SINGAPORE — Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian’s assertion that he is an “independent candidate” is being called into question after he was backed by several notable opposition politicians, despite their claims to be doing so in their personal capacity.
Associate Professor Eugene Tan, law lecturer at Singapore Management University (SMU) and a former Nominated Member of Parliament, said: “The presidency is a non-partisan office and must be above the political fray.
“Having active politicians, including those who promote the Opposition’s cause in the advertising effectively politicises the presidency.
“It effectively asserts that if Tan (Kin Lian) wins, he will attempt to transform the presidency into a partisan institution.”
Assoc Prof Tan also said that the “one vote, three presidents” slogan in the poster “effectively and dangerously compromises the presidency as a unifying institution”.
Taken literally, it would mean that the trio would be in opposition to the elected government of the day.
“To treat the Presidential Election as a political prize to be captured for political ends will undermine the presidency as a critical institution in our system of checks and balances,” he added.
Dr Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, an assistant professor with the School of Social Sciences at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said that Mr Tan Kin Lian is positioning himself as the “ultimate anti-establishment candidate”.
This could be the reason that some members of the opposition parties have “coalesced” around him and his campaign, he added.
The people who vote for Mr Tan Kin Lian may see rival candidate Ng Kok Song as “linked to the establishment”, and therefore vote for the former as a “protest vote” against the ruling People’s Action Party and what it stands for.
“Their desire to send a signal to the ruling party outweighs, in their minds, the idiosyncrasies he (Mr Tan Kin Lian) has displayed over the years,” Dr Walid said.
MESSAGING DEMONSTRATES HE IS ‘NOT INDEPENDENT’
The analysts also said that the poster’s messaging calls into question his claim of being a candidate who is independent of the establishment.
Dr Felix Tan from NTU, whose research interests cover Southeast Asian politics, said that while individuals have the freedom of choice of endorsing Mr Tan Kin Lian in the Presidential Election, it might raise the idea that a vote for him equates to a vote for the Opposition.
“Would this then also mean that a vote for (Tan Kin Lian) would mean a vote for these opposition leaders? Then how ‘independent’ is he as a candidate?”
A separate poster depicting a list of nine members from multiple opposition parties in support of Mr Tan Kin Lian has also been making the rounds online on WhatsApp and Telegram chat groups.
“Vote for Tan Kin Lian and you’ll have all these people helping him to help you,” it reads.
The candidate and his team did not respond to TODAY about the poster seen on the YouTube channel.
As for the second poster, he replied late on Monday night and told TODAY only this: “I am not aware of this graphic.”
Mr Prabu Ramachandran, a candidate for Peoples Voice at 2020 General Election who has been seen accompanying Mr Tan Kin Lian on his campaign walkabouts, wrote in a Facebook post last Tuesday that “Tan Kin Lian been a unifying figure, by first unifying the fragmented opposition parties”.
The political watchers interviewed by TODAY said that these examples showed how “the party affiliations are clear” in voters’ minds despite some of Mr Tan Kin Lian’s supporters repeating the point that they are not representing their political parties.
Dr Felix Tan of NTU said that this would make the Presidential Election “an election between those who are against the establishment and those supporting the establishment, which is not what it should be”.
“For all the ‘independence’ of the candidate that he has spoken about, this strategy clearly demonstrates that he is anything but an independent candidate,” Dr Felix Tan added.
Agreeing, Assoc Prof Tan of SMU said that the President does not have an independent political role or power despite being directly elected by the people, and that party endorsements or endorsements by politicians can harm the presidency.
“The office is defined by the exercise of its custodial powers and he (or she) must scrupulously stand above the fray of partisan politics given the presidency’s vital role as a unifying institution,” Assoc Prof Tan said.
“Mr Tan Kin Lian’s latest tactic destroys any claim of Mr Tan (Kin Lian) to be ‘truly independent’. He will be beholden to the opposition politicians who campaigned for him or endorsed him.”
TODAY has asked ELD whether it is aware of the online material, whether Mr Tan Kin Lian has sought approval for the material and whether its content gives rise to any issues of concern.