Singaporean presidential election, 2011

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Singapore Presidential Election, 2011
← 2005 27 August 2011 2017 →
  Tony Tan 20110623.jpg Dr-Tan-Cheng-Bock-at-Nomination-Centre-1.jpg
Nominee Tan Keng Yam, Tony Tan Cheng Bock
Popular vote 745,693 738,311
Percentage 35.20% 34.85%
  TanJeeSay.jpg Tan-Kin-Lian-wearing-orchid-shirt.jpg
Nominee Tan Jee Say Tan Kin Lian
Popular vote 530,441 104,095
Percentage 25.04% 4.91%

President before election

S.R. Nathan

Elected President

Tony Tan Keng Yam

Coat of arms of Singapore (blazon).svg
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The Singaporean presidential election of 2011 was the fourth Singaporean presidential election, held on 27 August 2011. Nomination Day for eligible candidates was held on 17 August 2011.[1] S.R. Nathan, the previous President of Singapore, stepped down on 31 August 2011 when his term drew to a close. He could have sought re-election, as there is no term limit, but he declined to do so.[2]

Four candidates were issued certificates of eligibility by Singapore's Presidential Elections Committee, and all four were nominated on Nomination Day. This was the first contested election since the 1993 election and the first presidential race with more than two candidates in Singaporean history. With 2,153,014 local votes and 3,375 overseas votes cast, this was also the biggest democratic exercise in Singapore to date.

All four eligible candidates are Chinese Singaporeans, and by coincidence, all have the surname of Tan. This meant that by Nomination Day, it was certain that Singapore's next president will be named "President Tan", and that Singapore would have a president of Chinese heritage, for the first time since Ong Teng Cheong stepped down from the Presidency in 1999.

The election was a close contest, with the winner Tony Tan winning by 0.35%.


The president is the head of state of Singapore. Following the Westminster system, the position is largely ceremonial, but enjoys several reserve powers including withholding presidential assent on supply bills and changing or revoking civil service appointments.[3][4] The current system of holding elections for the Presidency began with the 1993 election. Before then, the president was selected by Parliament.

There are strict requirements for prospective election candidates, and whether a candidate meets the qualifications or not is decided by the Election Department.

The Presidency is, by the rules of the Constitution, nonpartisan. However, in this election, three of the four candidates had connections to the dominant People's Action Party, and the fourth contested the recent 2011 general election under the banner of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Parliamentary reform[edit]

On 11 March 2010, the Government tabled three bills in the parliament to amend the Constitution, the Presidential Elections Act and the Parliamentary Elections Act.[5] A one-day "cooling-off" day was implemented, during which campaigning was forbidden, with only party political broadcasts allowed. Internet campaigning was also formally legalised as a legitimate means of political campaigning.[5] On 26 April 2010, the amendments to the Constitution were passed by a vote of 74–1 after a three-hour debate on the bill.[6]



Tan Cheng Bock was one of the first candidates to declare his candidacy.
Candidates Background
Tan Cheng Bock A former People's Action Party (PAP) member who was a Member of Parliament (MP) representing Ayer Rajah Single Member Constituency (Ayer Rajah SMC) from 1980 to 2006, declared his intention to contest in the upcoming presidential election on 27 May 2011.[7] He submitted the presidency forms on 22 July.[8]
Tan Kin Lian Former NTUC Income Chief Executive Officer and former PAP Branch Secretary for Marine Parade, said on 3 June 2011 that he may stand for president, but will only confirm at a later date.[9] He later confirmed that he would be running on 7 June 2011.[10] He submitted the eligibility forms on 7 July.[11]
Tony Tan A former PAP member who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Executive Director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), officially declared his candidacy on 23 June 2011, after speculations that he would run. Tan also announced that he would resign from his posts at the GIC and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to alleviate concerns over conflict of interest.[12] He submitted his presidential eligibility forms on 7 July.[11]
Tan Jee Say A former civil servant and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member, announced he would be running on 15 July.[13] He said that he did so as "many Singaporeans want a non-PAP President whose independence of the PAP is clear, obvious and cannot be in doubt." He submitted the eligibility forms on 3 August.[14]

