Praise for the President as he ends term

This article is more than 12 months old

Just before the Presidential Election in 2011, former cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan met Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana during a National Day reception.

He recalled Dr Tan's statement on his chances against his rivals and said: "He told me he didn't expect a big majority. He knew the mood and the confusion being sown on the ground.

"The other candidates were promising all kinds of things which were not constitutional. And people were buying into the confusion.

"But he did not descend to that level... He believed in not promising anything you can't deliver. He has integrity."

This, for Mr Dhanabalan, defined Dr Tan's presidency. Never mind that it may have cost him votes, Mr Dhanabalan said.

Dr Tan won with 35.2 per cent of votes, a tiny lead of 0.35 per cent over the runner-up.

He became Singapore's seventh President on Sept 1, 2011.

As his six-year term draws to a close today, Mr Dhanabalan and other Singaporeans share with The Straits Times their memories, views and impressions of Dr Tan.

Mr J.Y. Pillay, 83, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), described Dr Tan's term as dignified.

For Mr Dhanabalan, 81, also a member of the CPA, Dr Tan manifests "gravitas" - because of his personality and the experience he brought to the office.

Dr Tan, 77, who was deputy prime minister, defence minister and finance minister, is a man of few words, Mr Dhanabalan said.

"But when he speaks, people listen," he added.

This ability to command attention and respect stood him in good stead when playing the president's custodial and diplomatic roles.


Political analyst Lam Peng Er, 58, added: "Because of his experience, he was comfortable interacting with his foreign counterparts. He carried himself well in terms of diplomatic protocol."

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, 80, noted that Dr Tan made four to six oversea state visits a year and was the first Singapore president to visit Latin America and the Vatican.

"On all such occasions, President Tan was well-informed, friendly and engaging," he said.

"He has done a very good job for Singapore as our chief diplomat."

Observers said Dr Tan's depth of knowledge and experience also gave him stature and an independence of mind.

Law don Walter Woon, 60, of the National University of Singapore, said: "The reason I voted for Dr Tony Tan was that I felt that of the four candidates, if there were any shenanigans in high places, he is the only one who had the stature to put a stop to it, because he had been deputy prime minister, and he was not beholden to the current Government - he had been senior to them."

Ordinary Singaporeans who have met him said that while his public image is that of a man who is shy, reserved and not naturally at ease with people, it was quite different when they interacted with him.

Hwa Chong Institution students Penny Shi, 18, and Harris Song, 17, said they appreciated his "warmth and hospitality" when he hosted them and others at the Istana.

Mr Benny Se Teo, 57, recalled a visit by Dr Tan to the restaurant he founded, Eighteen Chefs, a social enterprise that hires ex-offenders and troubled youth.

The President's staff had visited earlier to check the dining area. But when Dr Tan arrived, he startled his staff members by walking unannounced into the kitchen.

"He was not supposed to go there. A kitchen is never a safe place. But he wanted to talk to my boys," said Mr Se Teo.