Today is Presidential election day for Singapore. Voting is a duty which should be taken seriously by all citizens. Even though each individual will reach different conclusion, the decision making process must be a rational one. This is a prerequisite to a healthy democracy. I write this post for my own decision-making process.
Here are my reasons for voting Tan Kin Lian;
For this presidential election, all 4 candidates are good. So, whatever the outcome, it cannot go too wrong.
As a Singaporean, I rate the most important responsibility of the President as looking after our money and watching over our hard-earned reserves. The 2 most important qualities are independence and competence. They are the same qualities that we seek in an auditor who watch over the companies of which we are shareholders.
In terms of knowledge and competence, Dr Tony Tan beats all his competitors. However, the position of president puts him in a conflict of interest as a former key man at GIC(Government Investment Corp) which invests our government's reserves. As the president's job is to watch over our reserves, putting Tony Tan as President is like putting a retired CEO to head the auditing team for his former company. It is like getting an auditor to watch over his own past work. I do not feel comfortable about this conflict of interest. Besides, even if Tony Tan does not become president, his talents will not go to waste. Given his close ties to the PAP, the government can always seek his advice at a personal level even if he is not President. In fact, if he is indeed a financial expert as widely believed, Dr Tony Tan going back to GIC to generate more investment returns may be more beneficial to Singapore than he becoming a President with no executive powers. This is a good deal for Singaporeans. Singaporeans can vote in another President and still enjoy the benefit of having Tony Tan around to work for the country.
Much has been said about Tan Jee Say being independent and most willing to stand up to the government to ask pertinent questions. In fact, many people think he is too confrontational as he is most associated to the opposition currently. I have reservations on this point and fear the opposite may happen. Tan Jee Say got a good headstart in his career in the civil service. Any decent person will feel grateful to his former bosses who gave him a good start in his career. I believe Tan Jee Say is a good man of gratitude who will repay his benefactors because he was a filial son who took personal care of his mother in her last days. If Tan Jee Say becomes President, it is politically correct to expect that PAP ministers will try to become friends with him. In politics, friends and enemies turn on a dime. Old friendships will return and it is possible that TJS may become too close with the government to be independent. He owes some of the PAP ministers a moral debt for giving him a good start in his career. As a decent man, he cannot ignore this moral debt.
Tan Cheng Bock has a mind of his own. He has a track record of speaking out against the PAP when he disagrees with them. He is not a yes-man. Also, I do believe him when he claims to be to be financially competent. However, the key consideration is whether he is more financially competent than the other candidates. In comparison to Tan Kin Lian, TKL's experience in NTUC Income which he took from a start-up to a respectable power in the insurance industry should provide better financial training than Tan Cheng Bock's experience as a non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup. The financial competence level required of the President is not to be underestimated. The President is only 1 person. The cabinet is full of smart people with experience managing the whole economy. Should there be any disagreement, a president not armed with sufficient financial knowledge is as good as a puppet if he cannot hold his own against a powerful, competent cabinet. If the President is not competent enough, then whatever the other side says, he will just nod his head. What else can you do if the other side is much more knowledgeable and can run circles round you with their eloquent arguments? Compared to a full-time CEO in an insurance company, a medical doctor is not likely to be more financially competent, even if he is a very smart person.
Tan Kin Lian spoke out for Singaporean victims who lost money in the Lehman Brothers Minibond debacle. It is a move which lost him friends and gained powerful enemies in the financial services industry which he worked in all his life. I respected him for the sacrifice. In fact, as a retail investor, I am surprised he is not sitting on the board of directors on any public-listed companies given his background. I guess he made too many powerful enemies. From what has been seen in the Lehman Brothers Minibonds episode, I have no doubt of his independence and the courage to speak up when the need arises. Given his background as a CEO who brought NTUC Income from a start-up to a power to be reckoned with in the insurance industry, I have no reason to doubt his financial competence. I think he is the most independent and second-most financially competent candidate among the 4.
Therefore he gets my vote.