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TOC columnist Tan Kin Lian keeps options open.

Tan Kin Lian eyes elected presidency

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The following report is from the Straits Times:

HE HAS become a familiar face addressing the crowds of investors at Speakers' Corner.

Standing before Singaporeans and asking for their votes at an election could well be next on the agenda for Mr Tan Kin Lian.

The 60-year-old former chief executive officer of NTUC Income told The Sunday Times he is considering standing as Singapore's next elected president or contesting in the next general election as an independent candidate.

He made no bones about his political ambitions in an interview with the paper.

But first, this king of petitions wants to see at least 100,000 signatures and names of Singaporeans who are willing to give him their support.

'I will only do it if enough people want me to lead. If Singaporeans want change, they must have a stake in it and show their commitment by putting down their names. I cannot do this without strong support,' he said.

Such a petition should be put together by those who are keen to see him become a leader, and not by himself, he added.

Mr Tan was just 29 when he became the CEO of NTUC Income in 1977. It was a position he would hold for 30 years until he left in April 2007.

Since he retired 18 months ago, he has been making headlines for his consumer activism.

The latest role he has taken on is that of advocate for the rights of investors affected by the collapse of Lehman Brothers-linked financial products.

In the past two months, he has organised no fewer than five investor rallies at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park and sent three petitions to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, calling for the Government to investigate the matter.

In May this year, just 14 months after his resignation from NTUC Income, he mounted an online protest over a move by his former employer to cut annual bonus payouts for life policies sold after 1993.

The move would affect two NTUC Income policies that he owns. Three weeks later, he called a truce with the insurer.

Sipping a frappucino at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet at Raffles Hospital last Friday, Mr Tan said the idea of becoming the next elected president was first broached by someone, whom he refused to name.

Under the Constitution, a candidate for the presidency must have senior management and financial experience in a large organisation, plus be of good character and reputation. Mr Tan, having been CEO of NTUC Income, could fit the bill.

And he is no stranger to politics. He told The Sunday Times that he was a People's Action Party member for 30 years but quit about three months ago because he was no longer active and, over the years, increasingly did not agree with the PAP's value system.

But when he was with the PAP, Mr Tan could be described as a party stalwart.

In the 1970s, he served as the party's branch secretary at Marine Parade. In 1977, he was hand- picked by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong - then a new MP - to test a pilot scheme for setting up block committees, now known as residents' committees.

He was also known to be a regular attendee at the annual PAP conference.

So why would a former PAP stalwart suddenly jump ship?

Mr Tan said he was active in Marine Parade GRC only in the first 10 years. He was largely inactive for the next 20 years, when he moved to Yio Chu Kang.

'When I joined the PAP, it was the party of the people. It carried out many remarkable projects, such as building HDB flats, and created a transparent economy,' he said.

'But as the years go by, I think the party has lost touch with the ground.'

He pointed to the widening income gap in the country and the high salaries of Government leaders. He also finds it unfair how a disproportionate number of the academically successful come from higher-income families.

It is the Government's job to correct these problems, said Mr Tan, who calls himself an egalitarian.

'How many of our leaders take the MRT and bus like me? If they do, they will know that the MRT is crowded even at 10pm.'

Since he began organising investor rallies six weeks ago, there have been many queries about the possible motives behind this role as investor advocate.

Some people have wondered if he was trying to pave a route towards a future political career.

Last Tuesday, a reader wrote to The Straits Times to question if Mr Tan's protest against local banks and MAS, instead of US investment bank Morgan Stanley, was an attempt at politicising the matter.

Asked about this, Mr Tan strongly denied having an agenda beyond fighting for the rights of misled investors.

He said he had taken an instant dislike to the Lehman-linked structured products from the time they were launched because of the misleading advertisements and confusing prospectus.

When the products collapsed, he was 'horrified' that such unstable products had been approved in the first place.

'I felt it was very unfair that so many people have been misled. That is why I want to help them. Some people call me a troublemaker. But I know the majority appreciate my efforts.'

He said that it is 'quite discouraging' that a conclusion has yet to be reached after six weeks. He also hopes the Government will take up his petition.

And as for his political ambitions, they are not for himself, but for Singapore, he claimed.

'I don't need to be president. I have enough money and I lead a simple life. I travel by bus and MRT even though I can afford a car. So what's the point? I don't need this kind of trouble,' said the father of three.

He bought a Toyota Camry for his wife four years ago and now shares it with her.

His wife, a housewife, fearing a political backlash, is also against the idea of him running for elected president and has even called him 'mad' for harbouring such an interest.

While he has to respect his wife's wishes, it is his dream that Singapore has leaders who represent the people and their aspirations.

'They don't have to be very highly educated. They just need to be the voice of the people.'

Which ward does he plan to contest in at the next general elections as an independent candidate, I asked.

Get the 100,000 signatures first, he replied.

'I need to know that people want the change. If not, then there is no point.'

The signatures of support will also help him convince his wife that he has enough backing to embark on a political career.

Said Mr Tan: 'Actually I prefer to take it easy. I've been working for 40 years. But if enough people want me to lead, then I will.'

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Visit Tan Kin Lian's blog to see what other readers are saying.

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