Declared ineligible[edit]

Candidates Background
Andrew Kuan A former JTC Corporation group Chief Financial Officer (CFO), who attempted to run for the Presidency in 2005 before being controversially disqualified, stated that he will collect eligibility forms 'some time in July'.[15] He picked up the forms on 27 July.[16] He was found to be ineligible, with the same reason as the 2005 race, in that his position as CFO of JTC Corporation was not comparable to those of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO).[17]
Ooi Boon Ewe Former leader of the People's Liberal Democratic Party and perennial seeker of the presidency in the last two elections, announced his bid for the presidency on 1 June 2011.[18] He submitted his forms on 11 July,[19] and was found to be ineligible because his application was incomplete and he had asked for a waiver from certain requirements set forth by the Constitution, which the Elections Department claims it has no power to do.[17]


S.R Nathan was eligible for another term, but he announced that he would not run for re-election.
Despite being considered as a frontrunner early on, George Yeo eventually decided not to run.
Candidates Background
President S. R. Nathan he was reportedly considering re-election,[20] but announced on 2 July 2011 that he would not run for re-election.[21]
Former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar he was considering a run, he stated that he would not be running in an interview.[22]
Chiam See Tong Singapore People's Party (SPP) leader and former Member of Parliament (MP) for Potong Pasir Single Member Constituency (Potong Pasir SMC), announced that he would not run for the presidency on 10 June, despite earlier speculation that he was considering running for the presidency.[23]
George Yeo Former Minister for Foreign Affairs and MP for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (Aljunied GRC), initially ruled out a run for president or any form of elected office after his defeat in Aljunied GRC during the general election.[24] He later called himself a "free spirit" and said that he did not feel that he was "temperamentally suited for such a job".[25] He then announced on Facebook that he was seriously considering a run for the Presidency.[26][27] On 5 June 2011, Yeo announced that he will make a decision on running for president within 2 weeks, and has asked his friends to pick up eligibility forms on his behalf.[28] Yeo later said on 15 June that he would not run for the Presidency[29] on his Facebook page.[30]
Zainul Abidin bin Mohamed Rasheed Former MP for Aljunied GRC, declined to announce a candidacy on 29 May, but did not categorically rule out a run, declaring that he wished to take a break before making any decisions. He did not make any further statements on a possible campaign afterwards.[31]
  • Businessman Mike Lee Kheng Siang announced his bid for the presidency on 1 June 2011,[32] but did not submit it as he discovered that he did not meet the requirement of being a private company CEO for 3 years. He resigned as CEO of Global Ariel 5 months shy of the 3-year mark in July 2007.[33]
Former food stall owner Mohamed Raffi Bashir Ahmed he collected eligibility forms at the Election Department headquarters on 9 June. He was later investigated by Singaporean law enforcement authorities for disorderly conduct.[34]


In alphabetical order:

Tan Cheng Bock[edit]

Tan Cheng Bock received a formal endorsement from the Singapore Baseball and Softball Association.[35]

Tan Jee Say[edit]

Tan Jee Say was endorsed by Nicole Seah from the National Solidarity Party (NSP),[36] as well as Vincent Wijeysingha, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Steve Chia,[37] and candidate-hopeful Andrew Kuan (who was not awarded a COE).[38] He also received an endorsement from the political website Temasek Review Emeritus.[39]

Tan Kin Lian[edit]

Tan Kin Lian did not receive any group endorsements. He said during a walkabout in Tiong Bahru, "I met so many people here today. They tell me they want to support me, they tell me 'Mr Tan, please don't drop out, give us a chance to vote'. So I want to be endorsed by the people."[40]

Tony Tan[edit]

