, it is far wider than the astonishing 0.009% that separates the Florida popular votes of Bush and Gore in the same election (source).

Candidate Expenditure


Getting their names and faces out to the electorate within the nine-day campaign period was a top priority for all four candidates in the August Presidential Election, with advertising and printing of promotional materials constituting the bulk of their expenses.

The expenses filed by the candidates were made available for inspection at the Elections Department on October 4, 2011.

The top spender was Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who spent S$585,045.03 on his campaign. More than 86 per cent of that went to traditional publicity material like posters, as well as novel means such as smartphone apps.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam was the next highest spender at S$503,070.

58 per cent was spent on promotional material, such as the ubiquitous black-framed-spectacle magnets and caps, and some S$50,000 on new media advertisements, such as those found on Google and Facebook.

Mr Tan Jee Say spent more than S$162,337, with nearly 45 per cent of it on advertising and publicity.

Mr Tan Kin Lian was the leanest spender, doling out about S$70,912.16 on his campaign, or merely 3 cents on each of the 2.27 million registered voters.

Related: The financially savviest PE candidate of them all (here)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tan Jee Say's post-Presidential election press conference

Tantamount to a humiliation: The Economist

The Economist (source)


The PAP never endorsed Tony Tan formally. But he has held a number of cabinet jobs, and the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, enthusiastically endorsed his candidacy. He also enjoyed the backing of party activists, trade unions, chambers of commerce and community groups. So, that he won not much more than a third of the vote is a remarkable slap in the face for the government. All the same, PAP diehards protested that, since two former PAP MPs had garnered 70% of the vote, this was an endorsement for the party.

This follows the general election in May when the PAP did worse than in any election since 1965. It still won 60% of the vote, which left it, in Singapore’s first-past-the-post system, with 81 out of 87 elected seats in parliament. But the party acknowledged it as a setback, and Mr Lee promised to do some “soul-searching”. Voters seem to feel, however, that the government has still not got the message. The presidential election turned into a relatively low-risk chance to teach it a lesson.


In general elections opposition parties, which are small and fragmented, are at a disadvantage. Most parliamentary seats are in big “group” constituencies, where they struggle to field slates of credible candidates, and whose boundaries, they claim, are manipulated in the PAP’s favour. The presidential poll is the only one that is island-wide and not affected by these considerations. It gave voters the opportunity to install a different sort of check into the political system. The result is sobering for the PAP. As the country's biggest newspaper, the pro-government Straits Times, put it in reporting the result: "the voting patterns show a society more politically divided than ever before.”

They reflect a widespread sense that the government, blinded by Singapore’s astonishing economic progress, has lost touch with the grievances of ordinary citizens. This sense is in part about particular issues, such as the cost of housing or immigration, which some blame for depressing local wages. But it is as much a question of style—a resentment at what is seen as the government’s paternalistic belief that it knows best.

They also reflect the breakdown, thanks to the internet, and especially social-networking sites, of the government’s virtual monopoly over the media. In both general and presidential elections, the government’s opponents were able to change the terms of the debate by taking it online. For example, when one of the newly elected opposition MPs complained on his Facebook page that he was not allowed to attend constituency functions on a public-housing estate, the issue soon became a national one about the perception of a pro-PAP bias in public bodies.

The realisation that more than 60% of Singaporeans voted against the government’s favoured candidate will presumably provoke more soul-searching within the PAP. Some will take it as proof that the party must move further and faster in opening up to adjust to the “new normal” of a political system with a sizeable opposition. Others, however, may take the opposite view: that too much liberalisation has led to a fading of the fear of the unpleasant repercussions that used to deter critical commentary and opposition activism. In short, that Singaporeans are forgetting who knows best what's good for them.

How PAP and opposition supporters voted in the Presidential election

Based on the few online surveys, it is possible to estimate (crudely) the Presidential preferences of the PAP and opposition supporters, as shown below.

PAP voters (60%)

Opp voters (40%)

Tony Tan



Cheng Bock



Jee Say



Kin Lian



*Hardcore PAP voters =  Tony Tan supporters = 35%

      [cf. minimum PAP vote share = 35.2% (Hougang SMC) in GE 2011]

*Middle ground voters = Cheng Bock supporters = 35%

*Hardcore opposition voters = Jee Say and Kin Lian supporters = 30%

      [cf. minimum opposition vote share = 29.4% (Hong Kah North SMC) in GE 2011]

Of course, Tan Jee Say could have won if the following were true:

PAP voters (60%)

Opp voters (40%)

Tony Tan






Jee Say



Kin Lian



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tan Jee Say: I wish I had been given more time

By Kai Fong (source)

Tan Jee Say reveals during the recount process that he would have preferred Dr Tan Cheng Bock as President. (Yahoo! photo)

Tan Jee Say says he wished he could have been given more time to correct the impression in the media that he was "confrontational."

The Presidential candidate, who conceded the elections shortly before 2am, insisted that this was not the case.

"I could not have achieved so much in the government and private sector by being confrontational," said the former principal private secretary to former PM Goh Chok Tong.

"That's the image that was created, but it was certainly not an image that is true to me. Obviously I come in with an intention to ask questions, and asking questions is not being confrontational."

"I was prepared to give answers to questions and I did not want to hedge here and there like some of my opponents, waiting for more information and all that," he added. "So that is where I stood and I wanted to be clear, to be fair to the voters what they're voting for."

Tan Jee Say and family pose for cameras while waiting for the release of results by the Elections Department. (Yahoo! photo)

The former Singapore Democratic Party member, who also lost in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC during the May elections, said, "The period of campaigning is quite short… I wish I had been given more time to explain to the people so that I can have a better vote share."

"We saw that awareness picked up mid-way through the campaign. More people know more about me and what I stood for, and I was able to respond to many of the criticisms, allegations against me."

A campaign period of three months would have been ideal, he added. "So that we don't have to be so intense over the nine-day period… I think a lot of countries do that, and then you can scrutinize the candidates even better."

