Would the three Tans qualify?

Sep 07, 2016 06.40PM |

by Bertha Henson

DR TAN Cheng Bock won’t make it. Neither will Mr Tan Jee Say. There’s a question mark over Mr Tan Kin Lian too. The report of Constitutional Commission on changes to the elected presidency has been made public. As expected, it proposed that qualifying criteria for candidates be made more stringent – and even more checks done on those who want to be president.

It’s not going to make Dr Tan, who declared his intention to run for president again, very happy. In March, he said he would take a second shot, making the announcement in the midst of the Commission’s review. People saw a subtext to this: He was putting his oar in before changes could be made to bar him from contesting. It upped the ante in case any new criteria came up to exclude him. Dr Tan secured 34.85 per cent of the votes in the 2011 presidential election, coming second to current President Tony Tan’s 35.19 per cent of votes. Mr Tan Jee Say secured 25.02 per cent while Mr Tan Kin Lian took 4.91 per cent.

The presidential election (PE) qualifying criteria now:

  • Someone who has held key public service office appointments,
  • chairman or CEO of certain statutory boards such as CPF Board and HDB.
  • chairman or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100m.
  • A “catch-all” category: Anyone who has held positions of similar complexity in the public or private sector which shows he is able to carry out the duties of the president.
  • The aspiring candidate in the first three categories must have held those positions for at least three years.

The proposed criteria:

  • Someone who has held key public service office appointments (No change).
  • The most senior executive of certain statutory boards (No change).
  • The most senior executive of a company with shareholder equity of at least $500m. The company must have recorded a net profit under the person’s leadership.
  • The “catch-all” category remains.
  • The aspiring candidate in the first three categories must have held the positions for at least six years.
  • Expiry date: The candidate can’t have been too long away from that qualifying job; it must be within 15 years of the PE’s nomination day.

Here’s how the cards will fall if the G accepts the proposals:


Former PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bok qualified in 2011 because he was the non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, which had at least $100 million in paid-up capital. 

The proposed criteria does away with designations and stipulates that the candidate must have held “the most senior executive position in the company, however that office may be titled”. More specifically, the Commission said that this would “exclude, for instance, a non-executive Chairman (italics added by the Commission) who might have been invited to lead the board but who does not in fact actively run the company. So, under the proposed criteria, Dr Tan would not qualify.


Mr Tan Jee Say, a former civil servant, made the cut because although he wasn’t a CEO of a $100m company, he was CEO with the title of regional managing director of AIB Govett Asia which managed total assets in excess of $100 million. He qualified under the catch-all category.

Mr Tan might still qualify under the “catch-all” category but he will not be able to clear another new bar: The qualifying period, or when he helmed the top job, must be within 15 years of the election. Mr Tan quit his job in 2001. This means that he wants to stand in the PE which is due by end of August next year, he would have just missed the 15 year mark. He is now a regional director of a professional accounting association.


Mr Tan Kin Lian qualified under same clause. He was a long-time CEO of NTUC Income, an insurance cooperative with a shared capital of $500 million and assets of $17 billion. 

Much would depend on whether the Presidential Elections Committee think that this experience is comparable to running a company with a $500 million shareholder equity. Mr Tan quit NTUC Income in 2007, which means he is within the qualifying period should he decide to context next year.

What about Dr Tony Tan, the current President, you say? Of course he qualifies. An elected president can serve two terms. Will he put his hat into the ring? Well, Dr Tan has said he would formally give his views when the Commission has made its recommendations. So, we wait.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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