During the question-and-answer segment, Mr Tan gave his views on a range of topics, from the death penalty and Singapore’s reserves to the rental of Ridout Road bungalows by ministers.
Analysts have repeatedly pointed out that the head of state in Singapore cannot set policies, but Mr Tan has continued to speak about issues such as the cost of living and housing.
On Saturday, he acknowledged that the President is not involved in policymaking, but said he would like to dialogue with the Prime Minister and offer his ideas.
The presidential hopeful said Singapore can be merciful to drug mules, and that “many of them come from very poor families”.
“Quite often, they were not aware, they were just tricked into conveying the drugs. I will certainly think that we should have the mercy,” he said.
Mr Tan said he would approach the Cabinet before it makes its decision.
“If the Cabinet decides against me, which they have the power to do, it will be not so respectful,” he said. “I will ask the Cabinet to respect the President.”
According to the Constitution, the President can grant pardon to offenders “on the advice of the Cabinet”.
Dr Felix Tan, a political analyst at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said Mr Tan can always give his point of view to the Cabinet.
“It’s not just a one-way track and that is the way it should be done,” he said. Dr Tan also noted that there is a legal process that needs to be completed before such a decision reaches the President.
Mr Tan said there may be concerns that pardoning one person means everyone else will have to receive the same treatment, and there will be an influx of drug traffickers in Singapore.
“I don’t believe in that, I think it is okay to be merciful,” he said. But he added that if there is indeed a flood of drug offenders, he will be “not so forgiving”.
SHOULD PRESIDENTS BE APPOINTED?
In response to a comment about rules for presidential candidates, Mr Tan said he agreed that the rules should be changed.
“We spend so much time to elect a president and then we end up telling the president these are the things you cannot do,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Calling it an “unproductive exercise”, he said he believes it may be better to go back to the old system where the President is appointed by the parliament.
Mr Tan also said having a Council of Presidential Advisers is complicated, and that is another reason why he thinks the president should be appointed instead of elected.
NO NEED TO KEEP RESERVES A SECRET
On the topic of Singapore’s Reserves, Mr Tan said he does not think the figure needs to be kept secret.
The Ministry of Finance previously said it is not in Singapore’s national interest to reveal the full size of her reserves because that would make it easier for the markets to mount “speculative attacks on the Singapore dollar” during vulnerable times.
Mr Tan said he disagrees. “According to somebody who has worked in the Ministry of Finance before, he told me the chance of being attacked is quite small, and I agreed with him.”
“I would certainly have preferred that we agree that there is no need for secrecy, why don’t we just tell the people?” he said.
Asked whether the President can reveal Singapore’s reserves, NTU’s Dr Tan pointed out that it is considered a state secret, and the President is not above the law.
“I don’t think that the President is entitled in any way to reveal a state secret,” he said. “There will be consequences.”
Mr Tan also repeated that he thinks Singapore has been saving too much in the reserves.