Tan Cheng Bock running for President is awkward

From ‘PAP MPs surprised Dr Tan might run for President’, 28 May 2011, article by Teo Xuanwei, Today online, and ‘Cheng Bock confirms bid for presidency’, 28 May 2011, article by Andrea Ong, ST

News that his former comrade-in-arms Tan Cheng Bock, 71, has declared his intention to run for President caught veteran backbencher Inderjit Singh off guard.

The Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) told Today: “For Presidential Elections, there’s always been a candidate that the Government supports … it’s quite clear that we will be fully behind this person so it will be very awkward (to have Dr Tan in the contest).”

His fellow People’s Action Party MP, Mdm Halimah Yacob, was also surprised, although she felt that it was not something “completely unexpected”.

“I know that Cheng Bock is a very passionate person who holds very passionate views about things,” she said.

…(Tan Cheng Bock): Over 26 years, I have given a lot to the country. I’ve not let my country down…If you want to be like Malaysia, cook up some stories, no one can stop you..But that is gutter politics. In the presidential election, (if) you go down to gutter politics, I think it’s very sad because you’ve crossed the line.

As a long-time MP for Ayer Rajah, Tan Cheng Bock, like the late and very Chinese Ong Teng Cheong, would at first glance seem as the natural choice for a PAP-backed elected President. Ong, of course, got significant backing from the PAP and the people, with few questions about how ‘awkward’ it would be for an ex-politician fresh from PAP retirement to contest for Presidency. MP Inderjit’s ho-humming can only be an indication that Dr Tan wasn’t exactly Mr Popular in Parliament, and Halimah’s less than enthusiastic response, despite using the ambiguous ‘passionate’ twice in a single sentence, probably explains why this ‘passion’ has something to do with the sudden  ‘awkwardness’ of this whole situation, without committing to an opinion if this trait would be suitable for President, a position traditionally characterised by  stoic, quiet, understatement. Outspoken as he may be, I’m not sure if President hopefuls should mock a neighbouring country as a negative example of gutter politics though.

Parliament already has more Opposition MPs than it could ask for, and perhaps adding a President with ‘Opposition’ tendencies to the mix is the reason for such reservations. Tan Check Bock was a victim of a media hackjob in 1984 (No sparks, a few knocks, and one nay, 13 March 1984, ST) when he challenged then Education Minister Goh Keng Swee,  his combative style described as being ‘up like a jackrabbit’ and ‘carried away by his own vehemence’.  In 1989, he challenged the use of the term ‘little or no margin for error’ used by ministers, urging MPs to speak their mind  and not be intimidated by their Cabinet superiors (Cheng Bock urges ministers to stop saying ‘little or no margin for error’, 20 Jan 1989, ST) , only to be taken down by  Goh Chok Tong for ‘getting it all wrong’.  He also crossed swords with Lee Kuan Yew himself when the latter intervened in the SIA pilot’s union in 2004 (See below, MP questions SM’s intervention in SIA saga, 10 March 2004, Today). Looking briefly at his history of being the ‘backbencher of backbencher MPs’, standing up to heavyweights and fighting for younger MPs in full on ‘troublemaker’ mode, it appears that it’s not the people’s love for him, but the PAP backbenchers’ support for him that’s making his doubters nervous. With MPs like Dr Tan, who needs Opposition? Chances are if  Dr Tan held rallies in his Presidential bid, some Singaporeans attending them would be wondering why he’s  still running for Opposition when the GE is long over.

Incidentally, MP Inderjit’s sentiments on presidential candidacy are not something to be trifled with, looking at his past run-ins with Presidential hopeful Andrew Kuan in 2005 (See article below, 23 September 2005, Today). Kuan eventually made a public apology and withdrew his suit in 2006, but such dirt-digging is definitely something Dr Tan should keep his eye on during his campaign, though his pre-emptive use of the Malaysian ‘gutter politics’ analogy is probably an indication that he has come forth battle-ready if history were to repeat itself. One thing’s for certain if Dr Tan ever rises to becomes President; the management of Ng Teng Fong Hospital had better start sourcing for new names to replace it.

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