Tan Cheng Bock's 2nd presidential bid: It's a tactical move, say political observers

Observers view Dr Tan's move as calculated at increasing his chances of qualifying for the next presidential election, even as a review of the eligibility criteria is under way.
Observers view Dr Tan's move as calculated at increasing his chances of qualifying for the next presidential election, even as a review of the eligibility criteria is under way. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock's declaration that he wanted to stand again was seen as a tactical move by political observers yesterday. They viewed it as calculated at increasing his chances of qualifying for the next presidential election, even as a review of the eligibility criteria is under way.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said if the revised qualification criteria end up leaving Dr Tan ineligible to stand, it "may have the effect of causing some disquiet among segments of the electorate".

Dr Tan is "throwing a spanner in the works before the commission gets down to recommending any new criteria which may turn out to disqualify candidates with his kind of credentials", he added.

A nine-member Constitutional Commission led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon is reviewing eligibility criteria for candidates, the role of the Council of Presidential Advisers, and steps to ensure minority candidates have a chance to be elected from time to time.

 

Strategy aside, former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin sees Dr Tan's move to stake a claim as a good step: "The electorate can start thinking if this is who they want to be president."

Dr Tan also said the president cannot stop Parliament from passing a Bill, but could withhold assent in some cases and issue a statement on his disagreement.

But Mr Zulkifli said candidates had to be clear that Singapore has a parliamentary system, and the president has to support and strengthen it, not openly disagree with policies. "It's fine if the president wants to call on the prime minister, or the leader of the opposition, to offer his thoughts," he said.

"But at the end of the day, it is up to Parliament to debate and for the Government to decide what to do. The president can't pick up a loudhailer to say he disagrees."

NUS' Associate Professor Tan believes it is the president's prerogative to express disagreement with Parliament and provide another layer of checks on issues within his purview, which is important should there be a rogue Parliament. "However, if we have a responsible Parliament and Government, having frequent open clashes between the president and Parliament and the Government may undermine the Government's capacity to rule effectively," he said.

But Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said Dr Tan appears to have adopted a more moderate stance, and this could be due to the strong support the People's Action Party got in last year's general election: "He must have sensed that presenting himself as someone who will not rock the boat would probably go down well."

Pearl Lee and Chong Zi Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'It's a tactical move, say political observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe