On 18 August 2023, the Elections Department (ELD) of Singapore announced three names who would contest in the country’s presidential election: former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song and former NTUC Income CEO Tan Kin Lian.
This is 75-year-old Tan’s second attempt at becoming the Head of the State of Singapore. He had announced his bid to run for the post on 11 August, applying for the Certificate of Eligibility under the private sector service track.
In its official announcement, the ELD said the Presidential Elections Committee noted that Tan has “experience and ability that is comparable to the experience and ability of a person who has served as the chief executive of a typical company with at least SGD 500 million of shareholders’ equity and who satisfies Article 19(4)(a) of the Constitution in relation to such service.”
In his interviews since, Tan has positioned himself as an “independent candidate” as opposed to Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Ng Kok Song, both of whom, he says, “represent the establishment candidate”.
He has also underlined that he will perform two key duties of the president as set out in the constitution — “safeguard past reserves” and “protect the integrity of public service”. “If elected, I intend to perform these two key duties diligently, honestly, and to the best of my abilities,” he said in a blog post on 13 August.
Additionally, he announced he plans to focus on “bringing down the cost of living, ensuring affordable housing for all, and securing jobs that provide a sense of stability and a path to progress.”
On the personal front, Tan is married to Tay Siew Hong, who is 67 years old. Not much is known about her. Tan has described her as a “homemaker” since their marriage. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.
Tan, Tharman and Ng can campaign from 22 to 30 August. The cooling-off day will be on 31 August. Singaporeans will be casting their votes for their choice of president on polling day on 1 September, which has been declared a public holiday. In Singapore, voting is compulsory for all who are eligible.
Here are some interesting facts about Tan Kin Lian
Tan lived in rental rooms during his childhood
Tan has always been open about his humble upbringing. In his own words, Tan’s father operated “a small boat to transport fish from the Riau Islands to Singapore”.
In a blog post on 30 July 2023, Tan revealed he was born into a family of six children and lived in rental rooms. The family “had to move from place to place” as the leases expired.
He further wrote, “My father lost his livelihood during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1965. I left school after Secondary 4 to work to support the family.”
He was a meritorious student
Tan has maintained he was “among the top students in Raffles Institution.” This fact was corroborated by the late physician and Opposition politician, Dr Wong Wee Nam, in his June 2011 profile of Tan.
In the profile, published by The Online Citizen (TOC), Dr Wong, who was a year senior to Tan at Raffles Institution and later worked with him at NTUC Income, revealed that poverty ended the presidential hopeful’s schooling.
“Though he topped his primary school for most years and won prizes almost every year at Raffles Institution and came in second at the School Certificate examinations, his formal education did not go beyond secondary four,” wrote Dr Wong.
Quoting Dr Wong Sin Hee, a classmate who studied with Tan, the article revealed that he performed well in his O-levels but had to go out to work to support his family.
“He was a very quiet and unassuming fella. Took the bus home – Tay Koh Yat Bus. Brilliant, intelligent and very helpful with subjects like mathematics and algebra,” Dr Wong Sin Hee said, adding, Tan “later supported himself by taking night classes and eventually proceeded to the top as one of Singapore’s earliest and top actuarist. [sic]”
He was a former member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP)
Tan never held public office, but he was a member of PAP from the 1970s to 2008. As a member, he was the party’s branch secretary for Goh Chok Tong (later Prime Minister of Singapore) at Marine Parade for three years from 1976 to 1979. He later became the chairman of the Marine Parade Community Centre before leaving in 1983.
In a press conference on 11 August, Tan spoke more about his past association with the party. “I was very proud to be helping the PAP in those days when it was very clear that it (has) the support of the population, a large part of the population, and I did what I could to contribute to them,” he said.
“The PAP today is quite different. I think many people feel that they are more towards the elite and not towards ordinary people. So, therefore, you must remember the PAP itself has changed its orientation,” he added, explaining his reason for leaving the party.
He said that he is an “independent candidate” and came “from outside the establishment”.
In 2011, Tan said he was approached by PAP to stand as a candidate. “I was approached around 1979 to stand as a PAP candidate. I was not ready at that time as I had to focus on my work and family. I believed at that time that an MP should be full-time to do the job well. I was asked again informally about my interest a few years later, but I was not keen. By then, I had become quite unhappy with the direction of PAP policies,” he told Dr Wong in his 2011 profile for TOC.
He claims that assets of NTUC Income rose 600 times under him
Tan joined NTUC Income as its CEO in 1977, after working for 12 years in an insurance company, two trading companies and an actuarial consulting firm.
He said in his 30 July blog post that the assets of the insurer had increased by 600 times from SGD 28 million when he started running it to SGD 17 billion when he left in 2007.
The 2006 annual report (Transition) by NTUC Income acknowledges Tan’s contribution. “From an asset base of SGD 40 million in 1977, it now has total assets of nearly SGD 19 billion and annual premiums exceeding SGD 2 billion,” the report reads.
After leaving NTUC Income, Tan reportedly started a computer software business and provided insurance consultancy in Indonesia.
Commenting on what he loved about NTUC Income, Tan said in his blog, “I enjoyed working in Income because it was a cooperative society. Most of the profits that it made were plowed[sic.] back to give higher bonuses to its policyholders. They did not go to pay big dividends to shareholders or to pay high salaries of the board and top management.”
He added to his blog that there were over a million policyholders insured by NTUC Income during his time.
“They know that I run Income for the benefit of the policyholders and were happy with the benefits from their insurance policies. I hope that these policyholders will support me in this presidential election and ask their children to support me also,” he said.
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He came last in the 2011 presidential election
Tan was one of the four candidates who contested the 2011 presidential election. He secured 4.91 per cent of the more than 2.2 million votes to finish last. As such, he lost his deposit of SGD 48,000.
The other three candidates were former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, Progress Singapore Party founder Tan Cheng Bock and Opposition politician Tan Jee Say.
Dr Tony Tan was elected the President of Singapore with 35.2 per cent of the vote.
Explaining his decision to contest again, he said he was advised by his team that businessman George Goh might not meet the qualifying criteria, which would turn the election into a two-way contest between Ng Kok Song and Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
“We don’t want to have a contest between two candidates that are from the establishment, and it will also look very bad… because the people of Singapore will be very sceptical,” Tan said at his 11 August press conference.
Tan is very active on Facebook and loves cycling
With a follower count of over 66,000, much of Tan’s social media presence is via Facebook, where he shares glimpses of his personal life and his thoughts on various matters.
He also loves cycling and posts videos showing him on his biking trips. The presidential election candidate has also said he would like to open the grounds of The Istana, the presidential residence, for cycling on Saturday mornings if he won.
He is also a stamp collector
The 2011 TOC profile also revealed Tan’s love for collecting stamps.
“Stamp-collecting brought him happy memories,” Dr Wong wrote in the profile.
“Till today he still remembers a primary school teacher Esther Chew, from his Griffiths Primary School, for her kind gesture of giving a collection of attractive stamps from Greece,” says the article about Tan’s hobby.
He also played rugby for a short time, had his own circle of friends in the scouting movement, and taught himself to play the harmonica.
(Hero and Featured images: Tan Kin Lian/@kinlian/Facebook)
This story first appeared on Prestige Online Singapore