I endorse Tan Jee Say

On Saturday, I will be voting for Tan Jee Say. It’s a decision I made about a week ago, and in the days since, it has only grown more comfortable. I am now sure enough of that decision to write about it.

I know that, along with the two other candidates who have not received the tacit endorsement of the government, Tan Jee Say’s chances are not particularly bright, but I do not want to desert my own values. Neither is it true that Jee Say’s values are identical with mine; but of all the candidates, his seem to come closest.

In parallel with the candidates’ campaigns, there has been a discussion about what exactly the president can or cannot do and what the office is about. I am not at all starry-eyed about the scope of the job. His powers are limited, and if the government does not fancy the eventual winner of the election, there is a real possibility that more constitutional amendments will be put to Parliament amputating his powers even further. So be it. If the proverbial emperor (in this case the government headed by Lee Hsien Loong) with next to no clothes wants to take off his knickers too, and bare his utterly self-serving approach to politics, let the world see his nakedness.

I think it will be a stretch to expect the president to be, single-handedly, an effective check and balance on the government of the day. Having a substantial and robust opposition in Parliament is the better way to achieve that. But as I said at the Maruah talk last Saturday, to build a properly functioning democracy, every little brick counts. Having an independent-minded person in the Istana is one more brick, and that is why the vote this August 27 is important.

Tony Tan said in his speech at the rally he held at Boat Quay on 24 August 2011, “The president is not a super-MP.” I know he is not, but I would much rather have one who will try creatively to lead a conversation both with the public and with the government privately, than one who will just shrug, give up and do nothing, with the excuse that it is outside the scope of the job. Which, by the way, sounds awfully like what we hear from unhelpful bureaucrats who have no intention of dealing with the problems we draw their attention to.

As it stands, the constitution gives the president discretionary powers in five key areas:

1. Unlocking past reserves;

2. Prolonging detention without trial beyond an initial three months;

3. Key public service appointments including judicial ones;

4. Application of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act;

5. Unblocking corruption investigations of key office-holders when the prime minister has blocked them.

As I have argued in several recent articles here, knowing what underlying convictions a man holds is important for knowing how he is likely to apply that discretion. Will he be tight-fisted about reserves? Will he, when asked to release reserves, try to persuade the government that the monies so released be applied to certain purposes  that will advance greater social equity or longer-term good? Will he be, by nature, skeptical of nominees presented to him for appointment to key public service positions, or will he be ever so trusting of the government in taking on board more and more people with a similar tendency to groupthink?

The convictions articulated by Tan Jee Say sit well with me. He has spoken about how he thinks more should be done for social equity, about how the measure of progress must be anchored to the improvements in the lives of the weaker members of society, not that of the privileged elite. Reserves should serve this aim, he has said. He has expressed a distrust of the Internal Security Act; declared his opposition to the death penalty; and asserted his intention to enquire closely about nominees before signing off on their appointments to senior positions. I find these foundational principles reassuring, and in the consistent manner that he has articulated them, I believe he holds them dear to his heart.

There are arguments that, just as the other candidates have had a history of affiliation with the People’s Action Party (PAP), Jee Say was with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and is thus no more “independent” than the rest. This argument is flawed in one important way, for it appears to be based on a mirage — that of “independence” as an absolute quality. It is never so, it is always relative; and in the Singapore context, when the PAP is virtually certain to be the party of government for the next five years, roughly concurrent with the bulk of the next presidential term, we need primarily to think in terms of independence from the PAP.

In any case, as Jee Say repeatedly said, his affiliation with the SDP lasted no more then three-and-a-half months, while the other three candidates had been active members of the PAP for decades.

I first encountered Jee Say at the SDP’s press conference in April this year, wherein the party was introducing him as a candidate for the May general election. I’ll tell you this: I was squinty-eyed about him. If you look up media archives, you will see that at that press conference, I asked him two deeply searching questions, both of which belied my deep scepticism.

The first was whether he truly subscribed to the SDP’s long and proud history of standing up for human rights and civil liberties. He said he did, but without elaborating much, it left me only half-convinced. (He would later prove me right to be only half-convinced when he distanced himself from the SDP’s previous history of protests, by saying that Chee Soon Juan “had learnt his lesson”!)

The second question I asked at the press conference was why he seemed to appear out of nowhere, never having participated in the SDP’s previous campaigns, and now wanting to stand for election under the party’s ticket. This was the tougher question, but he gave me the better answer, for there was an unexpected honesty about it. He spoke about how in the Singapore context, it is never easy to express one’s political views in public, let alone take sides overtly with an opposition party. The climate of fear and the weight of depoliticisation sit heavily on us all. He spoke about how he had to struggle with his own anxieties and how in the end he had to appeal to his long-time friend, Ang Yong Guan, to walk the path with him before he could find enough strength to do so. (Ang too, as you might recall, stood on the SDP’s ticket for the general election.)

Between these two answers, plus subsequent conversations with him, I think I know quite well now what makes him tick. Indeed, on one score, I was right from the beginning — he’s not a very good fit with the SDP. He doesn’t seem to totally agree with the party on issues of tactics at least, if not other things. He’s not a Trojan Horse for the SDP. So, to the question, ‘Is he independent?’, to me the answer is: Yes, he’s independent enough.

But on the other score, from the way he has been very consistent about it, I was more wrong than right. He may be a johnny-come-lately, but he really does hold certain deep convictions: about social equity, about the whole purpose of economic development, about the moral responsibility to lead a people in a certain direction that is more constructive than self-destructive, about the importance of respect for human rights and human life. When he speaks about conscience, he means it.