When pointed out that his opponents worked with the same nine-day campaign period, Tan said that while timing was common to all, "someone has got a better advantage because of what he has done. So he has the natural advantage over the rest."

Tan also wished he had "better coverage in the media".

"I think the media, one particular newspaper, has tried to paint me as confrontational, right up to the last day. So I think that is despite my trying to say that I am not," he said, to which a supporter was heard shouting "Straits Times no good!" in the background.

The candidate had repeated several times during his campaign that "challenging does not mean confrontation."

"That's the thing, I am not confrontational. But it's the image that has been created, I have not gone out into the streets to wave my hands and throw stones."

Tan added that he thought he "should be given a newspaper permit to start another newspaper," if given a chance.

Tan also said that he "would have preferred Dr Tan Cheng Bock" to cheers from supporters at Bedok Stadium, when asked to make a choice between former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan and the ex-PAP member and Ayer Rajah MP Tan Cheng Bock. This was before the official release of results by the Elections Department.

He added that he had no regrets by distinguishing himself as an "independent voice" during his campaign.

"The overwhelming majority did not want to be a government-sponsored candidate," he said.

Estimating his vote share to be "in the 20s", he insisted that it was still a victory for him for three reasons.

"First of all, I widened the space for candidates to put themselves up for the campaign. I also created a better understanding of the role of President."

"Thirdly, I put forward ideas on what causes disunity among Singaporeans," said the candidate, who ran under the campaign slogan of "Heart for the Nation".

He congratulated the newly elected President and said he hopes the President can take advantage of the issues that were raised and use his moral authority to do better for Singapore, instead of being "restricted to the specific role of the President, as specified in the Constitution".

As for what is next for him, Tan Jee Say declined to commit on his next step, preferring instead to "first talk to my supporters to see what kind of role I can play in public life."

In a short thank you speech, he asked for supporters to "continue to walk with me side by side on our journey, as we write together the next chapter of the Singapore story".

Tan Jee Say's final concession came about an hour after he asked his supporters at the Bedok Stadium assembly area to "go home and rest" if they were tired.

He admitted then that it was "neck and neck" between Dr Tony Tan and Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Addressing a small but vocal crowd of supporters, the investment adviser said, "Whether we win or lose, we have already won Singaporeans with our heart."

"By standing up to be counted, we already gave Singaporeans a voice," he added. "A voice that has been heard and will continue to be heard."

"Singaporeans are asking for a government that is transparent, just and sincere. It is clear that the government can no longer expect unquestioning obedience from its citizens. The integrity of its governance must be proven, and the trust of the people earned and not taken for granted."

Tan Jee Say came in third in the four-way race, garnering 25.04 per cent or 529, 732 of votes out of a 2.1 million cast.

Said NSP's Nicole Seah, "The reason why all of us supported him was really because he has shown that he understood the diversity within our society and he was willing to accept that and that’s what I appreciated him for."

"It was a very good fight," added Seah, who volunteered as a counting agent in the East where she said “Mr Tan Jee Say actually came in a very close second in quite a number of stations”.

"While we hope that he could have been our next president, we accept the results and I think that we can look forward to greater things," she said.

Another supporter who had stayed on at Bedok stadium told Yahoo! Singapore that he "expected him to lose even before the elections but he made it a point to speak up for some Singaporeans," which was "very courageous of him".

Netizens were evenly split about Tan Jee Say's supposed forceful style, which came to the fore at least twice during the campaign when he notably clashed with Tony Tan over the issue of the Internal Security Act and the national reserves.

"Our ruling party is such that they need confrontation in order to listen... Hence a lot of smear was directed at TJS. Perhaps this is where it went wrong," wrote Shah Rizal Baharudin on Yahoo! Singapore's Facebook wall.

"It's his assertiveness that I like about him," said another reader Teo Boon-Pin, before adding, "He is in fact saying that the media has wrongly portrayed him."

But another netizen, Mei Ling, said the 57-year-old candidate should have put his best image on right from the start.

"This is an election for a president of a country. Since he decided to run for it, he should have put forward his best image right from the very start. His ambitions on the nation reserves made people worried," she wrote.

Eugene Yuhin Wong also said that "Tan Jee Say would have made a good MP, but a President is not his thing for now."

A comprehensive Post-Presidential election 2011 analysis (New Asia Republic)

(bar heights not to scale)

Tony Tan: 744,397 (35.19%)

Tan Cheng Bock: 737,128 (34.85%)

Tan Jee Say: 529,732 (25.04%)

Tan Kin Lian: 103,931 (4.91%)

Total valid votes: 2,115,188

Rejected votes: 37,826

Total local votes:  2,153,014

Total overseas voters: 5504

Local votes counted are conclusive of the results.

Of every 20 voters, 7 support Tony Tan, 7 support Tan Cheng Bock, 5 support Tan Jee Say, and 1 supports Tan Kin Lian.

Dr Tony Tan has been elected Singapore's seventh President, winning by a 0.34 per cent margin, or 7,269 votes.

Some 2.15 million Singaporeans, or 94.65 per cent of registered electors, cast their votes at 781 polling stations.

 5,504 Singaporeans have registered as overseas voters. Their votes will be counted on Tuesday, August 30.

The new President will be sworn in on Thursday, September 1.

A comprehensive Post-Presidential election 2011 analysis (New Asia Republic): here

Friday, August 26, 2011

Online influence of Presidential candidates

The online influence of the Presidential candidates, whether measured by website Alexa rank (in Singapore), website visitors, or Facebook likes, shows a consistent rank order.

The Presidential candidate with the strongest online influence is Tan Jee Say, followed in rank order by Tan Cheng Bock, Tony Tan, and Tan Kin Lian.

The Alexa traffic ranks in Singapore (as of Aug 24) of their websites are, in the above order, 751, 1421, 1862, 5414.

