Tan Cheng Bock

Tan Cheng Bock

Tan at his residence on 17 August 2011
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Ayer Rajah SMC
In office
23 December 1980 - 6 May 2006
Preceded by None
Succeeded by S. Iswaran (West Coast GRC)
Majority 12,967 (76.0%)
Personal details
Born (1940-04-26) 26 April 1940
Nationality Singaporean
Political party None
(formerly People's Action Party until May 2011)
Spouse(s) Cecilia Lee Choon Lian
Children 1 son and 1 daughter
Alma mater University of Singapore
Occupation General practitioner
Profession Medical practitioner
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]
Website www.tanchengbock.org
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tan.

Tan Cheng Bock (simplified Chinese: 陈清木; traditional Chinese: 陳清木; pinyin: Chén Chīng Mù; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân Chheng-bo̍k; born 26 April 1940) is a Singaporean politician and medical practitioner. He was formerly a member of Singapore's governing People's Action Party (PAP) and a Member of Parliament from 1980 to 2006. He was the first non-Cabinet minister elected into the PAP Central Executive Committee (1987–96). He stood for the 2011 presidential election and won the second highest number of votes at 34.85% among all four candidates, losing marginally to the winner Tony Tan.

Early life

Born to a Hokkien-speaking family,[1] Tan was educated at Radin Mas Primary School and Raffles Institution, before going on to study at the University of Singapore where he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1968.[2] He was a backbencher in the Singapore Parliament from 1980 to 2006 as a member of the People's Action Party (PAP). In early May 2011 he resigned from the PAP to stand as a candidate in the 2011 presidential election. [3]

Medical career

Tan has been the Medical Director of Ama Keng Medical Clinic in Jurong since 1971. He has served as the Chairman of the Society of Private Practice, as a Council Member of the College of General Practitioners, as Committee Member on the Council of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA), as Chairman of the SMA Trust Fund, as Board Member of SMA's Ethics Committee, as SMA's Representative on the Ministry of Health's Committee on the Regulation of Medical Clinics, and as a part-time clinical teacher in general practice at the National University of Singapore.[2]

Political career

Representing the People's Action Party (PAP), Tan was elected a Member of Parliament (MP) for Ayer Rajah Single Member Constituency (Ayer Rajah SMC) in the 1980 general election (83% majority). He was re-elected five times in 1984 (75%), 1988 (70%), 1991 (75%), 1997 (73%) and 2001 (88%), winning by an average majority of 77%.[4][5] His 88% share of the vote in the 2001 parliamentary elections was the PAP’s best score in 31 years.[6]

While in Parliament, he served as the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPCs) for Education (1987–90), National Development (1991–95) and the Environment (1995–97), and was the Co-ordinating Chairman for all GPCs from 1987-88. He was also a member of the GPCs for Communications (1997–2000) and Defence and Foreign Affairs (2001–06). Tan was the Leader of the Singapore-European Parliamentary Group between 1991–1996 and Singapore-SEA Parliamentary Group between 1997 - 2006. From 1987 - 1996, he was an elected member of the PAP Central Executive Committee,[5] the highest ruling committee within the PAP. Tan stepped down as a Member of Parliament at the 2006 general election. He also served as Chairman of the Jurong East Town Council from 1989–91, Chairman of the West Coast-Ayer Rajah Town Council from 2001–04, Chairman of the Bukit Timah Community Development Council from 1997–2000, and Chairman of the Feedback Unit at the Ministry of Community Development from 1985-89.

Electoral record

Elections in 2000s

General Election 2001: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 15,024 88.0 +14.8
DPP Tan Lead Shake 2,057 12.0 +12.0
Majority 12,967 76.0 +29.6
Turnout 17,420 94.3 -1.4
PAP hold Swing +14.8

Elections in 1990s

General Election 1997: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 15,081 73.2 -2.0
SPP Sin Kek Tong 5,531 26.8 +26.8
Majority 9,550 46.4 -4.0
Turnout 21,085 95.7 +0.7
PAP hold Swing -2.0
General Election 1991: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 15,038 75.2 +5.6
PKMS Mohammed Aziz bin Ibrahim 4,971 24.8 +24.8
Majority 10,067 50.3 +11.1
Turnout 20,782 95.0 -1.5
PAP hold Swing +5.6