* * * * *

Now I come to the gay issue. No person who is not a member of a minority can truly understand why minority identification is such a crucial factor in political decisions. Just as we do not expect a Malay voter to  give his vote to any politician who neglects, or worse, demeans, his ethnic identity or espouses discrimination against Malays — or vice versa, the Chinese voter in Malaysia —  as a gay person, it is a matter of non-negotiable principle that I will never give my vote to anyone who neglects, demeans or discriminates against me.

The more ardent of my gay brethren will say that Tan Jee Say has not been explicit enough; at no time does he speak of repealing Section 377A. To that, my reply is this:

Firstly, this election is not for Parliament and questions of lawmaking or repeal are ultimately legislative questions; they are not exactly pertinent to the presidency. Secondly, non-discrimination established as substantive principle may be more important, because discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered persons goes well beyond Section 377A. Thirdly, it’s better to have a politically smart candidate who knows how to communicate in a way that doesn’t make too many enemies, than have a politically obtuse guy who says exactly what you want to hear at great cost to his own electoral chances.

As many readers will know, when I posed the question to him at the forum organised by The Online Citizen on 18 August 2011, Jee Say said unequivocally that “No discrimination” was among his core beliefs. But more interestingly, among the questions scripted for him at his rally on 23 August, was that on LGBT. He made an effort to include it so that he could repeat his point, even if briefly. See this video below, at 10 min 48 secs.

Host: What is your stand on the lesbians, gays bisexuals and transexuals in our society

Tan Jee Say: Well I support all S’poreans and I do not believe in practicing discrimination and this also applies to other groups such as the elderly, women and disadvantaged.

No other candidate has done likewise.

* * * * *

Some people, including a senior member of an opposition party, have expressed surprise that I intend to vote for Tan Jee Say, and that I have not considered Tan Cheng Bock seriously.

Actually, the more I know about Tan Cheng Bock, the less I want to vote for him. Pealing away his gentle, avuncular demeanour, I find a troubling hole I cannot fathom. I cannot find an answer to a fundamental question: What does the man stand for?

I have no doubt he has compassion for the common people; I have no doubt that he is more in touch with the average Joe and Jill than the other leading PAP-associated candidate. This easy familiarity probably made him a fine constituency MP. In this presidential campaign however, there is an uncomfortable disconnection among the various ideas he has expressed, as if there is no overarching political philosophy.

Worse than that, in certain specifics, he has said things that I cannot agree with. To a question about the death penalty, he defended it and even gave me the impression he’d like to see more of it. To a question about detention without trial, he appears to have a mental block against revisiting past cases or reexamining the whole issue from a fairness and human rights point of view.

At other points in the campaign, he lost me when he played up football and the idea of moving the prime minister’s office out of the Istana compound. These are insubstantial issues, almost gimmicky.

What’s the common thread? I asked myself repeatedly, but could never quite find an answer.

Instead, what I found telling was his repeated reference to a “rogue government” and about “doing wrong”. At no time did he elaborate on what he meant by that, but repetition itself seemed to indicate that he did have specific issues in mind.  As I have said to a number of friends, I got the sense that he has certain very specific beefs with the government, which might have been the chief motivation for him pursuing this campaign. But why is he so guarded about the details?

Or is he aware that the details are either petty or personal, that public examination of them might be vote-losers?

I am acutely aware that in an increasingly complex political landscape, not everybody who is frustrated with the present PAP government is critical of it from the liberal left perspective. Increasingly, there will be critics from the conservative right. The abortive takeover of Aware was one event, for example, in which the conservative right revealed themselves as a group that was unhappy with government policy — in that instance, sexuality education in schools. Prior to that, we had the pulpit-led groups that objected loudly when in 2003, the government said the civil service would not discriminate against gay employees.

I’m not at all suggesting that Tan Cheng Bock shares the views of those groups — as far as I know, he has said nothing about them — but the purpose of my mentioning these recent events is to underline my point that we should not assume that anyone critical of the present government is doing so from the angle of the liberal left.

And this possibility made my inability to read Tan Cheng Bock’s overall political philosophy all the more troubling. Where does he stand? I kept asking myself. What does he believe in?

Even Straits Times reporters have noted that Cheng Bock is hardest to read. Reporter Elgin Toh, for example, has written that of all the candidates, his position has shifted the most in the course of the campaign. He started off prior to Nomination Day declaring that he would not be a caged president:

‘Many of you all think that the president is so caged that he can’t do any damn thing. No, he’s not,’ he declared, with a gusto that led many to assume he was in favour of an activist presidency.

But as the campaign progressed, it emerged that Dr Tan’s stance was a moderate one, even though he has said he would speak out freely if there were corruption on the part of the Government.

On the eve of Nomination Day, at a Straits Times round-table discussion, he began differentiating himself from opponents as the candidate who would not meddle in ‘day-to-day politics’.

On Saturday, this theme came to the fore in his interviews with reporters, as he slapped the ‘meddling’ charge not only on interventionist candidates like Mr Tan Kin Lian, but also on a seemingly conservative one: Dr Tony Tan.

— Straits Times, 23 August 2011, Pitches get quieter as big day draws nearer, by Elgin Toh

Some friends have argued that Tan Cheng Bock has the best chance of defeating Tony Tan. This is because he can draw votes from both the PAP-sympathetic side and the opposition-sympathetic side. Maybe so, maybe not. It’s hard to estimate this because we’ve never had an election like this before. We have no useful historical data on voting behaviour to draw on.

This argument in favour of Tan Cheng Bock presumes that one should do everything possible to block Tony Tan’s ascent to the presidency. If a donkey looks like he has the best chance, vote for the donkey. I’m not saying Tan Cheng Bock is a donkey, but I’m sure you get the point.

My position is that we know so little about what Tan Cheng Bock intends to do with the office, it might even be a bigger gamble than voting for Tony Tan. More likely than not, he will be almost as passive — which is why political analysts think the PAP government might, at a pinch, be able to live with him.

* * * * *

This is not to say that voting tactically never crossed my mind. To an extent, I am voting tactically too because I personally like Tan Kin Lian, but at this stage I think his chances are poor. I have no doubt about his personal integrity and where his heart lies. However, at several points in the campaign, he gave me the impression that he was out of his depth in areas outside of finance; he had not thought through other issues enough. He might make a good candidate at the next presidential election, but alas, he appeared rather less than ready for this one.

So I am endorsing Tan Jee Say. I am voting for him because as far as I can see, he is forthright about his views and holds values that are in rough alignment with mine. These are values anyone with a concern for human rights and human dignity would be comfortable with. He has made an effort to acknowledge the concerns of the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. And not least, because I judge that his convictions are sincere and strong, he has the will to stand by them and, of all the candidates, the fortitude to withstand the bullying that will surely come.

56 Responses to “I endorse Tan Jee Say”

  1. 1 liewkk 25 August 2011 at 19:32

    I know that i am definitely not going to cast my vote for both Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock, with the latter being rather uninspiring right from the start and former becoming more obnoxious by the day. I must admit that i have not been impressed by Tan kin Lian (TKL) and Tan Jee Say (TJS) as well. But, while i admit that TKL has not been very knowledgeable of general issues, whether in terms of sexuality or extra-constitutional powers of the state (and his expressions are rather awkward and parochial as well), I am inclined to support him for his free public advice that he has been offering on matters of finance and insurance for many years, not to forget that he was the only one that came forward as a public figure to represent victims (many of them from humble origins) of the Lehman Brothers collapse at a time where even the Monetary Authority of Singapore was keener to see affairs as private arrangements between banks and clients. During the TOC’s Face to Face debate, TKL seems to have given a clearer idea in understanding the use of foreign reserves between investment and spending, and he is also more sensitive to healthcost especially for older people. TJS may be comparatively more articulate, but TKL has thicker and more concrete a track record.

    Again this is a personal choice.

    • 2 it's all business 26 August 2011 at 10:25

      “… his free public advice that he has been offering on matters of finance and insurance for many years, not to forget that he was the only one that came forward as a public figure to represent victims (many of them from humble origins) of the Lehman Brothers collapse …”
      i don’t get it. yes he did those things. but were they for altruistic reasons? or just simply part of a business plan for the former and opportunistic in the latter case?

  2. 4 Simon 25 August 2011 at 21:23

    Applause …..Applause……Applause……

    What courage YB. A very good and fair viewpoint. When Tony Tan keynote in his election leaflet – TRUE TO HIMSELF AND HIS PRINCIPLES, this is furthest from the truth. Look at all the things he said about the graduate mother scheme – when asked to demonstrate his independence from the government. Tony said that he was against it because, I quote, “because it was unfair.” When it comes to the NS deferment of his son Patrick, he denied at first that here was anything amiss. His other keynote statements in his election leaflet is:


    Yes, indeed he smoked me for over three decades (speaking for myself).
    I am therefore asking everyone who is not shackled by fear or intimidation to come out on the PE voting day, vote for:

    T A N J E E S A Y……..

    The voting form with the H E A R T.


  3. 5 Singa 25 August 2011 at 22:00

    The EP election may not be about electing MPs, but post GE2011, politically-awakened S’poreans want an EP who is truly independent of PAP and who has the true-grit courage to exercise his moral authority to ‘audit’ the govt. They do not want another docile, ‘PAP-nominated’, i-have-no-issue-with-the-govt Nathan.

    My say is Tan Jee Say.

  4. 6 William Ho Weng Whye 25 August 2011 at 22:19

    I endorse Mr Tan Jee Say to be the next Presideent of Singapore.

  5. 7 Sho Goh 25 August 2011 at 22:20

    I had just made up my mind to vote for Tan Jee Say yesterday. After reading your article, it has only served to strengthen the reasons I have for voting Tan Jee Say.

  6. 8 djXpire 25 August 2011 at 22:30

    same here, I’m rooting for TJS as well, in fact I walked with him from AMK to Jurong East earlier today, got his autograph and took a picture with him… I’m proud to wear his campaign t-shirt which was given by the volunteers during lunch. I wore the t-shirt during my journey back home, many eyes were staring at me as I walked among the crowd in the train and on my way back to Hougang.. Vote for Tan Jee Say!!!

  7. 9 meiming 25 August 2011 at 22:33

    me too.

  8. 10 Anonymous 25 August 2011 at 22:34

    Thank you for this superb piece. I had some brief moments of uncertainty, but your insightful and thought-provoking article has convinced me that my decision had been right from the very beginning.

  9. 11 Ito Hiro มูน 25 August 2011 at 22:46

    Good to read, best to follow.

  10. 12 Max Ng 25 August 2011 at 22:50

    Hi Alex,

    I disagree with many of the above but I’ve always believed that a well researched and well thought out vote is a good vote regardless of to whom it went to.

    Because at the end of the day, it is the cumulative wisdom (and perhaps courage) of all Singaporeans that decides who will be the next president. More importantly, it is that very same quality that will decide how Singapore will progress in the future.