Alexa reach (%)
Alexa reach (%)

The number of daily website visitors are, in order, 5120, 2560, 2240, and 1303 (source).

The number of Facebook likes are, again in order, 12061, 11410, 5561, 3917.

It is clear that the Internet-savvy Singaporeans favour Tan Jee Say as the next President. The great unknown is how the rest of the electorate will vote.

ps.  From The Online Citizen (here):

On 24th August, we asked our readers who had watched our ‘Face to Face 2: Presidential Forum’ (F2F2) videos to take a survey which asked three questions.
The 3 questions being:

  1. Did you decide who to vote for before watching F2F2?
  2. Did you change your vote after watching F2F2?
  3. After watching F2F2, who do you intend to vote for?

2382 of our readers responded to this survey over the last two days. Of these, 1632 responded that they had decided who to vote for before watching F2F2; but 597 of the 1632 (or more than 26 per cent of respondents) , responded that they changed their mind on who they would vote for after watching F2F2.

According to this survey, Tan Jee Say is the most popular candidate as more than 65 per cent of the respondents to this survey indicated that they intend to vote for him.

pps. As of Sep 3, 2011,  the Alexa traffic ranks in Singapore are: Tan Jee Say 628, Tan Cheng Bock 850, Tony Tan 898, Tan Kin Lian 2942. 

Social Media Score Card on the Presidential candidates (Bell Pottinger)


Avg Daily visitors: 5,120
261 Tweets
Embedded as a part of the website

Avg Daily visitors: 1,303
580 Tweets
Since 2007
Avg Daily visitors :4,596
Android App - (50-100 installs)

Avg Daily visitors: 2,560
1,758 Tweets
Embedded as a part of the website
iPhone App crossed 4700 downloads
Andriod App - (500-1,000 installs)

Avg Daily visitors: 2,240
78 Tweets
Embedded as a part of the website

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha's speech at Tan Jee Say's Presidential Rally


My friends,

Today I speak to you as a fellow Singaporean; as a fellow voter: I feel proud to do so. On Saturday, we will go to our polling stations and I will vote for my friend, Tan Jee Say. I would like to tell you why.

The President, to me, if the first citizen of our nation. I love our country. And I will only vote for a candidate who also loves our country. Our people: our neighbours and friends.

I will not vote for those who defend the right of the government to hide information about the GIC from me. I cannot vote for present or past members of the PAP who appear to have suddenly come round to the belief that the people have a right in their finances when, for so many years, they wholeheartedly approved of keeping things from us.

I will not vote for those who once defended the right to imprison people without trial and now keep silent on whether it is right or wrong to torture people while under detention.

I will not vote for those who were members of a party that supports - supports - torture.

I will not vote for those who are happy to receive millions of dollars in salary while their own policies have made many people poor.

In short, I will not vote for those who do not share the aspirations, the hopes and dreams, the fears and uncertainties of the people.

I will vote for the person in whom I can invest my commitment to the nation, my love for its traditions, my pride in its history, my sense of brotherhood with my fellow citizens.

I will vote for the person whom I can trust to safeguard our reserves and ensure the top jobs go to the right people.

But most importantly, I want to vote for the person who holds, within his person, the Singaporean nation. I will vote for the candidate whose sense of decency has called him out of a quiet, private life, a modest life, to serve the people.

I want to be able to say confidently to my president: go and represent our nation on the international stage, go and be a dignified host to our visitors, go and tell the world how proud we are of our little red dot.

I have a niece who was born in Singapore but has lived her entire life abroad. When she was 9, she was very curious about our presidency, which is very different in her own country. So, her mother, my sister, encouraged her to write to our president.

He invited her for tea at the Istana. They had soft drinks and spring rolls and curry puffs. He took her on a tour of the building. What all our tourist attractions, our shopping malls could not do, was achieved in that one afternoon. He made her his guest, a guest of Singapore. He showcased our country to her. He was her host.

My friends, what do we look for in a host? A host is someone who represents the dignity and honour and integrity of the household. Who is responsible for its hospitality and for welcoming strangers.

That little child came away with a high estimation of our land. A land of high standards. A land of warmth. A land that embodies the values of humanity.

To me, the centre of our nation is the Istana. Each time I pass by its ceremonial entrance at the eastern end of Orchard Road, I feel proud, because I know that everything that is best about us, everything that is nicest, is embodied there.

In the olden days, Parliament selected a person at the height of his career and asked him to represent us, to embody us as President. 20 years ago, Parliament saw fit to expand his responsibilities, to ask him to safeguard the family savings and oversee the family elders.

Why? Regarding the family savings, it is obvious. With our family elders, I mean, our key office holders, whose appointments the president approves, we look for:

  • Wisdom;
  • Courage;
  • Pride;
  • Selflessness;
  • Patience;
  • A good name; and
  • A dedication to the future of the nation.

And so also we look for someone similar at the head of our nation. Someone we can trust to act justly. I would like to say to you, as a fellow Singaporean, a fellow voter, on this historic occasion, that my friend, Tan Jee Say, embodies these qualities. He is the man I would like in the Istana because to me, he represents the future of our community, not the past.

A future where the divisions that now plague us can be healed rather than deepened.

A future to where our president will help to lead us as one, not divide us into rich and poor, citizen and foreigner, university graduate or not university graduate, disabled or able-bodied, young or old, PAP voter or opposition voter.

The world we inhabit today is a different world. We want a president who will take us forward, not preserve the past, preserve the divisions, and call it stability.

Watch him, talk to him, and you will see as I do, as his family does, as his colleagues and friends do, that he will bring honour and simplicity and dedication to the presidency.

We don’t need many university degrees in the Istana – after all four out of our six previous presidents did not have them. And even though Jee Say’s academic credentials are unquestionable, before anything else, he is a decent man. He will help to unite us, who have been so unfairly divided these several years.