Elections in 1980s

General Election 1988: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 14,824 69.6 -5.8
WP Tan Song Gek 6,489 30.4 +30.4
Majority 8,335 39.2 -11.6
Turnout 21,742 96.5 +0.0
PAP hold Swing -5.8
General Election 1984: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 14,050 75.4 -8.0
SJP Suib bin Abdul Rahman 4,575 24.6 +8.0
Majority 9,475 50.8 -16.0
Turnout 19,320 96.5 -0.8
PAP hold Swing -8
General Election 1980: Ayer Rajah
Party Candidate Votes % ±
PAP Tan Cheng Bock 12,400 83.4 N/A
SJP Suib bin Abdul Rahman 6,362 16.6 N/A
Majority 9,930 66.8 N/A
Turnout 15,072 97.3 N/A
PAP win (new seat)
 Summary of the 27 August 2011 Singaporean presidential election results[7][8][9]
Candidate Symbol Results
Votes % of valid votes
Tony Tan Keng Yam 745,693 35.20
Tan Cheng Bock 738,311 34.85
Tan Jee Say 530,441 25.04
(Loses deposit)[10] Tan Kin Lian 104,095 4.91
Valid votes 2,118,540 98.24% of total votes cast
Invalid (e.g. blank or spoiled) votes 37,849 1.76% of total votes cast
Total votes cast 2,156,389 Voter turnout: 94.8% of electorate
Did not vote 118,384
Electorate 2,274,773

CPF for Tertiary Education

In 1988, Tan, as GPC Chairman for Education, led a team of MPs to argue for the use of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for education, as an appreciable number of able students were not able to enter local universities due to limited places. Tan felt that education was a form of investment, and that all his GPC was asking for was an extra option for CPF members, to let them decide whether to put their investible savings in stocks and shares or in education. Chief argument against the idea was that the use of such retirement savings may leave the account holder with an insufficient amount at the end of his working life. Minister for Labour Lee Yock Suan said that there were alternatives available such as soft loan schemes which were interest free. In answer to Tan's claim that Lee had not clearly stated his position on the issue despite the idea being first mentioned years ago, Lee insisted that his position had always been plain, that he "was against it, but you have pressed me to study it and I shall".[11] The set of guidelines on the use of CPF for Education proposed by the GPC was eventually implemented, paving the way for the beginnings of a wave of Singaporean students studying at local tertiary institutions.[12]

Free parking

Tan also convinced the Ministry of National Development (MND) to allow Singaporeans to park their cars for free in Housing Development Board (HDB) estates on Sundays and public holidays, to promote family togetherness.

In early 2010, Tan volunteered himself to help fellow multi-millionaire residents in Sentosa Cove to meet with Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) to seek waiver of the gantry entry charge (S$2 to S$7 depending on the entry time) for visitors to their residences to the Sentosa island. His efforts however did not bear immediate fruits. Later in October 2010, the SDC offered to cap the entry charge at a concession rate of S$3.[13]

Nominated Member of Parliament Scheme

Tan actually voted against his own party despite the Whip not lifted (a first in the history of Singapore politics) regarding the NMP scheme, on grounds that MPs had to be elected by the people and be accountable to an electorate for their views. He received a warning for his action.[14]

Think Singaporeans First

In 1999, when Singapore was recovering from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and experiencing yet labour talent shortages in several key sectors, the PAP pushed for a stronger intake of foreign talent to fill the ranks. Although not against this rationale, Tan argued that the Singapore government should tone down its calls for the recruitment of foreign talent and reassure Singaporeans that they came first,[15] which earned him strong rebuttals, including one from Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo and a stern rebuke from Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.[16]

No Blank Cheque

In 1985, he made in Parliament about "no more blank cheque" for the ruling party which he revisited on his blog in May 2011.[17][18]

Working with the opposition

After the 2011 general elections, Tan said in a speech at the 52nd Singapore Medical Association Annual Dinner that he had given advice to opposition candidates, including Tan Jee Say, on how to campaign in the elections when they approached him.[19][20] Tan Jee Say had stood for election as a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate in Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency and lost. Tan Jee Say later resigned from his party to stand in the 2011 presidential election.