    May the best man wins.


  11. 13 balanced view 25 August 2011 at 22:52

    Since Tan Cheng Bock has just concluded his rally, has that changed your opinion of him? You don’t need to change your vote or even your endorsement.

  12. 14 Anonymous 25 August 2011 at 22:56

    A very good read. Thank you very much.

  13. 15 exaltdragon 25 August 2011 at 23:00

    For me, the ISD detentions and the death penalty are the deal-makers. I don’t know how much he’ll actually be able to do about it, but the fact that he raises these up is proof that he cares about the issues that affect very small groups, and not just blindly pandering to the masses.

    >>Increasingly, there will be critics from the conservative right.

    I find your point about the left-right spectrum in Singapore quite interesting. When we spoke in person, you mentioned how everyone has their own view on every aspect of Singapore life, regardless of political leaning, and these may affect their speech online, which in turn implies that people who disagree with the government may disagree from different directions… I personally think I am more of a centrist(my views would be considered centrist in most countries) but from the general Singaporean perspective, it looks like my belief that the state should not be have any more moral imperative than the individual make me actually a liberal(possibly even far-left). At the same time, I am against egalitarianism as I find it too potentially damaging to the motivations to people, which is actually a rightist view. So actually my views are somewhere where leftist and rightist views meet….

    What this diversity and complexity suggests to me is that the ideas of a left-right divide are not necessarily good at defining the positions of individuals. I believe that people have stands on myriads of issues big and small, and that positions on a left-right spectrum may not necessarily define how people vote. I think the layman would simply vote on whoever he identifies most with to fix, or at least discuss, the issues he cares about.

  14. 17 Anonymous 25 August 2011 at 23:06

    Quite simply. I am rooting for Cheng Bock because I know I will get what I see and hear.

  15. 18 Stephanie 25 August 2011 at 23:15


    On the recent subject of HDB and PA’s role in the usage of facilities in Aljunied GRC, there are murmurs on the ground that even the members of the Presidential Council of Advisors are partisan. This is not surprising as some of them are closely related to the ruling party, some are even ex-PAP MPs.

    While we try not to cast doubts on the integrity of the council members, it is inevitable that such thoughts linger in the mind of the common folks given that this institution comprises of such members.

    I will refrain from asking you on your thought for this matter, just hoping that till such time that circumstances deem it necessary in the future, you can express your view on this sensitive matter.

  16. 19 safelysafely@gmail.com 25 August 2011 at 23:26

    you give me lots of things to think about. i was rooting for tan cheng bock, but now, i see that i will have to think hard again.

  17. 20 Anonymous 25 August 2011 at 23:36

    regardless that I may differ and vote “establishment”, I read in entirety the article you penned. I find it well reasoned and lucid in view and comment, and balanced in opinion. I hope that everyone applies the same analysis in level, if not choice, in arriving at what is a significant election. perhaps 2011 is the year of “watershed’s”. I entirely concur with your views on the TBC anomaly as I would prefer to phrase it…

  18. 21 Ben 25 August 2011 at 23:36

    I suspect Dr Tan Cheng Bock is a decoy. Like what you said, he seems to have no stand of his own. He also talk about superfluous things like football and istana.

    Let’s vote a president with a heart!

  19. 22 cat 25 August 2011 at 23:41

    Alex, I share your sentiments. Jee Say’s beliefs and values are very close to what I hold dearly.My vote goes to Jee Say!

  20. 23 Robox 25 August 2011 at 23:44

    I don’t know the Cooling Off Day rules enough to know when this comment will see the light of day.

    Thanks for making an endorsement. It actually represents even further political growth in Singapore when someone who understands that s/he has some clout, no matter what the reach is, exercises it; it will go some way towards counterbalancing the same political acts in Ton Tan’s favour.

    It’s just a happy coincidence that your endorsement is in line with who I support as the next President.

    Thanks also for re-iterating the stand on Tan Jee Say’s quality of independence. At his rally tonight, Tan Cheng Bock asked if it is possible that Tan Jee Say was independent from the SDP. Why would he need to be since the job he is seeking is not one that requires him to check on the Executive formed by an SDP government?

    The independence he needs to possess is the independence from the PAP government. That he is immensely capable of even while I am aware that the PAP government could introduce many gridlocks to render him ineffective.

    There is also another reason that convinces me that Tan Jee Say is the right man for the position.

    During this PE, there has been much talk about the President as a unifying figure, and that the divisions that need to be healed most urgently is the political divide. While the President’s role as a unifying figure is implicit to her role as symbol of both State and nation, I get a sense that what some of the candidates mean by ‘divisions” or “disunity” is that there political diversity has seen immense growth in the past few years – that it undoubtedly has – and it is that that has been the cause of anger at the PAP at rallies by opposition parties at the last GE, say.

    But, if healing Singapore of its new found political diversity is how one plans to unify Singaporeans, then I don’t want this unity because it sounds eerily like political homogenization once again, and most likely in the PAP mould.

    The anger at the PAP is hardly caused by there being greater political diversity. Instead, one of the major causes of anger at the PAP government is the many and longstanding reactions by the PAP to the flowering of that political diversity, such as with its control of the media and all the way to defamation suits.Thank you, but no thank you. I rejevted the PAP mould long ago and can never be enticed by it.

    The other major reason is of course bad policy. Tan Jee Say reckons that the main source of anger at bad policy by the PAP government is in the economic sphere, which is of course valid.

    From all that he has said, Tan Jee Say seems to understand these as the sources of anger – disunity – that we see in Singapore today; none of the other candidates come close in this understanding.