And so, on Saturday, I will choose Tan Jee Say as my president. I ask you to do the same. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you.

In closing, I hope you will allow me one personal comment: As I have watched her this last year, as I have come to know her, I cannot think of anyone else in the nation that I would rather have as our First Lady than Mrs Patricia Tan.

Thank you very much. I wish you a good evening.

A day to reflect... : an essay by Dr Vincent Wijeysingha


I write this note as a “transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals, on a non-commercial basis, using the telephone, Internet or other electronic means,” (Cooling-off Day and Polling Day, Elections Department Press Release, 24 August 2011), and therefore am not in contravention of the prohibitions contained in the Presidential Elections Act.

In the last several weeks, many people have asked me how I am going to vote or how they should vote. I don’t intend to answer either question. In this note, I want to reflect on the office of president.

Being only an infant when President Yusof died in November 1970, I have, of course, no recollection of his death and funeral. But from newspaper reports, photos, and Parliamentary statements (including the then Prime Minister’s eloquent eulogy), I now know that this humble man who declined to reside in the Istana, brought to the office a dignity and an honour based in his simplicity.

My ancestors, and especially my grandfather, were colonial Anglophiles to their fingertips. My grandfather never stepped out of his house unless he was kitted out in a full suit with walking stick and velvet fedora. When King George VI died in February 1952, he cancelled his activities as a gesture of mourning. When he visited the UK in 1977, he wrote to George’s daughter for permission to pay his respects at the grave of her uncle, King Edward VIII. (She said no.)

During World War Two, he was a photographer employed by the Ministry of Propaganda. His job was to take photos of military establishments on the island to be sent back to London for war planning purposes. (I still have the two cameras he used – ironically they were of Japanese and German make!)

For his efforts, he was imprisoned by the Japanese Kempeitai and tortured for several months. For a time he shared his cell with, among others, the future President Sheares. After the war he was awarded a Membership of the Order of the British Empire and a few years later appointed a Justice of the Peace.

His proudest moment – the crisply-ironed linen suit and ramrod straight back in the fading picture of the presentation ceremony at Government House are evidence – was when Sir Franklin Gimson pinned the medal of the Order to his chest in 1947.

We have another picture of him with my grandmother and uncle, also fading, at the garden party afterwards in the grounds of Government House, now our Istana. I’ve always thought it fairly ridiculous that we should have to wear suits in our tropical heat.

Being a bit of an anticolonial, seeing pictures of President Yusof at state occasions in the Malay baju kurung, always filled me with pride. Here was one of us, an Asian, full of dignity and honour, at the head of our nation. I liked that.

Our next President was Professor Sheares. He was a friend of my grandmother’s family and my mother’s gynaecologist but I never met him. Having some Eurasian ancestry myself, of course, I was proud that a Eurasian had reached the heights of his profession and ascended to the highest office in the land.

What I liked about him was, even in a full suit, he always managed to look like one of us, an ordinary Singaporean. His elegant and regal-looking Chinese wife, so well coiffed and elegantly attired in a cheongsam, also managed to impart the common touch, while looking exactly as a First Lady should.

I was just about old enough to remember his funeral. And being keen on pomp and ceremony, I was glued to the (black and white) TV when his funeral was telecast. Mrs Sheares was beside herself with grief and was hardly able to stand: she was supported by her sons. I remember someone complaining about how ill-dignified she looked and how the Queen of England would never have behaved like that. And even though a child I thought, “Well, the Queen isn’t Asian, and this is how we Asians mourn our loved ones.”

Our third president, Devan Nair, was a friend of my father’s from their teaching trade union days, although, again, I never met him – I’m beginning to see a pattern here! As a civil servant, my father had, on several occasions to meet him officially and, in photos, I was always impressed by how he walked among us, in his shirtsleeves. He seemed for all the world like what he was: a trade unionist, a worker, an anticolonial freedom fighter. I was sad when he was hounded out of the Istana.

President Wee, since he took office at a late age, rapidly became the gentle grandfather of the nation, with a kindly smile and a caring touch. And of course, our courageous President Ong, who took his duties of oversight very seriously and was repaid – characteristically for the PAP – with a very mean coin when the government denied him a state funeral or burial at the State Cemetery.

Until Mr Wee, the President was appointed by Parliament. Chosen from those who had attained the height of their profession, they were still one of us, since each one of us could also reach the height of our profession and, therefore, of our nation. And in a real way, he was one of us because, despite not having been elected directly, we knew that he was selected from our own community. To represent us.

In summary, to me the President represents what is best and brightest about our land, what is most decent. In the wake of rapidly changing social mores, a society rushing and hurrying about, our President represented something constant, something to be treasured, something as calm and perennial as the guardsmen outside the ceremonial gates of the Istana.

Twenty years ago, Parliament saw fit to give the President more powers and have him directly elected by the whole nation. Arguably, at the time, this was motivated by the PAP’s fear of its rapidly declining vote share amidst its own belief that it was the party with sole rights to govern, hence the coining of that silly and, of course, nonsensical term, ‘a freak election result’.

And so, our President is now a constitutional aberration, with few similarities found around the world. It is a prototype with little precedent and in many ways, that is why the debate has centred so much around what he can and cannot do. The government tried, with the constitutional amendment, to achieve one set of objectives but it did so when its stranglehold on government was almost impregnable, and so it thought that, come what may, the President would be no trouble but would still contain enough power to be a counter-balance in the event of a ‘freak election result’.

Essentially, our President straddles two functions: the ceremonial, which also includes some executive powers such as the signing of Bills into law (a throwback to our colonial antecedents), and the executive (as contained in the constitutionally amended role). The debate has, predictably (and somewhat unintelligently) for the government, tried to attach his role to the Cabinet, while some of the candidates have disagreed, emphasising the moral, or underlying, role, the historic role, if you like.