As of 20 August 2011, Tony Tan was endorsed by:

  • 21 unions (including the Transport and Logistics cluster, the Marine and Machinery Engineering cluster, and the Infocomm and Media cluster) which collectively represent about 112,000 workers[41]
  • Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI)[42]
  • Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI)[43]
  • Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI)[44]
  • Federation of Tan Clan Associations[45] with 10,000 members
  • Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA)[46]
  • Nine Teochew clan associations[47]



  • 10 – George Yeo declines to run for Presidency, or any other forms of elected office, after his defeat in the May 2011 general election, calling himself a "free spirit" and not "temperamentally suited" for the Presidency.[24]
  • 27 – Tan Cheng Bock announces candidacy.[7]
  • 29 – Zainul Abidin declines to run for the Presidency, but left open the option of declaring a run in the future. He did not make any announcement on a run for the Presidency afterward.[31]


  • 1 – Applications for Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to run in the race were made available.[48]
  • 1 – Mark Lee announces his candidacy.[32]
  • 1 – Ooi Boon Ewe announces his candidacy, while asking the Election Department to waive one of the constitutional requirements for the Presidency for him.[18]
  • 2 – George Yeo backtracks from earlier statement, announces on Facebook that he is "thinking hard" about a run.[27]
  • 3 – Tan Kin Lian said he will announce his candidacy at a "later date".*[9]
  • 3 – Mark Lee announces that he is ineligible for the Presidency.[33]
  • 5 – George Yeo announces he will make a decision on a potential candidacy in 2 weeks, and asked friends to pick up the eligibility forms on his behalf.[28]
  • 7 – Tan Kin Lian announces his candidacy.[10]
  • 9 – S. Jayakumar declines to run for president during a newspaper interview.[22]
  • 9 – Mohamed Raffi Bashir Ahmed collected eligibility forms for the Presidency.[34]
  • 9 – Channel NewsAsia reveals that Andrew Kuan will collect his eligibility forms and run for president.[34]
Dr & Mrs Tan at the press conference announcing his candidacy, June 2011.
Tony Tan and his wife at the press conference announcing his candidacy, June 2011.
  • 10 – Chiam See Tong declines to run for president.[23]
  • 15 – George Yeo declines to run for president.[29][30]
  • 23 – Tony Tan announces his candidacy.[12]
  • 26 – Tan Kin Lian told Shin Min Daily News that he does not rule out the possibility of discussing with Tan Cheng Bock, of one of them dropping out of the campaign to prevent a three-cornered fight.[49]
  • 28 – Tan Cheng Bock responded that he would not drop the presidential bid even if Tan Kin Lian approaches him about it.[50]


Tan Kin Lian speaking to the media after submitting election forms


Tan Cheng Bock waving to reporters at the nomination centre.
  • 3 – Writ of Election issued.[51]
  • 3 – Tan Jee Say submits eligibility forms.[14]
  • 5 – Andrew Kuan submits eligibility forms.[52]
  • 6 – Applications close for certificates of eligibility.[53]
  • 11 – Tan Cheng Bock, Tony Tan, Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say are awarded certificates of eligibility. Tan Cheng Bock and Tony Tan were awarded the certificates pursuant to Article 19(2)(e) of the Constitution. Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say satisfied Articles 19(2)(e) and 19(2)(g)(iv) of the Constitution.
  • 17 – Nomination Day.[54] Four candidates were nominated.[55] Election symbols for the candidates were unveiled.[56]
  • 23 – Tan Jee Say holds night rally at Toa Payoh Stadium.[57]
  • 24 – Tony Tan holds lunchtime rally at Boat Quay, next to the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Plaza.[58] Tan Kin Lian holds night rally at Yio Chu Kang Stadium.[59]
  • 25 – Tan Cheng Bock holds night indoor rally at the Singapore Expo.[60]
  • 26 – Cooling-off day
  • 27 – Polling Day[54]