    Despite his SDP connections – or perhaps BECAUSE of it – Tan Jee Say is likely the only candidate who can not only be independent but unify as well.

  21. 24 F Tan 26 August 2011 at 00:02

    I agree with the observation and analysis of the writer. I too wanted to vote tactically for Cheng Bok so that Tony Tan, the hypocrite would be kept out, But after serious thoughts and tracking Cheng Bok’s words over the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that the question of human rights and dignity does not and will not come close to his heart. In political thinking, he is only a slight shade away from the PAP. The man’s mind is still shackled in the PAP cage. What a pity! My vote goes to Jee Say, a man with a true conscience and a mind of his own. Rationally, the most deserving of them all.

  22. 25 Madison Chua 26 August 2011 at 00:02

    I cannot believe how similar our views are. Yeaaahhh!! I, too, like Tan Kin Lian too, but his chances are the most dismal out of the four. And the more I find out about Tan Jee Say, the more I like him. This is especially so since the four of them appeared on the Face to Face forum held on the 18th of this month. Everyone kept harping about the outburst of Tan Jee Say as if it was such a bad thing. But I completely disagree. He showed the most spunk and fire, and forever changed my views of him. There was the right amount of dignity and backbone in this candidate and I agreed that he was badly treated by Dr. Tony Tan (who interrupted him) and the dismal-excuse for a moderator who was too scared to allow Tan Jee Say to continue. The fact that he held his own impressed me. It also made me hopeful, if elected, he could fulfill his promise to be Independent and fair minded.

  23. 26 Eugene Gan 26 August 2011 at 00:02

    There’s 2 groups of ppl i know

    1) Pro – PAP -> so is TT
    2) Pro – opposition -> vote is split between TJS, TKL and TCB.

    A point that you mentioned – dividing the votes… TT is the likely winning candidate.

    But i ll vote for TKL because I had an encountered with him 2-3 years back, so i am sure of his heart.

    My sister, bro-in-law, mom are supporting TJS.

    God Speed!

  24. 27 Leuk75 26 August 2011 at 00:03

    “The president is not a super-MP.” I know he is not, but I would much rather have one who will try creatively to lead a conversation both with the public and with the government privately, than one who will just shrug, give up and do nothing, with the excuse that it is outside the scope of the job.

    I was struggling between either TKL or TJS. Friends have discussed this and even among gay pals, their choice is TT. They felt the others had no track record and will not be able to get anything done since the president’s role is limited and especially as TJS gets too hyped up and his convictions are simply too far from what our PAP dominated MPs are comfortable with. That such behaviour won’t be “dignified” when dealing with foreign leaders and will not win him many allies in the cabinet.

    Key question: What do we really want or expect our president to be? A dignified chap who projects a good image when placed besides foreign dignitaries? One who will not question unfair policies in the hope of maintaining cordial relations in the cabinet?

    Clearly Singaporeans are divided in what we expect from the president. Some think the image projection to be key, others consider if the person holds enough clout with parliament to get things through.

    For me, if the expectation is for the president is simply to be a highly glorified ambassador, grace the big occasions and be kawan kawan with the executive, then I am not keen on having S$4m/annum taxpayers money pay his salary + other benefits + for wife lifelong! If he is kawan kawan sort with the powers to be, then clearly he will not be keen to rock the boat and rather keep the harmony and status quo.

    I will rather have one who has clear convictions and be willing to voice it and use whatever small influence even if it fails. At least, he has tried and the boundaries pushed a little. Get a Nathanesque passive president, nil chance of anything done. Slowly, steadily chip at the mortar, it will break like the Berlin Wall. Singaporeans will have to live up to the consequence of their own decisions.

    I am not supporting a nice, eloquent and distinguished fatherly figure who has already shown his instincts will always be to keep the peace. So he opposed the graduate mum schemes but what did he do or say? Neither am I keen on casting my vote for the tech savvy one who clearly has no real convictions and looks like he is doing the 地块凉,地块坐 (where the seat is cool, he will sit) act.

    Come Saturday, I give me support to the one who has consistently expressed his stand and displayed the passion to try despite folks saying they are uncomfortable with a confrontational character.

    We need more sparks and confrontation, more chaos. Law and order is great but we grind to a halt with status quo. With chaos also comes creativity. That is what I expect from my voted candidate – the display of chaos as a surrogate for the beliefs and creativity.

  25. 28 Glory WP 26 August 2011 at 00:03

    Are you sure you want to vote for a man who tried to join the WP and insulted Low Thia Khiang in the process and humiliated Yee Jenn Jong?
    Are you sure you want a man who is a proxy of the losers SDP?
    Tan Jee Say never kept his 60bn dollar SME promise.
    He never took the time to thank residents of H-BT after the GE.
    He is such an ungrateful man!
    I would rather have Low Thia Khiang or Chiam See Tong as my President!

  26. 29 laogenjudi 26 August 2011 at 00:04

    Tony – nah
    Cheng Bock – good man but….
    Kin Lian – struggling with his 4 languages

    Jee Say – WELCOME to the Istana !

  27. 30 bluex 26 August 2011 at 00:10

    I will be voting Tan Cheng Bock. He spoke up in 1987 in support of the arrest of the Marxist conspirators. This is a man who understands putting the nation above the individual. He is a safe pair of hands who will not rock the boat and threaten the stability of Singapore. This is why he was the first non cabinet minister elected into the PAP Central Executive Committee. He has already said that he will work within the boundaries of the constituion. Therefore I will be very comfortable with Tan Cheng Bock as President.

