Tan Cheng Bock For Open Election

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock held a press conference on Mar 31 (Fri), expressing his discontent about the reserved elections.

The Straits Times stated that Dr Tan raised questions about the reserved elections, and call upon the government to address the various concerns.


The main concern though, was the shifting of goalposts this year, with the move from an elected presidency, to a reserved election.

“I am concerned that our elected presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserved election of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy,” Dr Tan said to the press.

Of course Dr Tan was livid at the announcement. After all, he had announced his intention to contest in the coming election back in March 2016.


The Speech

Dr Tan’s speech was encapsulated into point form on his Facebook page, here’s the full post:

But in case if you can’t see it, let’s break it down for you:

  • I (Dr Tan) call this press conference to ask the government whether it is correct to make the 2017 Presidential Election a reserved election. I think it should be an open election.
  • Our Constitution was recently changed. We now have a new Article 19B(1). This reserves an election for a racial group if no one from that community has been President for the 5 most recent Presidential terms.

Dr Tan proceeds to quote the Constitutional Commission Report from Aug 17, 2016, which states “if free and unregulated elections produce Presidents from a varied distribution of ethnicities, the requirement of a reserved election will never be triggered.”

  • The Government said the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) advised the Prime Minister that 2017 will be our 1st reserved election. This is based on AGC counting 5 consecutive presidential terms beginning with President Wee Kim Wee.

He highlighted that as advised by the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the government had started the counter for five terms from Mr Wee’s term.

  • I question whether AGC’s method of counting is actually in line with the spirit and purpose put forward by the Constitutional Commission for having a reserved election.

The 76 year-old added:

  • In all my years in Parliament, we have always referred to Mr Ong Teng Cheong as the first elected president.

Dr Tan also suggested that Mr Wee’s position was given to him by the Parliament, “not by the people”.


Dr Tan quotes Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Teo Chee Hean and his readings of the Constitutional Amendment Bill, taking from it that in order for a reserved election to take place, five open elections must have taken place.

  • However one day later, on 8 Nov 2016, PM Lee told Parliament that AGC had advised the Government to count 5 consecutive terms of presidents who exercised elected powers. So AGC counted from Dr Wee Kim Wee 5 Presidents with elected powers. PM Lee said:“We have taken the Attorney General’s advice. We will start counting from the first President who exercised the powers of the Elected President. That means we are now in the fifth term of the elected Presidency.“
  • The counting is clearly different from what the Commission said previously. If you recall, the Commission said that “An election is reserved for racial group A because no candidate from racial group A has been elected for 5 consecutive terms”. The Commission’s emphasis was on open elections and not Presidents who exercised elected powers.

When you listen to the exchanges going on, you find that something is amiss

He said, according to The Straits Times.


Explain Themselves

Dr Tan concludes that if the government runs a second check on the advice given by the AGC, then will the Parliament and people of Singapore be satisfied with the changes made.

On the other hand, if the government had simply taken the AGC’s advice blindly, Dr Tan conveys his concerns that the Elected Presidency will be “tainted with the suspicion” that the elections of 2017 was introduced to prevent his running for candidacy.

Bad Timing

While Dr Tan has supporters backing his arguments, there are those who question why he chooses to break the silence only now.

In a post on his website, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary-General of the the Reform Party questions why the former presidential candidate is speaking up a year later than he should have.

I am not going to argue that Dr TCB is late by a year. I am going to argue that his lateness in speaking up and his reticence go back way further than that. It is clear that Dr Tan’s failure to speak up goes back at least to the first Presidential Election contest in 1993 when he was still a PAP MP.

While Dr Tan has raised some very good points in his speech at the press conference, it does bring about the question — why is he only raising such issues now, and why wasn’t anything done when he was still an MP?

Featured image from The Straits Times