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Tan Jee Say (born 12 February 1954) is a Singaporean investment adviser, politician and former civil servant. He was a principal private secretary to former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and contested the 2011 general election under the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), but failed to win a seat. Tan lost in the 2011 presidential election and finished in third place with 25% of the national vote. Tan is also the founder and the current Secretary General of Singaporeans First.

Tan Jee Say
Native name
Born (1954-02-12) 12 February 1954 (age 65)
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford
Political party
Spouse(s)Patricia Khoo Phaik Ean
  • Andrew Tan (son)
  • Anne Tan (daughter)
  • Sarah Tan (daughter)
  • Joseph Tan (son)
Tan Jee Say
Traditional Chinese陳如斯
Simplified Chinese陈如斯

Education, civil service and the private sectorEdit

Tan attended University College, Oxford, on a Government Overseas Merit Scholarship.[1] He graduated with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.[2]

Tan was a member of the civil service for 11 years, including six years in the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 1979 to 1985.[2] He rose to become Deputy Director for Economic and Manpower Planning.[1] During that period, he served concurrently as secretary to Albert Winsemius, the government's economic adviser.[1]

He went on to serve as then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's principal private secretary from 1985 to 1990.[1][3]

He left the civil service in 1990 and entered the finance industry, where he has worked for more than a decade.[1][2] Tan became director of corporate finance of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in 1990.[1] He then became head of Peregrine Capital Singapore in 1994.[1] He was regional managing director for AIB Govett, an asset management company, from 1997 to 2001.[4] Tan was subsequently appointed as a Regional Director for ACCA in the Asia Pacific region in 2006.[5]

Entry to electoral politicsEdit

Tan joined the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in April 2011 due to his "dismay" at Singapore's society and economy.[6] In the 7 May 2011 Singaporean general election, Tan contested the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.[3]

On the economy, Tan proposed S$60 billion to be set aside for a National Regeneration Plan.[7] He called the sum "small change" compared to the government's supposed surpluses and losses in investments.[8] The "small change" label was criticised by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan, who said Tan's plans could put 500,000 jobs at risk.[7]

Tan proposed that Singapore shift its focus away from manufacturing to the services sector.[9] He argued that "we should not promote manufacturing because it requires a lot of land and labour. But Singapore is short of land and labour... We want to promote, we want to use our land, limited tax incentives... promoting services sector such as medical, health sectors, education, creative industries."[9] Tan's suggestion was rebuked by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who questioned his qualifications.[10] Lee said the manufacturing sector is more "steady" compared to the "volatile" services sector.[11] In response, Tan pointed out that his proposals were endorsed by Lord Butler of Brockwell, British Cabinet Secretary from 1988 to 1998.[10] He disputed Lee's assertion that the manufacturing sector is more steady by citing a 2009 study by Ministry of Trade and Industry economists which concluded that the services sector as a whole has a relatively low volatility.[10]

During the campaign, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong claimed that Tan left the civil service because Goh "did not think he could make it as a permanent secretary."[12] Tan refuted Goh's claims and explained that he had intended to leave the civil service in 1984 after his scholarship bond ended, but was persuaded instead by Goh to become the latter's principal private secretary (PPS). After five years as Goh's PPS, Tan said he stated his intent to leave again, which Goh accepted.[10]

Tan's team, composed of Vincent Wijeysingha, Ang Yong Guan and Michelle Lee lost to the People's Action Party (PAP) team led by Vivian Balakrishnan, which won 60.1% of the vote.[13]

2011 presidential electionEdit

In July 2011, Tan resigned from the SDP and announced his candidacy for the 2011 presidential election.[14]


He campaigned on a platform of being a candidate who is "clear[ly]" independent from the ruling PAP and declared that he would be the "conscience of the nation."[14][15] Tan said he could "provide real and effective checks and balances on the excesses of the PAP government" since the President has veto power in some key areas.[16] He cited the country's new casino industry (referring to the Integrated Resorts) as an example of PAP "[losing] its moral compass."[15]

In addition, Tan said he wanted to "raise the profile of all non-PAP forces" in preparation for the next general election.[16] He added that he aimed to show Singaporeans that the office of the president "is not a shoo-in for the PAP."[16]

Tan also emphasised his economics background and policymaking experience.[17]

He pledged to lobby the government to reduce its role in private business to encourage entrepreneurship. He explained: "[I]t is not the business of Government to be in business... I think Singaporeans can get better service from people who are motivated to serve, not because they are civil servants."[18] Among his proposals are to gradually sell Temasek Holdings' assets to the private sector and invest the earnings in education and health infrastructure.[18] Tan estimated that Temasek Holdings accounted for 60 percent of Singapore's gross domestic product, but this claim was discredited by the company, which put the figure at 10 percent.[19]