Various analysts said that while George Yeo is still a PAP member (the Constitution prohibits the president from having party membership), his popularity seems to have survived his defeat at Aljunied GRC. Some analysts noted that should Yeo decide to run, he should be well-suited for the Presidency, noting that he has served in various cabinet positions.[61] Others were critical of the speed with which Yeo announced his intention not to contest in future his lost parliamentary seat, his comments about being "temperamentally" unsuited to the presidency, and the likely difficulty of him claiming any independence from the PAP in a contested election.[26][62]

After Yeo declined to run for the Presidency, political analysts said Tony Tan would be one of the more suitable candidates, even though Tan himself had yet to declare his candidacy at that time.[63]


Since late June, Minister for Law K. Shanmugam expressed concerns that voters and prospective candidates were confusing or misinterpreting the president's powers, and clarified what the office could and could not do.[64] In August, he said at a forum, "The president can speak on issues only as authorised by the Cabinet” and that “[he] must follow the advice of the Cabinet in the discharge of his duties." He also said, "If [the president] is someone who commands little or no respect of the prime minister, then of course influence will be limited."[65][66] The then six presidential hopefuls commented on his remarks on the presidential role.[67]

In an e-mail to reporters from the Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in early July, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong praised Tony Tan's performance during his time in Cabinet, and stopping short of an outright endorsement, said that should Tony Tan be elected president, he would be able to unite Singaporeans, and bring honour to the country.[68]

In early August, Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan echoed Lee Hsien Loong's sentiments on Tony Tan at a National Day banquet in Sembawang, stating that he will be an excellent president, and make the nation proud. In what could be construed as an endorsement, Khaw publicly wished Tony Tan will win the Presidency.[69]

In a break with the past, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) President and Member of Parliament Lim Swee Say said the NTUC will not force all its constituent trades union to endorse one candidate, and that the constituent trades union may endorse any candidate as they desire.[70]


Campaigning, on a widespread scale, did not happen until late July. The first instance of a campaign reportedly happened on 17 June, when Shin Min Daily News reported that Tan Cheng Bock was starting to meet voters at various bazaars in Singapore.[71]

On 1 August, Shin Min Daily News reported that four of the presidential candidates were meeting with voters over the preceding weekend. Tan Kin Lian went to Batam, Indonesia, to meet with Singaporeans in the region, while Tan Cheng Bock was meeting with young voters at a local youth park.[72]

On 7 August, Lianhe Zaobao reported that Tan Cheng Bock had visited at least 10 neighbourhoods in Singapore, and planned to visit more.[73]

There are spending limits for all Singaporean elections. A presidential candidate may not spend more than SG$600,000, or 30 cents per elector, whichever amount is greater. Overspending incurs a $2,000 fine, as well as disqualification from running or voting in any elections for 3 years.[74]

On 8 July, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issued a statement on presidential campaigns. He said campaigning for the presidential election will mostly be done on television, due to its reach. Each candidate will be given two 10-minute blocks of free airtime in the form of a presidential candidate broadcast (PCB). The PCBs would be translated. The first PCB would be aired after Nomination Day on the 17th, and the second would be aired on the eve of polling day. In addition, MediaCorp would produce a series of programmes on the candidates.[75]


On 3 August, the Singapore government announced that polling day would be 27 August.[54]

A total of 2.27 million voters were expected to vote in the elections, though the actual amount of votes cast were 2.15 million. It was also announced that voters would be casting votes on "ballot papers which carry each presidential candidate's photograph as well as a graphic image of an object chosen by the candidate". This was to allow Singaporean voters to recognise the presidential candidates more easily when marking their choice on the paper.

