Ex-presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian lauds panel's 'excellent recommendation' to return to appointed presidency

Mr Tan Kin Lian speaks at a rally during the 2011 presidential election on Aug 23, 2011.
Mr Tan Kin Lian speaks at a rally during the 2011 presidential election on Aug 23, 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian has praised the "excellent recommendation" put forth by the Constitutional Commission to do away with an elected presidency.

In a Facebook post on Thursday (Sept 8), Mr Tan, a candidate in the 2011 presidential election, wrote: "The Constitutional Commission has recommended, as an option, a return to the appointed President to carry out ceremonial function. The custodial function is to be handled by a body of experts that acts as a second chamber in our governance.

"This is an excellent recommendation. I agree with it," said Mr Tan, 68.

The commission's report, which was released on Wednesday, proposed that the Government consider "unbundling" the two functions as a way to resolve the tension between the symbolic and custodial roles of the President.

By doing away with elections and having Parliament appoint the head of state, it said the President could focus on the historic role of being a symbolic, unifying figure for the nation.

A group of appointed experts would then take over the President's custodial role of safeguarding the reserves and the integrity of the Public Service.

 
 

This suggestion was first mooted by Raffles Medical Group executive chairman Loo Choon Yong and his brother, lawyer Choon Chiaw, during a public hearing held by the commission in May.

However, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said it would be difficult for a President to exercise custodial powers, and veto proposals by the Government, without an electoral mandate.

In a letter on Wednesday to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who led the commission, PM Lee wrote: "While I appreciate the Commission's reasons for this suggestion, as the Government has pointed out even when the scheme was first conceived, it would be difficult for a President to exercise custodial powers over the reserves and public service appointments, and veto proposals by the Government, without an electoral mandate."

Mr Tan, in his Facebook post, said he disagreed with PM Lee and labelled the elected presidency - introduced in 1991 - as a "badly conceived idea in the first place".

"We have already wasted too much resources and energy in trying to develop the 'elected president' system. We should recognise that it will never work and go back to the previous system, with the modification suggested by the commission," he added.

Mr Tan, the former head of insurance cooperative at NTUC Income, stood in the 2011 presidential election against Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, former MP Tan Cheng Bock and former civil servant Tan Jee Say.

He garnered the least number of votes (4.9 per cent) at the polls, which Dr Tony Tan won with 35.2 per cent of the vote.

Mr Tan, along with Dr Tony Tan, will likely qualify for next year's presidential election should the Government implement the changes to the election's eligibility criteria proposed by the commission.

The commission recommended raising the bar to ensure candidates have the necessary experience and expertise to safeguard the country's reserves.

Among other things, they must have been, for at least six years, the most senior executive of a company with up to $500 million in shareholders' equity.

Mr Tan was head of NTUC Income from 1977 to 2007. According to its 2015 annual report, it had some $2.6 billion in equity as at Dec 31 last year. He now runs his own consultancy.