The government clearly does not like this and would prefer the elected President not to press his rights but to acquiesce in his role as it has evolved over twenty years of the office. But actually, it has evolved away for the original intentions of the Parliament of 1991, and back to its purely ceremonial role. Our most recent incumbent has acted purely ceremonially and we have had members of the government emphasising that the President cannot do various things without the say-so of Cabinet but, by taking such a minimalist (and, I might add, unconstitutional) reading of things, they indicate that they do not wish the President to actually exercise the functions to which they once called him.

But, like it or not, we now have a directly-elected President and therefore, as citizens, we have some rights in what he can and cannot do under the law. Otherwise, it would be nonsensical to subject the office to popular election.

After the challenge that President Ong mounted in relation to the state reserves, the government brought in a White Paper in 1999 entitled The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies. This was clearly to try and rein in the powers of the President but by issuing it via a non-binding White Paper, it showed an (an understandable) unwillingness to appear silly by clipping the wings of an office it had, itself, given birth to. So, it took shelter in an essentially pointless document, non-binding in law.

But I say again, we, the electorate, have some rights in our President and we should take our voting responsibility very, very seriously tomorrow. It is a feature – a laughable one were it not so frightening – of power that they who have it do not concede it generously. And our government is an exponent without equal of this tendency.

So when you have various people being trotted out to tell us (and the candidates) that in fact they cannot do anything except at the express behest of the Cabinet, then I begin to smell a rat. They must be afraid, I tell myself; this constitutional anomaly, which they have created, must now be a source of threat.

The power of monitoring, of overseeing, of reviewing, do not come to us as gifts from the hand of the government. They are contained in the law and laws are what divide us (and protect us) from absolute tyranny. The President, I have to say to the government, is our safeguard not against the freak election of a non-PAP government, but against the freak election of a PAP government that does not rule in our benefit, does not govern in our interests, but in its own interests, safeguarding the rights and benefits of itself and its friends, and squandering vast sums of money on its salaries, bonuses and perks while our poor and elderly subsist in a month on the equivalent of half an hour’s Prime Ministerial salary.

This is the true freak result. And, like it or not, the government had handed us, on a platter, a facility to ensure that that may not continue, should we so desire it. The government is not entitled now, to curtail the powers of the President just because we have had an Ong Teng Cheong and may, from tomorrow night, have another in his mould.

If it wants to reverse the powers of the President, let it do so by the front door of a constitutional re-amendment and not skulk around at the back alleys of our Constitution and try to achieve it through bullying or, well… White Papers and state funerals. We, the people, deserve at least this much from our elected representatives.

As to whether or not the individual candidates have what it takes to be another President Ong, I will not say here.

But I will say this: the government is not entitled to play fast and loose with our Constitution. It is not empowered, except under the law, to clip the wings of the President, particularly when we the people, have suddenly woken up to the potential powerhouse of the presidency. It is not entitled to issue White Papers and ministerial statements that may appear to depart from the constitutional position. I’m no lawyer, let alone a constitutional expert; I am but a social worker and a citizen. What I do know is what I have read in our Constitution.

It is true that the President is not, and should never become, an alternative centre of power. History has shown that rival power centres lead to breakdown. The president is not there to initiate programmes, he is not there to challenge – much less advocate – the policy of the government of the day. That is the role of Parliament and that is where I want that role to remain.

But let us be very clear about it: what the President does have are five very clearly defined executive functions which may not have an immediate or direct bearing on our lives, but have the potential to severely restrain the hand of government if it oversteps its constitutional jurisdiction when acting in its own, rather than the people’s interests.

The President is entitled to oversee budgets and senior appointments of key departments of state; he may disallow drawing down from past reserves, should a government need to buy votes; and he has supervisory powers in relation to detentions without trial, restraining orders in connection with religious harmony, and corruption investigation powers.

These are formidable powers and we will only need one Suharto or one Marcos or one Pinochet to bring home how welcome they are.

The democratic legroom in Singapore is still limited. It was once said by an eminent British parliamentarian that when confronted with a person with power, one must ask three questions:
  1. What powers do you have?
  2. How did you obtain them?
  3. How may we take them from you?
These are highly relevant questions in our narrow public space if you are mindful of the dictum that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. And if you think carefully enough, you will see that the Singaporean presidency embodies both the right to pose these questions and the power to act upon them.

What attributes do they call for? This question I can answer: They call for another Ong Teng Cheong. They call for an independent spirit, courage, a care for the people, deeply-help values and finally, and perhaps most importantly, they call to one who knows what it is like to be an ordinary citizen, with all the struggles, the fears and intimidations that can imply.

Now that all has been said (but not yet done: that will come tomorrow and in the next six years), I ask you to reflect on this. The President’s responsibilities can be divided into his function and his role. His function is set out clearly in our Constitution, and we would do well not to allow the government to deprive us of it. His role, on the other hand, requires us to reflect on what a Head of State is; to reflect on how the predecessors at the Istana had developed their role; to transpose onto him what we want in our community and to see that, within the four walls of the Constitution, he helps to guide our community to their fulfillment.

A famous British lawyer and writer, Walter Bagehot, wrote a book called The English Constitution which, after more than 140 years, still stands as a great classic and a guiding document for a nation that does not have a written Constitution. What he said there with regard to the role of a Head of State (he was referring to the British monarch, but the comparison with Singapore stands) still bears thinking about.

He said that the Head of State has three rights: the right to advise, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. This is what I look for in a President. I want a President who will advise the government of the day, who will encourage it in its service of the people, and warn it when it forgets that duty.

Dhanabalan and Tony Tan's response to the "Marxist conspiracy"

Marxist Conspiracy Revisited: Comparing Dhanabalan's action with Tony Tan's


In 2009, ESM Goh Chok Tong revealed in his interviews for the SPH publication “Men in White: The Untold Stories of the PAP” that former National Development Minister S Dhanabalan decided to quit the Cabinet because he was not comfortable with the way the PAP had dealt with the “Marxist Conspiracy”.