Tan also hoped for a review on taxes, saying: "The fact that you have accumulated huge surpluses every year... is excess of revenue over expenditure. So by having more revenue than necessary to finance government service, you are overtaxing the people. I think that's wrong."[18]

Tan called for a minimum wage in Singapore, saying that not having one would be "unconscionable."[18] He also said the government's "hard-nosed approach" had left some Singaporeans behind: "Whoever wants a job will get a job, whoever works enough will have a good living – that's not true. There are people who, despite all that they do, cannot make it in life here."[20]

His campaign symbol (which is printed on the ballots) was a heart, which he said represents "empathy and compassion."[20]


Doubts were initially raised over his eligibility as a presidential candidate as he did not meet the criterion of being the chief executive officer of a Singapore company with a paid-up capital of S$100 million.[21][22] Tan said he was CEO with the title of regional managing director of AIB Govett Asia which managed total assets in excess of S$100 million which, in his view, would make it equivalent to managing a company with a paid-up capital of S$100 million.[14]

He also pointed out that he had met the alternate criterion of having served for not less than three years in "any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector."[22]

He submitted his application to the Elections Department on 4 August under the latter criterion[22] and was awarded a certificate of eligibility (COE) a week later, along with Tony Tan, Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian.[23] The awarding of the COE to Tan Jee Say was seen as a liberal interpretation of the eligibility criteria by the Presidential Elections Committee.[24]


Tan was the only eligible candidate with no previous ties to the PAP.[25] He is regarded as the most partisan candidate having participated in a general election under the SDP.[26] His bid was endorsed by opposition politicians Nicole Seah,[27] Vincent Wijeysingha, Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss, Steve Chia,[20] and candidate-hopeful Andrew Kuan (who was not awarded a COE).[28]

His interpretation of the president's role was challenged by Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who pointed out that the president acts only on the advice of the government and has veto power only in specific areas. Nonetheless, Tan persists on the president's check and balance role, and described the office as "a centre of moral power" rather than "a second centre of executive power."[20]

Political pundits suggested that among Tan Jee Say, Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian, two candidates should withdraw to facilitate a straight contest between one of them and Tony Tan, who is widely seen as the leading candidate.[29][30] On 12 August, Tan Jee Say said he wouldn't back out of the contest.[31]

Also on 12 August, Tony Tan said it would be a "grave mistake" to phase out manufacturing in Singapore.[32] During nomination day, his supporters jeered at Tony Tan. Tan Jee Say later acknowledged that their actions were "not the correct way to conduct our campaign."[33]

During a forum hosted by The Online Citizen attended by all four candidates on 19 August, Tan Jee Say got into a heated exchange with Tony Tan over the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows the government to detain people without trial.[34] Tan Jee Say said that the law has been used to detain political opponents of the government, which drew a pointed response from Tony Tan, who labelled it a "very serious charge" and asked the former to back it up. Tan Jee Say shot back: "The people who have been detained have opposed the government. That's what I'm saying," before he was interjected by the moderator.[34]


The election was won by Tony Tan who garnered 35.19 percent of the vote, just 7,269 votes ahead of Tan Cheng Bock. Tan Jee Say finished third with 25.04 percent of the vote.[35]

Reflecting on the result, Tan conceded that his "confrontational" image may have hurt his bid.[36]

Post-presidential bidEdit

Immediately after losing his bid to become president, Tan declined to join any political party, and announced that he would focus on forming a coalition of opposition parties to contest the next general election.[37] His proposal was welcomed by the Singapore People's Party, National Solidarity Party, and Reform Party.[38]

