President Tony Tan steps down from office today — here’s a look back at his 6 years as president

Photo: Betty Tan via Dr Tony Tan Facebook page
Photo: Betty Tan via Dr Tony Tan Facebook page

After six years, Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam will step down from his office as Singapore’s president to make way for a new head of state. Who just has to be Malay this time, according to the government.

While the nation awaits the upcoming presidential election (if there’s indeed more than one qualified person to run), Council of Presidential Advisers chairman J. Y. Pillay will be acting president until a new one is sworn in next month.

As for Dr. Tan, a reception and ceremony will be held tonight at the Istana, where ministers and Members of Parliament will bid farewell to the outgoing president, The Straits Times reported.

Sworn in on Sept 1, 2011, Dr. Tan nearly lost the presidential election that year, having secured a sliver more votes than his rival Tan Cheng Bock. The former won 35.2 percent of the votes, while the latter received 34.85 percent.

In the six years under President Tan, Singapore went through some particularly turbulent times. There was the country’s first major riot in over 40 years at Little India; there was the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew; there was (and still is) the increasing frequency of MRT breakdowns; and there was the Lee family saga that shook Singapore’s reputation for a bit. It was the very public tiff within the country’s first family that the president oddly stayed far away from, in lieu of putting an end to the silliness as part of his job to unify the nation.

It was also under President Tan that Singapore celebrated her 50th birthday, and saw the country winning her first Olympic gold medal.

All in all, he’s been a pretty quiet president, serving largely in an ambassadorial role. What can he do anyway, considering that presidents in Singapore have no legislative power whatsoever.

Perhaps his biggest achievements were when he did have the power to make changes during his time in politics before becoming president. Here’s an enlightening thread on Reddit that lists his important pre-presidency accomplishments — some of ‘em include being personally picked by Lee Kuan Yew to be his next successor as prime minister (which he turned down for personal reasons); helping to envision and set up Singapore Management University; and killing Lee Kuan Yew’s idea to introduce a eugenics-based policy to primary school placement. Yeah, that happened.

But under his tenure as president, many also voiced out that he could have done more in providing check and balance in government. Again on Reddit, a poster argued that he could have done more in the matters of death penalties, social spending for health, and increasing the transparency of government finances, among other things.

In any case, the man’s leaving his role as Head of State today. It’ll be up to the country to decide (if we even can) who’ll be the next best individual to unify the country.

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