  28. 31 Rubbish 26 August 2011 at 00:10

    This is utter rubbish. Seeing Tan Jee Say face and the way he tries so damn hard to voice out his opinion just makes me wonder how is he going to communicate to the rest of Singaporean. I am not sure who to vote for but one things i am very sure is that i will definitely not vote for him. I’m neither a pap nor a pap supporter. I vote for what is best for Singapore. And clearly not him. Singapore will be in deep water if he wins. Pls read more in-depth into what he does in private sector show us more concrete evidence that he can make Singapore shine brighter and love all Singaporean still. When he was interview he even stumped. Hm….hmm…..the choice is yours. U decide.

  29. 32 Greyheyn 26 August 2011 at 00:14

    A week ago, I was thinking onto a similar train of thoughts. Your last sentence echoed an important concern that I have about these presidential candidates (except Tony and Cheng Bock) and their “fortitude to withstand the bullying that will surely come.”

    Indeed, to build a properly functioning democracy, every little brick do count. A president post for Mr Tan Jee Say to check and balance the PAP with a chance of him turning PAP into a pretentious populist party, is turning me off. Likewise, Mr Tan Jee Say can fail too. I will make my choice at the polling booth.

  30. 33 Ibrahim Seng 26 August 2011 at 00:24

    Dear Alex,

    Thank you for a well written piece.

    I will also vote for Tan Jee Say.

    It might interest you to note that I am a christian conservative. A “fundamentalist” in your lexicon. Yes we have almost irreconciliable differences when it comes to gender. But perhaps we can find common ground elsewhere. My own convictions concerning life and the restorative aspects of justice make the MDP unacceptable in any sane society. I am not against the death penalty but am against its indiscriminate application as spelt out in the MDP. Using ISA against political opponents, as we have witnessed in our nation’s history, is also unacceptable goes against the grain of the social pact of the pledge we recite in school.

    We differ on gender issues but find common ground on other matters. And maybe this ability to find common ground in the midst of our differences is the Singapore most of us want to see.

  31. 34 Anne 26 August 2011 at 00:27

    I have long ago decided to vote for TJS. That was before nomination day.

    I simply hate the PAP. I can’t imagine any of the other three Tans who had been tainted with PAP blood to be my choice. No way. I will cast a null vote in protest than to vote anyone remotely linked / formerly related to the PAP.

    I agree with you TJS may not be the best president. In fact, I am not entirely sure he is 100% trustworthy, that is, he is what he says he is. But I would say I believe him and buy his ideas & principles to 90%. That is good enough. Because life cannot be worse. But having Tony Tan as the eventual winner is worst!

    What I like about TJS is his gumption, gusto. willingness to speak up. Against a formiddable PAP machinery, the TCB type cannot handle. The TKL type also not strong enough. What i like about TJS is also the fact that he was not born with a silver spoon.

    The fact that he had been associated with SDP does not disturb me. Anyone who dares stand as a candidate with the opposition ticket is a courageous person, in my opnion. In S’pore’s political climate, it takes a brave man/ woman to stand against the gargantuan ruling party.

    Also, TCB is too old and probably will be set in his ways to change. May be in the 1st year as President he shows his questioning a bit. Then as time goes, he fades into another Nathan. At 73,74,75 you believe he’ll still take LHL and gang on?

    What I like about TJS is also his wider concept of the presidency. We all know the president has his hands tied, powers limited, is ceremonial in large and not a centre for executive power.

    Precisely because of this, that it is wonderful for TJS to push the limits of what the president can do. Afterall he is pro-Singapreans. By bringing the president’s involvement one notch higher, we get one step closer to being a true democracy, however baby the step is. Don’t forget Singaporeans have long been conditioned into compliant, apolitical citizens. Thanks also to the MSM as the ruling party’s monthpiece. It will take a few rounds of GE for S’poreans to become more politically aware and interested. So do not expect fast progress, any baby steps is a forward step indeed. And let TJS start the ball rolling.

    Having shared the above. I know deep in my mind that it is Tony Tan who will win this election. And I won’t be surpised he will win with a huge margin. Why? Because there are enough daft Singaporeans who are either apolitical and simply vote for the face they are most familar with; or who are thinking the world of the government.

    That will be a sad day. Until 2016. I hope PAP gets 51% vote share. I will really jump and rejoice and celebrate!

  32. 35 yawningbread 26 August 2011 at 00:38

    For this article, comments after midnight Thursday/Friday will be kept on hold until after the elections results have been announced.

    Comments to other articles will be moderated and published as usual, unless the content of the comment is such that it seeks to promote or dispromote a candidate.

    This is in keeping with a conservative interpretation of cooling-off day rules.

  33. 36 CY 26 August 2011 at 01:21

    Whether TJS wins the PE 2011 or not, can it be said for certain that his political stature and influence has benefited from the run up to his nomination, as well as his campaign itself?

    I still strongly feel that TJS would bring a greater political impact by contesting in GE 2016, and all this potential would be wasted if he is elected President (since I presume it is unlikely that the next PE would be called before the next GE). Even if there is somehow a way for him to leave the Presidency early to contest in 2016, such a move may only make a mockery of both the office and himself.

  34. 37 Charles 26 August 2011 at 01:45

    A few years ago , LHL talked about Singapore needing more ‘Heartware’.

    TJS BEST exemplifies this in the consistency and conviction of his answers.

    Want more Heartware in Singapore………vote for the Heart symbol

    As a bonus he has the experience of working in Govt and built a formidable record in the Private Sector and fancy being handpicked by Goh Keng Swee – no less- to be his Aide in a mission to Sri Lanka to share Singapore’s Economic successes up until the 80’s……….talented all right!

