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'There's no chance I'll lose my deposit': Tan Kin Lian confident about his presidency bid

He suffered the ignominy of losing his deposit in the last contested presidential election back in 2011.

But Tan Kin Lian is supremely confident that lightning will not strike twice on Friday (Sept 1), when Singaporeans take to the polls to vote for their ninth president.

"There's no chance I'll lose my deposit," the relaxed and jovial 75-year-old said in an interview with AsiaOne at his Yio Chu Kang home on Monday.

Tan is the third presidential hopeful to sit down with AsiaOne for a one-on-one interview, after Ng Kok Song and George Goh. Tharman Shanmugaratnam did not accept our offer.

Buoyed by endorsements from his former election opponents Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Jee Say, the presidential candidate is even fancying his chances of emerging on top.

The three "Tans" were candidates in 2011's four-way presidential election, and together garnered 65 per cent of the ballots.

This is the reason why Tan, who once labelled himself as a statistician, is confident of beating former PAP stalwart Tharman Shanmugaratnam and ex-GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song in the polls.

"I'll be surprised if I get 65 per cent of the votes," the former NTUC Income chief executive said. "But I only need 50 per cent and one vote, or maybe less because there are now three candidates. 

"I'm quite confident that I have a very fair chance of winning."

A bold statement from Tan. After all, it was only a month ago when he wrote on Facebook that his chance of beating a "popular and formidable" Tharman in the polls is "probably 10 per cent".

Another reason for Tan's renewed optimism of being elected president? He believes that "more people are recognising the need for change".

This is due to the "economic hardship" that is "partly driven" by the GST hike, claimed Tan, adding that Singaporeans "want something to be done to lower the cost of living". 

"They also think that it is important to have a president who can exercise his constitutional duties independently. So I think my support this time will be much higher," he added.

Toning it down on social media? 

Tan's confidence in his presidential bid is not the only thing noticeably different from the 2011 contest.

After conceding defeat with just 4.91 per cent of the votes, Tan told reporters then that the "disappointing result" was due to the nine days given for campaigning, which he thought was not long enough for people to know him.

Tan added that he will continue conveying the "ideals of the people to the government via other channels."

Fast forward 12 years later, Tan has built a sizable online presence by giving regular hot takes to his 68,000 followers on Facebook.

His social media activities, however, have drawn ire in this presidential election.

A TikTok video that compiled several of Tan's past Facebook posts went viral just a week after he launched his presidential bid on Aug 10.

Tan had occasionally made references to "pretty girls", "pretty joggers" and "pretty slim girls" on his public Facebook page previously. 

These social media posts triggered widespread backlash from netizens, with gender equality group Aware questioning how Tan was cleared to participate in the presidential elections.

But Tan hit back, calling the criticism "a concerted effort by his competitors to smear him".

Speaking to the media on Nomination Day, he said: "I did say there are some pretty girls, but the pretty girls take the effort to dress up to be attractive. When I say that they are attractive, most of them actually feel quite happy,

"In this election, suddenly somebody... says 'I feel uncomfortable'. But there are more than 100,000 people who watched the posts over 10 years. Why do you feel uncomfortable now?"

While on the campaign trail, his views on the LGBT community similarly divided opinions.

Tan told AsiaOne that before running for president a second time, he has never thought of deleting these egregious Facebook posts, or tone down his public opinions.

"That would not be authentic. Not genuine," said Tan. "They were not meant to be offensive."

Looking straight at the camera, he added: "They were actually meant to be very light hearted, but some people were offended. Please accept my apologies."

Will Tan continue sharing his "alternative views" on social media if he's president?

"I will be a different person. My views will be discussed privately with the government," he said. 

'Presidential election not political. Just a contest'

But Tan is not compromising on his aim of using the president's "soft powers" to influence policies, such as the cost of living, housing and jobs. 

This is even though several analysts have pointed out this is unrealistic and misleading.

There were also questions raised about his independence after several opposition politicians including Dr Tan came out to endorse his campaign.

Speaking at a walkabout last Sunday (Aug 27), a visibly irritated Ng said that Tan is "dishonouring and disrespecting the office of the president", adding that he has "confused" Singaporeans by "converting the presidential election into a general election".

Meanwhile, Tharman issued a statement that said he had consistently urged his fellow candidates to avoid politicising the election.

“The focus should be on each candidate’s individual character, breadth of experience and ability to contribute to Singapore’s future as head of state,” he noted.

On whether he agrees that the presidential election has "turned too political", Tan insisted that there is still a "distinction" to a general election.

"When you have an election, you will have competing candidates. And they have to present to the people their strong points," he said to AsiaOne. 

"Now, you can describe that as political. But this is just a contest. It does not involve any political party."

Tan is adamant that he is the only presidential candidate with no ties to any political party, with the likes of Lim Tean, Dr Tan and Tan Jee Say supporting him in their "personal capacity".

"My family initially discouraged me from participating [in the presidential elections again]. I would be better off having a retired life, the freedom to live like an ordinary person.

"I came in because some of my friends said it's my duty to make myself available — that I'm among the very few people qualified who are independent."

Wife is more than a homemaker

The furore over Tan's "independence" and his social media posts aside, one of the main highlights of the campaign was his last morning walkabout on Aug 25.

Greeting patrons at Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, it was the first time Tan's wife Tay Siew Hong had joined the campaign trail.

Speaking to AsiaOne, Tan wished that his 67-year-old homemaker wife was seen more often in public by his side.

"But she was busy looking after the grandchildren. And I've promised her I won't exhaust her too much for this election," he said.

"Towards the end of my campaign, it was time for her to join me. I think she was very well received. Many people commented that she will make a very fine First Lady."

That comment would surely raise eyebrows. Especially so when netizens compare her against the other-halves of Tan's presidential election opponents. 

Jane Yumiko Ittogi, who is the wife of Tharman, is a lawyer by training and the chairman of non-profit organisation Tasek Jurong. 

Meanwhile, Ng's fiancee Sybil Lau used to work as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, and is managing her family's wealth. 

But Tan said that Tay's achievements deserve to be just as recognised as the two women. 

He said: "My wife raised three children. And now she's helping to look after five grandchildren, and she'd looked after our parents when they were alive. Homemakers have a very important role.

"When my wife travelled overseas with me, she was very well accepted by the spouses [of employees] from other large insurance companies around the world. I was quite surprised that she was very comfortable.

"She's more popular than me, and I won't complain about that."

'Duty for Singapore'

With just two days left before Polling Day, Tan has looked past the prospect of losing his deposit again. 

The $40,500 he paid upfront for this election pales in comparison to the $100,000 he has spent on his campaign so far. 

While he has controlled his expenditure "quite carefully", Tan hopes his second run at the presidency will be remembered as his "duty for Singapore" to "voice the aspirations of Singaporeans". 

It's the same belief Tan felt back in 2008, when he spoke up for investors who had lost their money investing in Lehman Brothers’ minibond products. 

"Many already told me, 'Mr Tan, thank you for standing up for the people'," he said. "There will be some who don't feel that way. But they will know that my intention to run is not for myself, but for others."

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