“At that time, given the information, he was not fully comfortable with the action we took…he felt uncomfortable and thought there could be more of such episodes in the future…he’d better leave the Cabinet. I respected him for his view,” Mr Goh said.

Mr Dhanabalan said his reason for quitting, some 12 years later, was one of conviction: “My philosophy is one where I need to have complete conviction about some key policies and if I have differences, it doesn’t mean I am against the group……but I have to try and live with myself if I have some disagreements on some things,” he said.

On May 21st 1987, 22 church workers, lawyers, businessmen, theatre practitioners and other professionals were detained without trial under the ISA and were accused of “being members of a dangerous Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the PAP ruled government by force, and replacing it with a Marxist state”. A second wave of arrests took place on June 20th the same year.

The operation was dubbed “Operation Spectrum” and was carried out by the Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD). This marked another sad episode in Singapore where ISA was again used to suppress opposition politicians and activists.

Singapore’s former Solicitor-General Francis Seow was also detained by the ISD for two months after he turned up at the detention center to speak to a detainee who had sought his legal assistance. Seow was later released and allowed to leave for the United States where he now lives.

Though the detainees were portrayed as staunch Marxists and a confession trial was screened on TV (which they later retracted), many Singaporeans remained sceptical about the government’s case including some senior figures within the establishment itself.

Ex-Attorney General Walter Woon said in an interview in 1991: “As far as I am concerned, the government’s case is still not proven. I would not say those fellows were Red, not from the stuff they presented…I think a lot of people have this scepticism.”

Even the current DPM, Mr Tharman was also unconvinced: “Although I had no access to state intelligence, from what I knew of them, most were social activists but not out to subvert the system,” he told the Straits Times in 2001.

Certainly, former National Development Minister S Dhanabalan should be praised for sticking to his principle steadfastly even at the expense of resigning from the Cabinet. No doubt, he is a man of integrity. But what can we say about the rest of the cabinet members, then under the leadership of PM Lee Kuan Yew when the “Marxist Conspiracy” was being dealt with? What about Lee Kuan Yew’s distant relative, Tony Tan, who was then the Minister of Education in the cabinet in 1987? It seemed Tony Tan had gone along with the decision of the cabinet and was part of the “group” who agreed to use ISA on the 22 innocent men and women.

Now that Tony Tan is running for the President of Singapore, can we honestly trust him to be independent and consider him a man of principle and integrity? Can Tony Tan still “live with himself” and sleep soundly at night for having a hand in sending 22 innocent men and women to detention without trial, thus destroying their lives and careers? If Tony Tan’s answer is a “yes”, then the more we should think twice about voting this sort of person as our President.





Yawning bread endorses Tan Jee Say


by Yawning Bread

On Saturday, I will be voting for Tan Jee Say. It’s a decision I made about a week ago, and in the days since, it has only grown more comfortable. I am now sure enough of that decision to write about it.

I know that, along with the two other candidates who have not received the tacit endorsement of the government, Tan Jee Say’s chances are not particularly bright, but I do not want to desert my own values. Neither is it true that Jee Say’s values are identical with mine; but of all the candidates, his seem to come closest.

In parallel with the candidates’ campaigns, there has been a discussion about what exactly the president can or cannot do and what the office is about. I am not at all starry-eyed about the scope of the job. His powers are limited, and if the government does not fancy the eventual winner of the election, there is a real possibility that more constitutional amendments will be put to Parliament amputating his powers even further. So be it. If the proverbial emperor (in this case the government headed by Lee Hsien Loong) with next to no clothes wants to take off his knickers too, and bare his utterly self-serving approach to politics, let the world see his nakedness.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Online Citizen interviews Presidential Candidate Tan Jee Say

One-stop guide to the Presidential election (New Asia Republic)

Here is a compendium on the Presidential candidates.

Choosing a People's President

An evidence-based and strategic approach

Yong S.K.


It seems that in 2011 Singapore will be having its most interesting presidential election in history, right after the most exciting general election within the same year. There are now four candidates eyeing the prestigious post, and Singaporeans are spoilt for choice. However, it is easy to choose if people appeal to the concept of incentives, and evaluate the evidence (or indirect evidence) that reveal what the likely behavior of the candidates would be if they were elected. For the general public who are unrelated to the government, who are somewhat concerned about changes in Singapore over the recent years, and who wish for some checks and balances on the current government’s activities, the main criteria should be: (1) independence from the current government administration, and (2) the courage or integrity to voice differing opinions to reflect the social preferences of the public. The following examines how the respective candidates fare in a few areas related to the two overarching aspects:

Intention to intervene in the economy

Dr. Tony Tan has said that his past experiences will help him steer Singapore through the financial uncertainty lying ahead [1]. He claims that the most serious and urgent issue that concerns Singapore today, is the deteriorating global economy, and that his career background in Parliament, in GIC, and also in the private sector, will help him to advise the government on such issues on the economy [2].

Such an intention by Dr. Tony Tan – though undoubtedly worthy – is unnecessary. Our current finance minister, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and his group of economic advisors, are capable to deal with the uncertainty in the world economy. Equipped with education in economics from London School of Economics and Cambridge University and a long tenure at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, he is a more trustworthy economist compared to Dr. Tony Tan, whose training lies in mathematics and operations research. Notwithstanding the latter’s experience with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Trade and industry in 1980s, his recent years of work experience lies in the private financial sector, whose objectives differ from the policy objective of the public sector. Moreover, it is simply dangerous for him to believe that his judgement is better than the experts, given the questionable performance of the Government Investment Corporation during the financial crisis starting 2007 (see Jim Rogers’ criticisms on Singapore GIC in [3]) in which he served as Executive Director and Deputy Chairman from 2005 to 2011 [4]. Hence, the fear is that if Dr Tan were to lend his expertise once again to the affairs of economic policy-making, it would be at best, redundant, or at worst, counterproductive.

