Tan Cheng Bock disappointed but will keep contributing despite not being able to stand in next presidential election

Dr Tan attending a charity event by Free Food For All in Chai Chee yesterday. He said he will not retreat from the public eye and will still help Singapore.
Dr Tan attending a charity event by Free Food For All in Chai Chee yesterday. He said he will not retreat from the public eye and will still help Singapore.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock yesterday said he was disappointed he would not be able to contest the presidential election next year, following changes to the elected presidency.

In his first comments on the matter since the changes were approved by Parliament last week, he said: "You can't say I'm not disappointed. But there are many options in life. We never quit."

The retired doctor and former People's Action Party MP lost narrowly to current President Tony Tan Keng Yam in the 2011 presidential election, and had announced in March that he would make a second bid for the presidency.

But he will not be eligible to contest after the recent changes.

Eligibility criteria have been tightened and now require candidates drawing on their private sector experience to have been the most senior executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders' equity. Previously, they could have been chairman or chief executive of a company with $100 million in paid-up capital.

Another change, to ensure minority representation in the office, will see elections reserved for candidates from a particular racial group when no one from the group has been elected president for five continuous terms.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Tuesday that next year's presidential election will be reserved for Malay candidates as there has not been a Malay president since the country's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, died in office in 1970.

Yesterday, Dr Tan said he had wanted to run because he "wanted to see certain changes".

"But if I can't get that, never mind. Life still goes on. I can still help Singapore."

He declined to comment on the changes to the elected presidency, saying he will respond on his Facebook page soon. He said that he will not retreat from the public eye and will continue to contribute in other ways, such as attending community events, giving talks and making home visits to the elderly.

"I think you will hear a lot from me. Because (when) you love this place, you'll want to do what is best for the country," he said, speaking to reporters at a charity food distribution drive in Chai Chee.

At some public forums on the elected presidency held in the past few months, some people have asked if the changes might seem aimed at denying candidates such as Dr Tan a chance to run next year.

But Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had said the changes were to improve the system for Singapore's long-term benefit, not to bar certain individuals from standing.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock lost to Dr Tony Tan by 7,382 votes, or 0.35 percentage points, in the four-way contest for the post in 2011. The other candidates were Mr Tan Jee Say, who went on to found opposition party Singaporeans First, and former chief executive of NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'Tan Cheng Bock disappointed, but will keep contributing'. Subscribe