Business career

Appointment to Chuan Hup

Tan’s appointment as non-executive Chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings (CHH) Ltd in 1991 was unusual at the time, as Members of Parliament did not normally hold such positions. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who had been a classmate of Tan’s in Raffles Institution, later said that he had initially been inclined to say no to Tan’s request because Tan was a medical practitioner with no experience in shipping:

“When I first saw the letter, the old attitude was, why is the company interested in him? Is it to use him to open doors in Singapore? People know that he was my classmate. He is close to me. And would they use him to take advantage of his relationship with me? I would regard that as natural initial reservations.”[21]

Goh ultimately agreed to the appointment, but in the letter he sent to Tan made clear his reservations:

“When you become CHH's non-executive chairman, you should distinguish clearly between your private position as CHH's chairman and your public position as MP. You should not lobby any public officer in the course of your business. You have often spoken publicly on the state of the property market, and the need for the Government to intervene. It has not always been clear whether you were speaking as an MP, or in your private or professional capacity. This has confused the public.”[22]

Goh later confirmed that neither Tan nor his company had ever tried to take advantage of his position.[21]

Current appointments

Tan has also held the position of Chairman of Dredging International Asia Pacific Pte Ltd since 1997.[23]

Past corporate appointments

His past corporate appointments include

Awards and decorations

Tan has been awarded numerous accolades from various organisations.

Charity work

Tan has been involved in the following Charity Organisations such as the Tsao Organisation (2000–2009), Centre for Third Age Ltd (2007–2011), Disabled People’s Association (1985–2006), Handicap Welfare Association (1986–2006) and the Credit Counselling Singapore (2002–2007).. In Jan 2012, he sang in the Meet The Entrepreneur Charity Concert together with 40 other Singapore entrepreneurs like Andrew Chow to say that "If you ever change your mind, come back to me in 2016, I will be back to fight again, please understand". [24]

Personal life

A Roman Catholic, Tan is married to Lee Choon Lain and has one son and one daughter. He enjoys playing the ukulele, gardening, golf and keeping koi.

2011 presidential election

Tan at the Nomination Centre on 17 August 2011.
Dr. Tan Cheng Bock at the Nomination Centre, carried by supporters.
Dr. Tan Cheng Bock, with Mrs. Cecilia Tan, waving to reporters after disembarking from the van at the Nomination Centre.

In June 2011, Tan announced that he was running for the position of President of Singapore in the 2011 presidential election. He resigned from the PAP in early May 2011 so that he can stand for the presidential election, as members of political parties are barred from running for the office of President.[3][25] On 22 July 2011, Tan submitted the presidency forms.[26] On 11 August 2011, Tan was declared eligible to run.[27]

Tan expressed he wishes to promote multiracialism, if elected.[28]

Internal Security Act detentions

Controversy erupted shortly after Tan declared his interest in the presidency. It was revealed that in a Straits Times article dated back in 1987, Tan had spoken regarding the Singaporean government's controversial Operation Spectrum while he was in Parliament, which saw 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals detained without trial.[29] He addressed, in his capacity as Feedback Unit chief, that most Singaporeans had accepted the reasons of the government and the Internal Security Department for the detention. He also reported that certain "solid citizens" were skeptical of the detention. On 4 June 2011, Tan's Facebook administrator cited that as posts on his page about the incident were running contrary to what law courts have ruled, the risk of being sued for defamation was open to both hosts of the site and people behind the posts alike, as such, "(they) are obliged to remove posts that run contrary to what the law courts have ruled."[30]


A bumper sticker produced by Tan for his presidential bid

In the presidential candidate broadcast,[31] Tan said, "The President must be above politics" and that "he must not be a proxy to be any political party", as "his interest must be national, not with a political agenda in mind".

He also proposed for the government and the Prime Minister's Office to be separated as "this familiarity attracts unwanted suspicion of undue influence". He emphasised that the separation is a symbolic move required to reassure the people that they are independent of each other.