  35. 38 Jo 26 August 2011 at 02:59

    All this analysis is very noble but for the majority of Singaporeans, it’s much more basic: Those who detest the ruling party for grievances real or imagined or for not providing them with the lifestyle they believe are due them as citizens, will vote for the presidential candidate who is most opposed to the ruling party. All other factors are irrelevant and inconsequential. So whatever TJS does or doesn’t stands for, as long as he’s the candidate most opposed to the ruling party, he will secure endorsements such as these and others, less thoughtful or considered. I have no doubt that even if he was not as philosophically in line with Alex’s views but was still as strongly against the PAP, he would win the endorsement and vote. Similarly, those in favour of the status quo will vote for Tony Tan.

  36. 39 Anthony 26 August 2011 at 08:15

    Thank you!

    I fully agree on all points. You are very intuitive.

    May others who are unsure decide on who to vote instead of spoiling their vote, come Sat.


  37. 40 Jane 26 August 2011 at 09:24

    You can’t read Tan Cheng Bock because his heart is pure and people like yourself kept trying to whiff something sinister into it.

    Tan Jee Say has neither the poise nor composure to be the people’s President. He can’t carry himself well and he will do worst on behalf of Singapore.

  38. 41 Son of Pulau Belakang Mati 26 August 2011 at 12:32

    Dr TCB is a man of ‘good heart’. He is the ONLY PAP MP then that was courageous enough to go against the ruling party. However, ‘good heart’ and being courageous is not enough!!! S’porean needed someone who have the guts to slap the Govt. in the face when the cries of its citizen fall on deafening years. We don’t need anymore “Yesman” who don’t even go to he ground to hear our cries, frustration & hardship.

    I vote for the person who’re willing to do that! That is what lacking of our leaders!! “Makan gaji buta!” LHL if you read this, some of your ministers are in this category right now.

    May the best person wins.

  39. 42 Sin Pariah 26 August 2011 at 13:14

    I’d rather save TJS for next GE as Opposition MP candidate – he can serve Singapore and Singaporeans better in Parliament than in the Istana.

  40. 43 rglelin 26 August 2011 at 13:44

    I am voting for TCB because I can’t bring myself to see TJS serving as non-partisan President with the view of improving Singapore as a whole; maybe its the way he keeps harping on the idea of providing checks and balances or maybe its his aggressive bulldog mentality… I really can’t see him representing Singapore especially on a international front, especially when it seems that he is rather easily goaded into making a emotional reaction…

    Not wanting to support a true to form yes-man, TT and a coffee-shop-uncle type TKL. Thus I’m voting TCB. I know its a compromise; but that’s all we’ve got.

  41. 44 yuen 26 August 2011 at 13:53

    actually, since TJS was an SDP candidate and in the general election your inclination was towards SDP, I had for some time assumed you support TJS; a number of DSP and NSP activists have been helping his campaign, but SPP people have been helping TCB. WP and RP have been quiet, but I assume many of their supporters went to hear TJS at his rally. TKL is more or less on his own, but he worked hard and made the most proposals, whether or not these could be delivered, and might surprise us with his final result.

    for TJS to win, he has to retain almost all 40% of the opposition votes despite TKL and TCB, and pick up some PAP vote leakage in addition; this is difficult to see; for TCB to win he need to attract nearly half of the PAP votes from TT and nearly half the opposition votes, this is again difficult to see; the possibility of TKL doing either of these is even harder to see;so despite TT not doing very well in the campaign with all the negative news going around, he is still likely to win by default

  42. 45 Chanel 26 August 2011 at 14:48


    I guess the majority of voters would rather vote for the monkey than Tony Tan had the contest been between the anmial and the man.

    That leaves us with the three remaining Tans. My sense is that both TCB and TJS will lose votes from conservative Christians for their comments on LGBT. We have witnessed this played out at GE 2011 at Holland-Bt Timah GRC. Vivian Balakrishnan was targeting this segment of voters when he publicly accused Vincent of SDP of being gay after voters failed to get his earlier hints.

    Of the 3 Tans, TCB comes across as trhe most eloquent as far as conversing in English is concerned. This fact alone would win him some votes.

  43. 46 Concerned voter 26 August 2011 at 20:41

    TJS is intelligent and has convictions that are commendable but he has too much against the establishment to be doing the job of the president’s work effectively. His temperament gets the better of him and as such may get him into situations that might cause him resources to remedy. For this I would not have him in the presidency but he should try again at the next GE.

  44. 47 qutequte (@qutequte) 26 August 2011 at 20:43

    Nicole Seah did not know she needed a public entertainment license to speak in public. TJS also did not know difference between role of President and MP. Is that why they get along so well? 🙂

    Hmmm..how to vote TJS for President when he want to challenge his head off over why Dr. Tony Tan could speak in oublic about objecting to building a casino in 2009? He does not know that the difference of responsibilities between that of an MP and a President (evidence from the video): http://bit.ly/pX3uJb

    TJS taking $1 as Presidential salary? TJS changed his mind later and said he was joking about the $1! Check all of his speeches please. He’s a bloody joker. I the latter video, he asked for $500k as monthly salary (the norm is $400k a month).

    Has anyone seen the financial reports of TJS’s ex-employers when he was working for them?…

    Also, did anyone read the news in Straits Times of how he tried to strike a deal with WP’s Low Thia Kiang, only to jump ship to apply for himself in the Presidential Candidate.