For the first time, voters could print out their polling cards from the Elections Department website if they do not receive them in the mail.[76]

A total of 140,000 Singaporeans were expunged from the voting list for not voting in the 2011 general election, while 71,000 names have been reinstated.[19]

Voting is compulsory in Singapore. Voters whose name was expunged from the voting list would be ineligible to vote in future presidential or parliamentary elections, in addition to being ineligible to contest these elections. Voters can apply to be reinstated to the Register of Electors, but a S$50 fine is imposed on those who did not vote without a valid reason.[77]


At 8.00 pm, polling stations closed and ballot boxes were then sealed, and delivered to counting centres. The first candidate to concede defeat was Tan Kin Lian at about 10.30 pm local time, around two and a half hours after polls closed. He added he might not get his deposit of S$48,000 back but the experience of running the race has been useful. He said he was somewhat disappointed, but he believed he had put up a good fight and expected to do much better. He made a hint of the result by saying it "will be a tough fight between the top two candidates". When asked who the top two candidates were, Tan declined to comment. [78]

At 1.19 am on 28 August, it was announced by the Elections Department that a recount of ballots would begin, as the top two candidates, Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock's votes had a difference of less than 2 percent. The Returning Officer "allowed the recounting of all votes cast" after the first tally showed they were less than two percent apart, the statement said. [79]

At 4.23 am SST, the results were released by Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee at the Elections Department at Prinsep Street. [80]

Result for the presidential election 2011. Tan Cheng Bock, 737,128 votes. Tan Jee Say, 529,732 votes. Tony Tan Keng Yam, 744,397 votes Tan Kin Lian, 103,931 votes. Rejected votes, 37,826. Total votes cast, 2,153,014. The local votes counted are conclusive of the results. Pursuant to Section 32, Subsection 8D, Paragraph A of the Presidential Elections Act, I declare Tony Tan Keng Yam as the candidate elected as the President of Singapore.

Tony Tan had won 35.2% of the votes, leading by a 0.34 percent margin ahead of Tan Cheng Bock.

e • d Summary of the 27 August 2011 Singaporean presidential election results[81][82][83]
Candidate Symbol Results
Votes % of valid votes
Tony Tan Keng Yam Spectacles-SG2001-transparent.png 745,693 35.20
Tan Cheng Bock Traveller's palm logo, Singaporean presidential election, 2011.svg 738,311 34.85
Tan Jee Say Heart-SG2001-transparent.png 530,441 25.04
Tan Kin Lian Hand-SG2001-transparent.png 104,095 4.91
Valid votes 2,118,540 98.24% of total votes cast
Rejected votes 37,849 1.76% of total votes cast
Total votes cast 2,156,389 Voter turnout: 94.8% of electorate
Absent 118,384
Electorate 2,274,773

Post-election events[edit]

Reactions of candidates[edit]

Subsequently, Tony Tan made his thank you speech at Toa Payoh Stadium, and pledged to work for all Singaporeans. He also thanked the other three candidates who "have campaigned with vigour, giving Singaporeans a choice".[80] At a subsequent press conference that afternoon, Tony Tan emphasised that the president works for all Singaporeans and he will not be an "ivory tower President", just as President S.R. Nathan was not. When asked his thoughts about the tight race and his winning margin of just 0.34 percentage points over his closest rival Tan Cheng Bock, Tony Tan said his results were "decisive" in Singapore's first past-the-post system.[84]

Subsequently, Tan Cheng Bock held a press conference in the afternoon as well. Speaking to the media at his first news conference following the presidential election results, Tan Cheng Bock said he wanted to continue unifying Singaporeans. He planned to continue engaging Singaporeans through social media such as his Facebook page and blog by making comments and suggestions. He said this was where the majority of youth lie and he believes they need to be better informed. Tan Cheng Bock announced his intention to return to his medical practice and did not rule out the possibility of running again for the next presidential election in 2017.[85]

As for the third placed candidate Tan Jee Say, he released a statement in the afternoon of 28 August and said he looked forward to Tony Tan performing the duties and responsibilities of the office of president in a fair and honourable manner. He also congratulated Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian "for their earnest campaign".[86] Earlier in the morning after the results were announced, Tan Jee Say said although he had lost the election, it was still a "victory of hearts" in a press conference because by standing up to be counted, a voice was given to Singaporeans that will continue to be heard. When asked whether he would rejoin the Singapore Democratic Party, he said he had not made up his mind to do so.[87]

