SINGAPORE: Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of NTUC Income and 2011 Presidential candidate, revealed in a press statement released on Sunday, 29 July 2023, that he had submitted his application for the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for the upcoming presidential election three weeks prior. This potentially positions him ahead of other candidates in the application process.
In his statement, Tan (75) disclosed that his application was submitted electronically via a proxy, as the necessary forms were available for download from the election department’s website. His community declaration was similarly submitted online earlier.
Speaking on his fellow potential candidates, Tan stated his belief that he and former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (66), who he regards as his main competition, meet the full eligibility requirements as stipulated in the constitution.
He expressed uncertainty regarding the eligibility of other potential contenders, entrepreneur George Goh (63) and former GIC head of investment Ng Kok Song (75), but noted that the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) holds the power to waive certain eligibility shortfalls.
Similar to the 2011 Presidential Election, in which the PEC permitted Tan Jee Say to run despite his not meeting all eligibility criteria outright—thus enabling a four-cornered contest and allowing PAP’s Tony Tan to edge out Tan Cheng Bock by just 0.35 per cent—the PEC may exercise its discretionary power to qualify Ng, while simultaneously disqualifying Goh. This could pave the way for a straight fight between Ng and Tharman.
A key point in Tan’s statement is his intention to await the PEC’s final decision on the approved candidate slate before deciding to submit his nomination paper.
Tan, who secured only 4.9% of the vote in the 2011 Presidential Election, has remained vocal on various social issues over the past decade, continually advocating for the reduction of the high cost of living in Singapore.
Despite the raised financial criteria for private sector candidates introduced by the 2017 amendments to the Singapore Constitution, Tan is likely the only private sector candidate who still qualifies.
Besides Tan, Tharman, Ng, and Goh have expressed interest in the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for 13 September to replace President Halimah Yacob whose term is nearing its end. However, the fulfilment of the eligibility criteria by Ng and Goh’s companies is currently unclear.
Intriguingly, a recent Facebook post from Madam Ho Ching hinted at the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) potential preference towards candidates Tharman and Ng.
Should Tan’s application be approved, the PEC might decide to qualify all four contenders, creating a scenario reminiscent of the 2011 Presidential Election, where the PAP’s preferred candidate won by a marginal 0.35% over Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
But at the same time, the introduction of Tan and his statement to await the final slate of approved candidates creates a potential problem for the establishment. If the PEC approves Goh’s Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and Tan backs out, it will be a contest between three candidates.
Similarly, if the PEC disqualifies Goh and Tan steps in, it will still be a fight between the three candidates. In any case, it would be pretty much impossible for a two-cornered fight to take place at this point.
With the clock ticking down to election day, all eyes are on the PEC’s pending decision, eagerly anticipating the final candidate lineup.
Tan’s humble beginning
Born into a large family of six children, Tan’s early life was marked by adversity. With his family living in rental rooms and frequently moving due to lease expirations, Tan’s experience of hardship began at a young age. Following the loss of his father’s livelihood during the 1965 Indonesian Confrontation, he left school after secondary four to support his family, despite being among the top students in Raffles Institution.
Working in various roles for 12 years, Tan eventually qualified as an insurance actuary. His dedication caught the attention of NTUC Income, which recruited him in 1977. Over the course of 30 years with the company, he led NTUC Income from $28 million in assets to a staggering $17 billion, a 600-fold increase. Tan left the company at 59 in 2007.
Tan’s time at NTUC Income was characterized by a dedication to the cooperative society model. He emphasized ploughing most profits back into the company to provide higher bonuses for policyholders, instead of channeling it towards large dividends for shareholders or hefty salaries for the board and management.
A frugal approach to operating expenses allowed Tan to keep premiums low for policyholders, ensuring they paid less. During his tenure, over 1 million policyholders enjoyed the benefits of this model, with many expressing their appreciation for his management style. Tan hopes that his past performance will rally these policyholders, and their children, to his side in the upcoming election.
Tan’s role at NTUC Income clearly meets the revised private sector criteria introduced in the 2017 Singapore Constitution amendments, as the shareholder equity of NTUC Income exceeded $500 million in the last three years of his service there.
For Tan, the principles he applied at NTUC Income extend to running a country: keeping expenses low, including ministers’ salaries, to ensure a lower cost of living and lesser taxes for citizens. Living a frugal life himself, Tan encourages others to adopt the same approach.
Tan’s commitment to public service extends beyond his professional career. He was instrumental in starting the first residents’ committees in Singapore in 1979 and led fundraising efforts for its first community centre. This grassroots involvement continued for two decades. After leaving NTUC Income, Tan launched a computer software business and began providing insurance consultancy services in Indonesia, while maintaining active involvement in social issues in Singapore.
Tan’s family life is centered around his wife, a homemaker who has taken care of their three children and now assists with their five grandchildren.