Tan also proposed an Annual Statement for greater transparency for Singaporeans to better understand the president's activities and ideas in unifying Singapore. The statement also touches on Singapore's reserves and the rationale behind the appointment or vetoing of civil servants.

Tan's campaign slogan was "Think Singaporeans First", a reference to his 1999 debate on the need to prioritise Singaporeans first when faced with prevailing foreign talent policy.[31]

Election symbol

Tan's election symbol, a Ravenala madagascariensis.

Tan's symbol is a palm tree. He explained, "The leaves of the palm represents our multiracial society, the trunk represents them coming together, and the roots represents us taking root in Singapore." [32]


The election was won by Tony Tan, who garnered 744,397 or 35.19% of the vote, just 7,269 votes ahead of Tan Cheng Bock who received 737,128 or 34.85% of the votes.[33]

Future presidential election

In March 2016, Tan declared his intention to run again for President in the next election, which would be held within the next 17 months.[34] This was done before a review of the eligibility criteria was completed, so it is unconfirmed if he is eligible.[35]


  1. 1 2 "Profile". Dr Tan Cheng Bock. 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  2. 1 2 http://www.tanchengbock.org/curriculum-vitae-of-dr-tan-cheng-bock
  3. 1 2 Tan Cheng Bock keen to run for President, The Straits Times, 27 May 2011
  4. Singapore Election Candidates (T), singapore-elections.com
  5. 1 2 Tan Cheng Bock's Profile, Tan Cheng Bock's Official Blog
  6. http://www.elections.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2001.html
  7. Singapore Presidential Election 2011
  8. Presidential Elections Results. Singapore Elections Department. 28 August 2011.
  9. Polling Day Voter Turnout. Singapore Elections Department. 28 August 2011.
  10. Koh, Hui Theng. "He was outflanked". AsiaOne. Singapore Press. Retrieved 28 September 2012.
  11. The Straits Times 30 March 1988
  12. CPF Education Scheme
  13. "Sentosa sheds light on entry levy saga, Jessica Tan". The Straits Times Pg A10. 24 August 2011.
  14. Business Times – 28 July 1992
  15. "'Let's think of our own first' call". The Straits Times. Singapore. 9 March 1999. p. 27. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  16. http://www.tanchengbock.org/in-the-press/think-singaporeans-first-debate-1999
  17. "No more blank cheque for Government, says Cheng Bock". The Straits Times. 2 March 1985. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  18. "No more blank cheque for Government". Cheng Bock's Official Blog.
  19. http://news.sma.org.sg/4305/Feature.pdf
  20. http://www.tanchengbock.org/speeches/speech-by-dr-tan-cheng-bock-at-the-52nd-sma-annual-dinner
  21. 1 2 Straits Times, 10 December 1994.
  22. Letter from Goh Chok Tong to Tan Cheng Bock dated 31 January 1991, quoted in Straits Times, 6 December 1997.
  23. 1 2 "ANNOUNCEMENT OF CESSATION AS NON-EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN". Chuan Hup Holdings Ltd. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
  24. http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120117-322469.html
  25. Former MP Tan Cheng Bock may run for President, channelnewsasia.com, 27 May 2011
  26. Lim, Leonard (22 July 2011). "Dr Tan Cheng Bock files presidency forms". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  27. "CERTIFICATES OF ELIGIBILITY ISSUED FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2011" (PDF). Elections Department. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  28. Hetty Musfirah, Riz Sunawan (7 August 2011). "PE: Dr Tan Cheng Bock says he'll promote multiracialism very strongly if elected". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  29. "Most think Govt acted rightly, says Cheng Bock". The Straits Times. 30 July 1987. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  30. "Marxist issue could be potentially defamatory". Marxist issue could be potentially defamatory. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  31. 1 2 "To champion multi-racialism: Tan Cheng Bock". Today. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  32. See, Sharon (18 August 2011). "PE: Candidates unveil election symbols". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  33. "PE: Dr Tony Tan elected Singapore president". Channel NewsAsia. 28 August 2011. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  34. "Tan Cheng Bock to make second bid for S'pore presidency". Today. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  35. Lee, Pearl; Chong, Zi Liang. "Tan Cheng Bock's 2nd presidential bid: It's a tactical move, say political observers". The Straits Times. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
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