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SG activists cautions against entrusting ‘unelected’ committee in assessing presidential candidates’ values

Addressing the Tan Kin Lian controversy and Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)’s statement on the president candidate, Kirsten Han warns against letting an “unelected committee” judge Presidential candidacy based on vague criteria.

Singaporean writer Jolene Tan supports Han, highlighting AWARE’s shift from 2016 when they sought to limit discretionary powers.



Former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian, who has successfully been nominated as Singapore Presidential Candidate on Tuesday (22 Aug), had earlier entangled in a heated online debate related to his past social media posts.

The spark for this recent controversy was a TikTok video, which spotlighted Mr Tan’s Facebook posts commenting on “pretty” girls.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), responding to the widespread attention, made a statement on its Facebook page on Monday (21 Aug) condemning Mr Tan’s consistent online behaviour.

Their statement pointed out the dangers of objectifying women through casual posts and comments.

In the statement, AWARE claimed the decision to grant Mr Tan a certificate of eligibility for the election, calling it a “systemic endorsement”, and further urged the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) to “thoroughly consider the broader implications of such endorsements in the future.”

It shouldn’t be left up to some “elite committee” to decide who “truly upholds values”, says Kirsten Han

Delving into the controversy surrounding Tan Kin Lian’s comments about “pretty” girls, independent journalist and activist Kirsten Han acknowledged her discomfort with his posts.

However, she strongly cautioned against embracing an approach that implies an opaque, unelected committee should determine candidacy eligibility based on subjective and ambiguous criteria.

While AWARE Singapore rightly criticises TKL’s behaviour, Ms Han pointed out that subjecting potential candidates to pre-screening by a committee is an unfavourable solution.

She emphasized that leaving the determination of those who “truly uphold values” solely to an elite committee raises questions.

“What are these values? How to define? Who gets to define? What if next time someone says that people who have spoken in support of LGBTQ equality should not be certified because they don’t uphold “family values”?”

The electorate can voice its disapproval of Tan Kin Lian’s unsettling behavior by not electing him, just as it should with any problematic candidate, Ms Han added.

“And if the electorate *does* vote someone like that in, then we have to examine why, and perhaps it would turn out that the bigger issue is not the behaviour of one man, but a wider societal acceptance of objectification of women.”

Acknowledging the existing certification process, Ms Han said it might appear that certifying someone like Tan Kin Lian implies endorsement of his behavior. Yet, the assessment process itself presents challenges and should not be further empowered.

“Actually, this whole presidential election is a farce and needs to be dismantled, not expanded, ” Ms Han concluded.

The PEC is a six-member council established by the government to vet presidential candidates against the qualifications in Article 19 of the Constitution.

Comprising the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (who also leads the PEC), the Chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, a representative from the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, a member from the Council of Presidential Advisers (excluding certain positions), a Supreme Court Judge or eligible individual, and a person with relevant private sector expertise appointed by the Prime Minister.

Jolene Tan highlights AWARE’s shift in position from its 2016 stance

On Tuesday (22 Aug), Singaporean writer Jolene Tan voiced her support for Kirsten Han’s comment via Facebook.

She warned against the dangers of the position now advocated by AWARE, which legitimising this committee’s open-ended veto powers is also likely to strengthen regressive forces.

Ms Tan underlined that AWARE’s recent statement signifies a departure from their previous standpoint. In 2016, AWARE actually advocated for curbing these discretionary powers.

Notably, Jolene Tan played a significant role in drafting the submission letter to the Constitutional Commission Secretariat during the 2016 public consultation on the Elected Presidency.

AWARE’s 2016 stance opposed measures ensuring the election of a minority president, advocating for more inclusive eligibility criteria.

Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE, who was also present at the hearing, suggested modifying the criteria to encompass leaders of organizations with a net asset value of S$50 million, thereby broadening the pool of candidates.

“In my view, the matters of “integrity, good character and reputation” are for the electorate to assess. These are precisely the issues of values and vision which should be left to the democratic process, in contrast to questions about the technical competence or specialist skills of a candidate, which might in some cases be more amenable to assessment by appointed experts, ” Corinna Lim remarked in the 2016 statement.

Nevertheless, Jolene Tan firmly asserted that this certainly does not excuse Tan Kin Lian’s sexist behavior – behavior that is not only inappropriate but also fundamentally undignified.