Reaction of the Prime Minister[edit]

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a statement released from his office soon after the declaration of results, said the election has been an intensely fought election, and the result was very close. Lee said both Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock (who had the next highest number of votes) conveyed strong unifying messages and declared their intention to work closely with the government. Both had long records of public service but was "reassuring that Singaporean voters recognised and valued their strengths, as well as their inclusive approach". He called Tony Tan to congratulate him on his election and assure him of "his government's full cooperation" and also called Tan Cheng Bock to thank him and his supporters for "having fought an effective and dignified campaign".[88]

Calls for voting reform[edit]

The Reform Party, an opposition political party, released a statement on its website on 28 August. While congratulating Tony Tan on his election, it stated that a two-round system should be implemented in place of first-past-the-post voting. It proposed that a runoff election should be held a week later after the first round in future elections. In addition, the statement added: "the President should unite Singaporeans of all political persuasions and views. To do this he needs to be elected by a clear majority of votes cast and not just on an almost statistically insignificant difference between him and the runner-up." [89]

Counting of overseas votes[edit]

On 31 August, overseas votes were counted. In all, there were 3,375 overseas voters. Tony Tan received the most votes, at 1,296, Tan Cheng Bock had 1,183 votes, Tan Jee Say had 709, and Tan Kin Lian had 164. The voting pattern for overseas votes is similar to that of local votes, with Tony Tan taking 38.66 per cent of the vote, Tan Cheng Bock took 35.29 per cent, Tan Jee Say was at 21.15 per cent and Tan Kin Lian was at 4.89 per cent. There were 23 rejected votes and one spoilt vote.

Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee thanked the more than 20,000 election officials who participated in the exercise from Nomination Day to the Polling Day to the counting process; in addition the efficiency of the officials allowed the 2.13 million local votes to be counted. Both Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock, and a representative for Tan Jee Say, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, turned up at the People's Association Headquarters on the afternoon to witness the counting.

Tony Tan thanked all the overseas voters who turned up to cast their vote while Tan Cheng Bock expressed that he was pleasantly surprised at the result as he expected Tony Tan to garner a higher percentage of overseas votes. [90]

Presidential inauguration[edit]

At 7.30pm SST of 1 September, outgoing president S.R. Nathan received his final presidential salute from members of the Singapore Armed Forces at the Istana, before he left office with his wife to retire to his home in East Coast. Later, Tony Tan arrived with his wife Mary and at 8.00pm SST, Tan was sworn in as president at the Istana, in the presence of the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet, selected guests and Members of Parliament. Tan said in his speech: "I will wield this 'second key' with utmost care. Our reserves have been painstakingly built up over decades, and should not be compromised. Our government must continue to live within its means, and only draw on past reserves in an exceptional crisis - like the one we faced in 2008. I therefore welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that the government will continue to be responsible with our finances. I will play my role to safeguard our reserves, so that they can continue to give us confidence in tough times." This was in reference to the custodial powers of the Singapore presidency, in which the president acts as a fiscal guardian to the national reserves. Tan added he can be both a resource and a symbol and would offer the Prime Minister his confidential advice on government policies and engage all Singaporeans to understand their interests and concerns. [91]


Margin of victory[edit]

According to Singapore Elections, an archive of Singapore election results, a post made on its Facebook page stated that the presidential election of 2011 "has established a new record of the second-narrowest percentage margin in [Singapore's] election history, after River Valley in [General Election 1959] (margin of around 0.1%) and beating Sepoy Lines in the City Council Election 1957 (margin of around 0.4%)". In comparison, the margin of victory for Tony Tan was only 0.35 percent over his closest rival Tan Cheng Bock.


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