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“How could I remain a spectator?” Dr Tony Tan

by: Jewel Philemon/

The former Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, announced his bid for the 2011 Presidential Election, this morning. Dr Tan, accompanied by his wife Ms Mary Chee Bee Kiang, arrived at the Election Department at 10.30am to fill out the necessary forms and then proceeded to the Rendezvous Hotel where a media conference was held.

In his statement at the media conference, Dr Tan said, “This Presidential Election is an important one. The past few years have seen unprecedented changes in the global financial system and world politics. Many institutions revealed their weaknesses. There is much work to be done, internationally and nationally. I believe that the next president of Singapore may have to make very significant decisions that will affect the security and well-being of all Singaporeans.”

Dr Tan began his political career in 1979 as a PAP Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang Group Representative Constituency (GRC). He has served as Minister for Education (1980-81 & 1985-91), Minister for Trade and Industry (1981–86), Minister for Finance (1983–85), and Minister for Health (1985–86).

Dr Tan stepped down from cabinet in 1991 to return to the private sector, but rejoined Cabinet in 1995 as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence. Dr Tan relinquished his positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence in 2005.

Dr Tan currently serves as the executive director of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and as chairman of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

On why he has stepped to bid for the Presidency, Dr Tan said, “How could I remain a spectator while Singapore faces such complex challenges? How could I not step forward when I know I have more to contribute to the country we all worked to build?”

He added, “In the midst of so much change, we will need a President with experience and a steady hand. And so, after much reflection, I have decided to announce my candidacy for the office of President, to serve Singapore and Singaporeans once again.”

Dr Tan also announced that he is resigning from both, GIC and SPH, effective 1 July 2011, even though "there is no legal requirement" for him to do so, to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest and also "to remove any doubts about SPH’s media independence.”

The floor was then opened to questions from the media.

When asked whether he thinks his 27-year association with the People’s Action Party (PAP) will be deemed an advantage or a disadvantage, Dr Tan replied, “I have been involved with the government and the party for around three decades. I am proud and happy to have been of service to the people of Singapore, particularly to the people of Sembawang. (So) whether that will be an advantage or disadvantage will be up to the people to decide.”

When questioned if he believed in a Singaporeans First Policy in which jobs and spaces in local universities are reserved for Singaporeans first? Dr Tan replied, “Singapore is an international city. We will not progress by closing our doors and making it difficult for international talent to come to Singapore. But, having said that, of course, our primary responsibility is for Singaporeans. We must give every Singaporean and their families every opportunity and assistance to advance in their careers, in their jobs. I believe it is the duty of the government or groups in society to try and make this possible.”

When queried what are some of the governmental policies that he thinks need immediate review for the benefit of the people, Dr Tan responded, “I think the government is presently reviewing all policies. I believe it is not the responsibility of a president to suggest changes in policies. That is the job of the government. Obviously, the president will have his own views and if the government of the day feels that those views are healthier then the president would be free to offer his views.

Dr Tan took pains at the media conference to explain “that there is only one power centre in Singapore and that is the government of the day”. He stressed that the “president is not the second power center (and that) he should not be a second power center to rival the government”. Otherwise he said, “there will be chaos. It is up to the government to see how policies are to be executed.”

At the media conference, TOC reminded Dr Tan, that he has won damages from opposition party members who contested against the PAP, and asked him what his view was on using defamation suits to quell opposition.

“I don’t think you need to use defamation suits to quell the opposition. If someone uses slander on your name, you must defend your good name. It is something that is necessary. It is a right of everyone to take (this type of) matter to court,” answered Dr Tan.

When asked what his views were on the power of the Elected President to decide on Presidential pardons, Dr Tan replied (after a pause), “Well, they (have) spelled it out quite clearly in the constitution. In the case of granting pardons, the President has to act on the advice of the Cabinet. Each time a case arises, it is an enormous and complex responsibility. So I think that is why the president has to be compassionate and deliberate in order to make a wise decision on these difficult cases.”

On his rivals for the seat of the Elected President, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian, Dr Tony Tan believes that “it is good that the people have a choice of who they want their President to be and how this choice will be exercised is up to each Singaporean.”

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