The other three candidates do not make any such claim. However, if we were required to judge the competency of the future president in guarding the reserves, then Mr. Tan Jee Say should be the most qualified. He was educated in Philosophy, Economics and Politics at Oxford University and was the secretary to the late Dr. Albert Winsemius [5], who assisted the government in shaping the modern Singapore during the early days.


Looking at the four candidates, we note that Dr. Tony Tan has gathered the most support of business organizations, unions and interest groups, such as Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry [6], Federation of Tan Clan Associations [7], and the union clusters from the NTUC [8]. He also has the support of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who openly said that he is eminently qualified and a very good candidate [1]. Since it is evident that Dr. Tony Tan is both a business- and government-endorsed candidate, it would be very doubtful whether he will be seriously concerned about providing an alternative voice to the highly business-friendly PAP government. As for the various union clusters, it is difficult to consider them as genuine representative of the workers in Singapore, given their dismal performance to raise the average wage of Singapore workers [9], [10].

Mr. Tan Jee Say has the support of Ms. Nicole Seah from the National Solidarity Party on personal basis [11], while the other two candidates have not acquired any salient support from any interest groups. Ms. Nicole Seah was a popular voice of justice for the general public during general election 2011, and her support lends some credibility to Mr. Tan Jee Say as one who will voice differing views with the government.

Views on Presidential Salary

The presidential candidates’ opinions of the current salary structure of the president reveal some of their inherent beliefs. Both Dr. Tony Tan and Dr. Tan Cheng Bock said they would rely on the ministerial salary committee’s decision [12]. Mr. Tan Kin Lian said that if the salary of the president is $4 million, the fair salary should be less than half [12]. Mr. Tan Jee Say’s answer was most impressive from the public’s point of view: benchmark it against a public officer, if not a minimum salary. Specifically, he suggested that we should take the lowest salary of the civil servant, and take a multiple of it. For example, if the lowest salary of a civil servant is $1000, then it should be multiplied by about 20 to 40 times [12]. Going by his logic, this would imply a salary between $240,000 and $480,000, an impressive cut between 10 to 20 times of the $4 million salary of current president.

Hence, going by the revealed preference of the candidates, Mr. Tan Jee Say is the one whose value lies closely with the world standard of governance. Mr. Tan Kin Lian is not too bad, and his suggestion would imply a salary between slightly less than $2 million. Dr. Tony Tan and Dr. Tan Cheng Bock would simply just leave it to the ministerial review committee, which is unlikely to make any drastic cut to the current high salary of the ministers. The committee is made up of mainly business leaders whose incentive is to abide by the current government’s practice of pegging ministerial salary to CEOs[1].

Past Actions

The past actions of the candidates can act as a projection of what their actions are likely to be in the future. Dr. Tony Tan seems to have stirred the most controversies, ranging from accusations of applying preferential treatment for his son [13] to the education review he did for the local universities that resulted in overt emphasis on research over teaching quality [14]. Mr. Tan Kin Lian has some controversies about his tenure as CEO at NTUC Income, in which he has once threatened to take legal action [15]. Mr. Tan Jee Say has been accused of failing to deliver on his promise to Morgan Grenfell to bring in business from Malaysian conglomerates during his tenure from 1990 to 2004, and failure to do due diligence on an Indonesian investment deal when he was working for Peregrine Capital between 1994 and 1997 [16].

Going by the controversies surrounding Dr. Tony Tan, it seems questionable that he will represent the interest of the general public. Looking at his past actions, he is likely to be a rubber-stamp for the government’s policy. Mr. Tan Kin Lian’s threat of legal action seems to reflect his intrinsic pettiness. For Mr. Tan Jee Say’s case, it seems rather unusual that any privately-run company (Morgan Grenfell and Peregrine Capital) would have allowed its staff to continue their tenure for so many years, if such accusations about his incompetency were true (about 15 years in Morgan Grenfell, an investment bank), and 4 years in Peregrine Capital (an investment company in asset management).

Mr. Tan Jee Say has contested in the General Election as a Singapore Democratic Party candidate. He was fielded in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, in which PAP won. In July 2011, Mr Tan Jee Say quit the party to run for President [5]. Having come from the standard elite criteria defined by the PAP government, he could have enjoyed the fruits of the system rather than contest against his former powerful PAP employer. His actions displayed signs of true concern for the public above self-interest.

Dr. Tan Cheng Bock has displayed some sense of independence in the past by speaking up on issues such as calling for some moderation of the foreign talent policy [17]. Hence, this lends some credibility to his claim to be an independent voice in the current government establishment. If he was elected, we can expect that he would be no rubber stamp for government policies.

Based on this aspect, both Dr. Tan Cheng Bock and Mr. Tan Jee Say appear to be good choices if the public wishes for a President who can truly offer an alternative voice.

Background Connection to Government

All the four candidates are related in some ways to the current government, and it is difficult to judge their independence based on this criteria. Mr. Tan Kin Lian is somewhat independent from direct government ties, but he has strong ties with NTUC Income [18], which in turn belongs to the main union conglomerate with close ties to the Singapore government. If we assess the candidates on this aspect, none of them seems to be a likely independent candidate from the PAP government.

Signaling Effect

For the general public who wish to send a strong signal to express their unhappiness with the recent government policies, then any choice of the three “Tan’s” will somewhat do the job with the exception of Dr. Tony Tan. In fact, for those who support the PAP government regime, they should also exclude Dr Tony Tan from their final shortlist. It is evident from the recent results of the general election in 2011 [19] and the jeering at Dr. Tony Tan during nomination day [20] that there is deep resentment on the ground, and there should be some release of these negative sentiments before it erupts into full-scale discord between the people and the government. By electing any of the three candidates except Dr. Tony Tan, it will somewhat alleviate the ground resentment, while minimizing the impact on the PAP administrative power due to the limited role of the presidential position (as noted by the Law Minister) [21]. Hence, it is also in the interest of PAP government supporters to choose other candidates rather than Dr. Tony Tan.