Singaporean First PartyEdit

On 25 May 2014, Tan launched a new political party, Singaporeans First, which pledges to put "Singaporeans at the heart of the nation".[39] He is now advocating abolishing GST.[40] When Tan being asked by Chris of the TR Emeritus that Singaporeans saw him as an opportunist, he responded that in Singapore there are very few platforms for alternative views to be expressed as the public media is dominated by the government. and that Singaporeans heard nothing but the views of the government on issues as though there is only one view in the world. He added that because of this the General Election and the Presidential Election are important opportunities and important forums to tell Singaporeans what alternative views there are and what alternative solutions there are.[41]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Presidential candidate: Tan Jee Say". AsiaOne. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "About". Tan Jee Say. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b Chew, Cassandra (30 April 2011). "Loss of Aljunied team will dent quality of Govt: SM Goh". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  4. ^ Hoe, Pei Shan (3 August 2011). "Tan Jee Say submits forms for presidential eligibility". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  5. ^ "ACCA appoints Asia Pacific Regional Director". ACCA. 28 September 2011. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ Zakir Hussain (22 April 2011). "Former senior Govt officer in SDP camp". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  7. ^ a b Shankari, Uma (30 April 2011). "SDP hits back at ministers criticising National Regeneration Plan". Business Times.
  8. ^ Low, Aaron (30 April 2011). "$60b is small change, Tan Jee Say insists". The Straits Times.
  9. ^ a b "GE: "I didn't propose closing factories", says Tan Jee Say". Channel NewsAsia. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d "SDP's Tan vs SM Goh: War of words heats up". Yahoo. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  11. ^ Imelda Saad (30 April 2011). "GE: MM Lee defends PAP's record on helping S'poreans cope with cost of living". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  12. ^ Chang Ai-Lien & Mavis Toh (1 May 2011). "Tan Jee Say did not make the cut: SM Goh". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  13. ^ "PAP wins Holland-Bukit Timah GRC". Straits Times. Singapore. 8 May 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  14. ^ a b c "Tan Jee Say to contest Presidential Election". Channel NewsAsia. 15 July 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  15. ^ a b Quek, Caroline (16 July 2011). "Tan Jee Say joins the fray". Today. Archived from the original on 17 August 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ a b c Wong, Tessa (7 August 2011). "Tan Jee Say aims 'to check excesses of ruling party'". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  17. ^ Soh, Alvina (14 August 2011). "PE: Tan Jee Say upbeat about chances in upcoming polls". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  18. ^ a b c d Wong, Tessa (13 August 2011). "Disbanding Temasek 'in long term'". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  19. ^ "Temasek Holdings clarifies mistaken GDP claims". Channel NewsAsia. 16 August 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  20. ^ a b c d Ng, Esther; Leong, Wee Keat (18 August 2011). "Jee Say wants to be auditor, gatekeeper". Today. Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  21. ^ Li, Xueying (4 August 2011). "A Look Into Singapore's Presidential Election". Jakarta Globe. Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  22. ^ a b c Ng, Jing Yng (4 August 2011). "Tan Jee Say submits application forms". Today. Archived from the original on 12 June 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  23. ^ Ng, Gwendolyn; Chang, Sarah (12 August 2011). "Historic 4 to run for President". Asiaone. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  24. ^ Li, Xueying (12 August 2011). "Four cleared to run; Two other hopefuls fail to get the certificates of eligibility". The Straits Times. Prime News.
  25. ^ Ee, Elaine (16 August 2011). "Presidential hopeful Tan Jee Say: I'm not a 'yes man'". CNNGo. Archived from the original on 12 September 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  26. ^ Neisloss, Liz (17 August 2011). "Singaporeans will vote for Tan, but which one?". CNN. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  27. ^ "Nicole Seah roots for Tan Jee Say". The New Paper. 3 August 2011.
  28. ^ Saad, Imelda (17 August 2011). "PE: Tan Jee Say wants to be govt's auditor". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  29. ^ Ng, Esther; Ng, Jing Yng (13 August 2011). "A four-way fight on the cards". Today. Archived from the original on 12 June 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  30. ^ Ong, Andrea (12 August 2011). "Tan Cheng Bock: "I won't pull out", open to discussions". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  31. ^ Ong, Andrea (12 August 2011). "Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say meet at Elections Department". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  32. ^ Chen, Joanne (12 August 2011). "PE: Phasing out manufacturing would be "grave mistake", says Tony Tan". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  33. ^ Ng, Esther (17 August 2011). "My supporters not right in booing Dr Tony Tan: Tan Jee Say". Today. Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  34. ^ a b Wong, Alicia (19 August 2011). "Tony Tan, Tan Jee Say clash over ISA". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  35. ^ "PE: Dr Tony Tan elected Singapore president". Channel NewsAsia. 28 August 2011. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  36. ^ Aw Yeong, Benita; Zul Othman (29 August 2011). "Lack of opposition votes costs him". The New Paper. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  37. ^ Ng, Esther (26 September 2011). "Tan Jee Say hopes to set up opposition 'coalition' in time for next GE". Today. Archived from the original on 11 October 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  38. ^ Wong, Tessa; Kor, Kian Beng (27 September 2011). "SPP, Reform Party, NSP open to Tan Jee Say's coalition idea". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  39. ^ Spykerman, Kimberly (25 May 2014). "Tan Jee Say launches new political party". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  40. ^ "Tan Jee Say forms new 'Singaporeans First' political party". The Straits Times. Singapore. 25 May 2014.
  41. ^

External linksEdit