By Elizabeth Fong
Introduction and Background
Six years have flown by and it is again time for Singaporeans to vote for their new president. Seventy-one-year-old Dr. Tony Tan is one of the candidates running for the presidency in this upcoming election. From 1979 to 2006, he has been a Minister and a Member of Parliament. Dr. Tan has served as the Senior Minister of State for Education (1979 – 1980), the Minister for Education (1980 – 1981) and the Minister for Trade and Industry (1981 – 1986). As he served as the Minister for Trade and Industry, he concurrently served as the Minister for Finance (1983 to 1985). He again became the Minister for Education in 1985 and served in that department until 1991, serving also as a Minister for Health (1985 – 1986). From 1995 to 2003, Dr. Tan was the Minister for Defence. He concurrently served as the Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 2005.
Due to the number of important positions Dr. Tan has held, some Singaporeans believe that he should be elected President. Mr. Soon Kim Hock said on the Straits Times’ Forum, “Dr Tony Tan has…held more important jobs, with heavier responsibility, that have had great bearing on the lives of Singaporeans. His experience and knowledge in the administration of finance in various sectors, besides a string of other government ministry portfolios in the past…would certainly stand him in good stead in office, once he is elected.1”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that Dr. Tan will unite Singaporeans. He said that “he has no doubt that former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan will be a unifying figure for all citizens and will bring honour and credit to Singapore if he is elected as Singapore’s next president.2”
Younger Singaporeans argue that Dr. Tan has put them at a disadvantage when it comes to education. When he was the Minister for Education in the 1990s, Dr. Tan allowed foreign students to come to Singapore and study in the local universities. Astonished young Singaporeans suddenly found themselves competing for a place in universities. An NTU graduate commented, “Tony Tan is responsible for one of the greatest policy errors that will cause great, untold harm to Singapore…Which citizens would not lose their feelings for the country if they… have sacrificed 2.5 years of their lives under a humiliating military conscription service.3” Some of them wonder whether Dr. Tan will end up taking better care of foreigners than Singaporeans, if elected as President in this upcoming election.
Another weakness that most Singaporeans believe Dr. Tan has is the fact that he used to be the Deputy Chairman and Executive Director of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC). This corporation uses and invests Singapore’s reserves. However, if Dr. Tan is to be elected and becomes Singapore’s President, he will have to keep Singapore’s reserves. Some Singaporeans think that this is a “conflict of interest4” and therefore do not want Dr. Tan elected as President.
Dr. Tan has both strengths and weaknesses. The number of important jobs held is an advantage to him. He will be able to contribute to Singapore in a more meaningful way as Singapore advances into the more challenging era. Many young Singaporeans, however, are still not convinced that Dr. Tan will make a good President due to the policy that allowed foreign students to study and work in Singapore. Nevertheless, it would be challenging for a developing country like Singapore not to open the educational door to foreign students.
The big question: “Why is he running for the presidency and what can he contribute to Singapore, if elected President?”
Dr. Tan said during a press conference, “The answer is simple. How could I not run? 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? …The years ahead will be challenging, but exciting. In the midst of so much change, we need a President with experience and a steady hand…If I am elected President, I will be fair and independent. I will work in partnership with the Government, all political parties, and civil society to safeguard and advance the future of all Singaporeans…Singapore’s best days lie ahead of us. If we remain united and respond with creativity and energy to the challenges ahead of us, our country will continue to progress and thrive. Together we can build a better and more fulfilling future for all Singaporeans.5”
Read More in this Spotlight Series
“Dr Tony TAN Keng Yam.” National University of Singapore n. pag. Web. 29 Jun 2011. <http://www.nus.edu.sg/president/past_presidents/tonytan.php>.
“Presidential Elections.” Elections Department of Singapore n. pag. Web. 29 Jun 2011. <http://www.elections.gov.sg/elections_presidential.html>.
Hock, Soon Kim. “Tony Tan is no yes-man.” Straits Times (2011): n. pag. Web. 30 Jun 2011. <http://www.straitstimes.com/STForum/Story/STIStory_683654.html>.
Cheney, Satish. “Tony Tan will be unifying figure if elected: PM Lee.” Channel NewsAsia (2011): n. pag. Web. 30 Jun 2011.
“Young Singaporeans angry at Dr Tony Tan for depriving them opportunities at home.” Temasek Review Emeritus (2011): n. pag. Web. 30 Jun 2011.
local123, . “Tony Tan to contest Presidential Election.” 23 June 2011. Online Posting to Channel NewsAsia. Web. 1 Jul 2011.
Tan, Tony. New Asia Republic (2011): n. pag. Web. 1 Jul 2011.