Tan also noted that AWARE had actually advocated limiting these discretionary powers to the committee back in 2016. Thus, the recent statement from the NGO appears to be a shift in its position.

And indeed, Lim had then proposed the removal of Article 19(2)(e), which empowers the PEC to judge a candidate’s integrity and character for presidential candidacy.

PEC: Tan Kin Lian, “a man of integrity, good character, and reputation”

The spark for this recent controversy was a TikTok video, which spotlighted Mr Tan’s Facebook posts commenting on “pretty” girls.

Going viral with close to 300,000 views, the video inadvertently pushed Mr Tan into the limelight just as his presidential campaign was gaining momentum.

This heated debate emerges at a pivotal time.

Last Friday, Mr Tan, along former People’s Action Party senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song, received their certificates of eligibility (COE) for the upcoming Presidential Election.

All of them successfully filed their nomination papers on Tuesday (22 Aug) before the noon deadline.

In a letter addressed to Mr Tan, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) expressed satisfaction with Mr Tan’s character, stating he is “a man of integrity, good character, and reputation”.

PEC secretary Cindy Khoo communicated the committee’s sentiments, and expressed satisfaction after evaluating various facets of Mr. Tan’s professional journey. This included the nature of his tenure at NTUC Income and the company’s overall size and complexity.

Furthermore, they weighed his performance during his time in office. Based on their assessment, they found that Mr Tan’s track record was commendable.

The PEC concluded that his experience and capabilities are equivalent to those of someone who has served as the chief executive of a company with at least S$500 million in shareholder’s equity.

Additionally, such a person should meet the stipulations laid out in Article 19(4)(a) of the Constitution.

It added, “The Committee is also satisfied that you have the experience and ability to effectively carry out the functions and duties of the office of President.”

In a statement late Monday, PEC said that the issuance of the COE does not amount to an endorsement of his social media posts.

It noted that it does not go through every applicant’s past social media posts before issuing or declining a certificate of eligibility.

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I once saw Kirsten having the money to stay in a rather posh condo. She claims she renting only. Sus. Paid by who

My stand is the EP should be done away with. Go back to the G selecting its own and just enthrone him/her. Let it be ceremonial. However much we pretend that the EP plays a very important role in controlling the 2nd key to the Reserves, at the end of the day, the EP can be easily frustrated if the government of the day wants to make a statement by laying obstacles; Ong Teng Cheong style. We save time, effort and money on elections every 6 years if we do away with this charade. However, if we really think an… Read more »

Women should take up construction jobs, funeral undertakers etc etc . Then we talk about equality with men. Can?

I am ashamed of AWARE. Saying this as a woman.

Well Done Aware.
PEC should get feedback from some NGO’s.
Good Job.

Pappy’s runners have indeed started their all out efforts to discredit Presidential candidate who does not belong to the rotting mold.These uncalled for and meaningless endeavours may well back fired and help the victimized candidate gain sympathy votes at the expense of the the two from the rotting mold.Nonetheless,comes September 1st,all SG voters shall cast their deciding vote to the candidate who is not associated with the rotting mold period!! Bravo.

Aware is right in calling out TKL. Kudos! Good job!

This whole AWARE thing is just a farce. Gas lighting at it’s best.

“And if the electorate *does* vote someone like that in, then we have to examine why, and perhaps it would turn out that the bigger issue is not the behaviour of one man, but a wider societal acceptance of objectification of women.”

…and its concluded..??

Wow… the power of women..

Women, young and old, make themselves beautiful to be admired and loved. Isn’t this making themselves an object to be admired and loved? Isn’t beauty pagent is all about?

What if Tan put up ugly ladies, AWARE would say he insults these women!

And what if Tan posts men, AWARE would claim Tan is a guy!

Even a grandfather has the right to appreciate young woman and want to marry her.

Appreciating beauty is praising God’s creation. Those praised mostly like the flattery.

The ugly are not so lucky.

Honest men are Happy to see beautiful woman. Nothing more than that.

Dishonest men hide in the dark watching porn.

The $500m criteria should have been removed to allow more participation. The govt. in wanting to have their own preferred candidate has shot itself in the foot. Just as there are women who are against objectifying them, there are some who will welcome it. It is for each individual to decide for themselves. Is AWARE claiming it represents all women? If AWARE felt so strongly about it, why was no action taken earlier to stop TKL? Today we talk about gender equality, is there a need anymore for a sexist organisation like AWARE?