Election Symbols

Some may regard using the election symbols as one of the criteria to assess the presidential candidates’ as tantamount to child’s play. However, choosing the right sign does provide some weak evidence of the candidates’ characters. Mr Tan Kin Lian said in his Facebook post that his raised hand symbol represents his slogan to be the Voice of the People, which somewhat signifies his commitment to be an alternative voice in the government [22]. Dr. Tan Cheng Bock uses the palm tree to symbolize multiculturalism and signify his intention to unify the people, which can serve to resolve the current division among Singapore’s society [22]. Mr. Tan Jee Say uses the heart to represent conscience and empathy[2] [22], which is the most fundamental element in building a balanced and harmonious society.

What about Dr. Tony Tan’s election symbol (the pair of spectacles with a purported resemblance to his own and which is supposed to signify his self-claimed capability “to be able to see clearly, steadily, into the future?” [22]. The fear is that it may be more representative of his short-sightedness since spectacles are also used for myopia.


Based on the evidence above, the scoreboard for the presidential candidates is as below. Based on the criteria listed, it seems that Mr. Tan Jee Say provides the best bet. In contrast, Dr. Tony Tan appeared to be the least credible among the four candidates in being a “people’s president”. Given the various evidences, there is no incentive for him to be the voice of the people, and to advocate for the welfare of the general public, except his contacts in the business sector. His mere claim about concern for the less well-off, and to be an independent voice in the government, amounts to non-credible cheap talk that is likely to result in a babbling equilibrium[3] outcome, where it is business-as-usual within the government system.


Criteria Dr. TT Dr. TCB Mr. TKL Mr. TJS
Intention to intervene in the economy - Neutral Neutral Neutral
Endorsement - Neutral Neutral Neutral to weak +
Views on Presidential Salary - - + +
Past Actions - + - Neutral to +
Background Connection to Government - - - -
Signaling Effect - + + +
Election Symbols - - - +
Verdict Nah… Ok Ok Best Bet

Positive sign “+” indicating an expected positive score for the general public

Negative sign “-“ indicates otherwise


Yong S.K.



[1] Ng Jing Yng (August 18, 2011) “I’m tested, trusted, true: Tony Tan.” Today Online.

[2] Asiaone (August 17, 2011) “Presidential hopefuls debate leadership and economy.”

[3] Markman, Jon (December 20, 2007) “Stock market ‘winter’ is moving in” MSN Money

[4] Asiaone (August 05, 2011) “Presidential candidate: Dr. Tony Tan”

[5] Asiaone (August 05, 2011) “Presidential candidate: Mr. Tan Jee Say”

[6] Dylan Loh (Ausgust 14, 2011) “SCCCI endorses Tony Tan.” Today Online.

[7] Sarah Chang (August 08, 2011) “Tan clan federation endorses Tony Tan.” Asiaone

[8] Asiaone (August 11, 2011) “7 trade unions back Tony Tan as preferred presidential candidate”

[9] Chen Huifen (Sept 22, 2009) “How much is a buger worth.” Asiaone

[10] Asiaone (Sept 28, 2009) “How much is a burger worth.”

[11] Asiaone (August 03, 2011) “Nicole Seah roots for Tan Jee Say.”

[12] Asiaone (August 16, 2011) “What is a fair salary for the president?”

[13] (August 16, 2011) “Tony Tan refutes allegations of preferential treatment for son.”

[14] Temasek Review Emeritus website (June 28, 2011) “Tony Tan and the education review”

[15] Asiaone (June 29, 2011) “Tan Kin Lian hits back at netizen’s accusations”

[16] Asiaone (June 29, 2011) “Tan Kin Lian hits back at netizen’s accusations”


[18] Asiaone (August 05, 2011) “Presidential candidate: Mr. Tan Kin Lian”

[19] Shamim Adam and Weiyi Lim (May 08, 2011) “Singapore Election Watershed May Ease PAP’s Political Hold.” Bloomberg Online.

[20] Asiaone (August 18, 2011) “Crowds boo during Dr Tony Tan’s Nomination Day speech.”

[21] (June 10, 2011) “Shanmugam explains role of President”

[22] Asiaone (August 18, 2011) “Elections symbol rev

[1] The committee is headed by Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman, Changi General Hospital and Chairman, National Kidney Foundation. Also on board are Mr John De Payva, President, National Trades Union Congress, Ms Fang Ai Lian, Chairman, Charity Council and Chairman, Methodist Girls School Board of Management., Mr Stephen Lee Ching Yen, President, Singapore National Employers Federation, Mr Po’ad bin Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, Member, Council of Presidential Advisers, Member, Public Service Commission, Mr George Quek, Founder and Chairman, Breadtalk Group Ltd, Vice President, Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan and Chairman, Xinmin Secondary School Advisory Committee, Mr Lucien Wong, Managing Partner, Allen & Gledhill LLP, Chairman, Maritime and Port Authority, Mr Wong Ngit Liong, Chairman, National University of Singapore Board of Trustees and Chairman & CEO, Venture Corporation Limited. Among them, Mr. Gerard Ee, Mr. Stephen Lee, Mr. George Quek, Mr Lucien Wong, and Mr Wong Ngit Liong are business leaders. (Source: Asiaone, Jun 08, 2011. “Salary-review committee seeks input from public.”)

[2] The great Chinese Neo-Confucian Philosopher, Wang Yangming, advocates cultivating the human mind (referring to the ‘heart’ in Chinese) to eradicate the selfish desires that murk the mind’s inherent nature of knowing what is right and wrong.

[3] In applying Game Theory to Economics analysis, a babbling equilibrium refers to a communication system, when added to any interactive situation (a so-called communication game), does not change the original outcome of the situation. On this aspect, having Dr. Tony Tan as elected president is unlikely to change the status quo in the public administration of Singapore.