    A person who is good at putting his points across must be able to persuade why his ideas or policies should used by the government. Is TJS such a person? There’s no point in having someone who is good at squandering his wealth.

    And do you know Nicole is also forgiven over posting on Cooling-Off day? Bet she did not blow the trumpet the way she did with TPL’s posting on cooling-off day. http://bit.ly/nZaNjQ

    TJS may not be a drama theatre graduate like Nicole Seah, but both are wayang. Vote wisely.

  45. 48 Anonymous 26 August 2011 at 23:22

    irregardless of the end results, i just want to stand by my principle and vote for Tan Jee Say

  46. 49 GT 27 August 2011 at 10:29

    My vote is a strategic one. The ones that can come close to winning from TT is either TCB or TJS. If those voters who are against the regime but opts for the middle ground change their mind to vote for TJS that will improve his chances of taking down TT. Vote for TJS.

  47. 50 Anonymous 27 August 2011 at 10:41

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I thought I was alone in my choice but you have given articulated reasons. Please keep the commentary coming. I am a fan.

  48. 51 tbfair 27 August 2011 at 11:23

    I think many people have confused the fundamental role of the president. The idea of a “check and balance” to the government of the day, in fact lies with the opposition of the day. The president is very much bound by the …constitution. This is something both the people and the president himself must recognise. It is explicit in (empowered to veto the use of government reserves and appointments to key civil service appointments. He or she can also examine the administration’s enforcement of the Internal Security Act[2] and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act,[3] and authorize corruption investigations) what the president can and cannot do. And only if specific policies encroach into his jurisdiction should he step up and comment on them. Even then, there cannot be a constant atmosphere of vocal disagreement with the government, what should in fact be the sole center of power. This would only be divisive in nature and would harm Singapore in the end. It is very clear which candidates should then be a MP and which, the President of Singapore.

  49. 52 Citizen0734 28 August 2011 at 15:11

    From FTF2, my personal opinion of TJS is that he will provide the kind of answer that the person asking it will like to hear. This only confuse voters of what are his true convictions.

    On the other hand, the other candidates took a stand and made it clear what is it that they could and could not do as president. Less confusion for voters.

  50. 53 S377A 28 August 2011 at 16:12

    My Criteria for Choosing Presidential Candidate

    My criteria comprises
    – trustworthiness & sincerity,
    – impartiality, image (e.g. how they present themselves and how they speak),
    – competency in explicit constitutional duties,
    – competency in non-constitutional functions (e.g. using informal influence – for the good of the nation and to uphold fairness, justice, equality etc)
    – really having a heart for Singaporeans.

    All these are essential criteria, so any Presidential Candidate who lacks in any one of these criteria would be eliminated from my consideration no matter how good-hearted he is, or no matter how competent he is.

    Among these criteria I gave different rankings in terms of importance. I place the highest importance in trustworthiness (at the same time the person cannot be lacking in the other criteria)

    I cannot read the hidden motives in the depth of their hearts. So all I can do is to assess what they said and what they did, and also how they said what they said and how they did what they did. Particularly important will be to look at their past actions, AS TALK IS EASY COMPARED TO TAKING ACTIONS.

    I like very much many things TJS said (e.g. his stance on death penalty, ISA detention, GLBT issue). But he only voiced out loudly only this year when he needed our votes first in the GE and then later in PE. I asked: where was his voice during the past years when he was in the private sector (i.e. when he was no longer in the civil service)? His body language and they way he said things also enhanced my suspicion of him. I needed a little of his track records to compliment the nice things he said. I found none. I needed just a little past actions of his to backup my HOPE that he can score high in trustworthiness. I have also found nothing.

    TCB ranked the highest among the 4 candidates in my criterion of trustworthiness (which is my most important criterion among the criteria) and having a heart for Singaporeans. I base my assessment on trustworthiness and having a heart for Singaporeans not just base on what he said but also based on the things he has done in the past 30 years. He also scored well for impartiality base on his past track records. He fared reasonably in the two different types of competencies (though some other candidates ranked better than TCB in the two types of competencies).

    (I have eliminated TT & TKL in the process so my choice was between TCB & TJS)

    Having read yawningbread’s endorsement of TJS, I did some rethinking in my choice between TCB and TJS. In the end I am convinced my initial decision to vote for TCB remained valid so yesterday I voted for TCB. It was only on Friday I did some further reading and viewing regarding TCB and I was more impressed by him than before. A good starting point would be TCB’s blog.

    • 54 MS 29 August 2011 at 12:45

      Hi S377A, my sentiments exactly. TJS said all the right things that anti-establishment folks like to hear, but they came across as mere rhetoric because he has done nothing to prove that he is trustworthy.

      Like you, I reconsidered my decision to vote for TCB after reading this piece because I respect Alex’s views. I did more reading and research on the Net and kept my mind open for something positive I might have missed about TJS. I also watched the Razor TV clips of the ST roundtable discussion conducted on Aug 16. I found my answer there. TJS was asked what his track record was. His reply? That he was a prefect in RI and won when he ran for the student council in Oxford. (http://www.razor.tv/site/servlet/segment/main/news/68126.html)

      I rest my case.

  51. 55 James Koh 29 August 2011 at 10:39

    Now that the dust has barely settled, let’s look at how the 4 Tans move on from here to determine whether Alex’s analysis is accurate.

  52. 56 ricky 30 August 2011 at 22:12

    thank our lucky stars this troublemaker did not win, if he had losts of sane singaporeans ( obviously not readers of this blog) would have left singapore the same day, extremely alarming such people are allowed to contest for president, go dsave singapore

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