DAG Hri Kumar ‘hitting below the belt’

From ‘Tan Cheng Bock hits out at Hri Kumar for ‘highly inflammatory comments’ over EP challenge’, 8 July 2017, article by Faris Mokhtar, Today

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock has slammed Deputy Attorney-General (AG) Hri Kumar Nair over remarks in the latter’s court submissions against Dr Tan’s legal challenge on the coming reserved Presidential Election, calling them “hitting below the belt” and  “highly inflammatory”.

Dr Tan’s challenge was thrown out by the courts on Friday (July 7), with Mr Nair — who was representing the Attorney-General’s Chambers — describing Dr Tan’s case as “entirely self-serving“, “purely selfish”, and having “no regard for the principle of multiracial representation” 

Writing on Facebook, Dr Tan, who was not present in court when the ruling was delivered in chambers, said Mr Nair had encroached into “dangerous racial politics” with his words.

Dr Tan pointed out that as a public servant and a former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament (MP), Mr Nair “should not have made such a statement”. Mr Nair was a two-term MP who stepped down in 2015, before he was appointed as Deputy AG in March this year.

“This case is not about race. It is about process and procedures. It is about upholding the Constitution. Let’s keep it that way,” said Dr Tan, who is also a former PAP MP.

On the appointment of Hri Kumar as DAG, peers heaped nothing but praise for the ex-PAP MP. Senior Counsel Davinder Singh said he was the ‘best among the best’. The Law Society president describes him as ‘incisive, diligent, fair-minded and yet for all his intellectual rigour, affable to a fault.’ Surely this can’t be someone capable of ‘hitting you below the belt’, a term usually thrown at opposition MPs, or even PAP MPs for that matter?

Blunt personal attacks may be tolerated if you were still an MP, but as a High Court judge, it seems rather unprofessional. It may be called the ‘Chambers’, but surely there is no room for mud-slinging or shit-dredging here.  You can easily be in contempt of court for the slightest insult, but that doesn’t mean the court should treat you with contempt, especially if you’re a past President-elect.

TCB didn’t charge into this fight unarmed of course, having sought advice from Queen’s Counsel lawyer Lord Pannick who opined that Section 22 of the President Elections (Amendment) Act 2017 was unconstitutional. Section 22 is basically a roster of mostly dead presidents and what race they were. It’s strange, though, to say a President ‘belongs’ to a specific community when he, the PRESIDENT, belongs to all peoples, regardless of race, language or religion.  Also, one people, one nation, one Singapore. Never forget.

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 7.41.23 AM

To sum up the whole argument, TCB contends that Ong Teng Cheong should be the first elected President. The law says it should be Wee Kim Wee because although he wasn’t elected per se, he acted like one. Hence if you use your fingers to count five terms based on the hiatus-triggered model, the next President should be a long-overdue Malay one. Take that, Lord Pannick! Take that, Her Majesty!

Incidentally, DAG Hri was appointed by President Tony Tan (another ex-PAP man), ‘under the advice’ of PM Lee Hsien Loong.  He joins Lucien Wong  (PM’s previous personal lawyer and now AG) to oversee the laws of the land. The Government has full confidence that their links with the PAP (and ex-boss) has no bearing on their duty to uphold our ‘rule of law’ whatsoever. Why? Because they say so, that’s why. Justice is blind, and so are we.

There’s a scary resonance with the recent Oxley saga here – people quarrelling over dead men’s bodies. In LKY’s case, his residence. In this case, their claim to being an ‘elected president’. We already have one ex-leader coming to haunt us this Seventh Month, let’s not add 2 more ghosts to the list.

 

 

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Tan Cheng Bock uninvited from Istana CNY party

From ‘PA withdraws Istana party invite to Tan Cheng Bock’, 8 Feb 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

FORMER MP Tan Cheng Bock, who quit the People’s Action Party to contest the 2011 Presidential Election, sparked a debate yesterday about the motives of the People’s Association (PA), which had withdrawn its invitation to him to a yearly Istana party. Dr Tan, an MP from 1980 to 2006, said he had been going to the Chinese New Year party for former and current grassroots leaders since 1980.

This year’s event will be held tomorrow afternoon.It is not the same party as the one to honour the pioneer generation. Yesterday, Dr Tan wrote about the incident on Facebook, prompting PA to issue a public apology for what it said was a mistake. The error arose because an old invitation list was used instead of a new one, PA’s deputy chairman Lim Swee Say said.

Dr Tan’s post, which garnered more than a thousand likes and shares, said that he received the invitation on Dec 27 last year. Twelve days later, on Jan 8, Mr Lim, the labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, called him to explain that a change of policy required the invitation to be withdrawn.

“He conveyed (that) to me by phone and e-mail. There was a change in ‘policy’ to invite only those ex-advisers to grassroots organisations, from the immediate past GE (2011). I did not fit into this category as I stood down in 2006,” Dr Tan wrote.

Replying, Mr Lim said in a statement that it was “most unfortunate that PA made the mistake of using the old list instead of the updated list”. The list is periodically reviewed, he added, to let a wider base of people attend. It was last reviewed “a few months ago”.

…Mr Lim took issue with Dr Tan’s post: “I was heartened that Dr Tan very graciously accepted my explanation over the phone. So I am surprised he now brings this up publicly as an issue.”

The last time a politician made a Facebook fuss over having an invite withdrawn was WP’s Chen Show Mao, who was denied attendance to a Hungry Ghost dinner back in 2011. Clearly, the PA hasn’t learned from the social media repercussions of the last high-profile ‘uninvite’, which explains Lim Swee Say being taken aback by TCB complaining about it on FB. Withdrawing an invitation is embarrassing for both parties, but more so for an organiser who should really know better, even if there’s a ‘policy’ to hide behind when telling the uninvited the bad news. As for TCB’s dismay, it’s not surprising either considering that during his presidential campaign, he suggested ousting the PM from the Istana in  ‘Queen of England‘ fashion. But speaking of hungry ghosts, where exactly has Chen Show Mao been to lately?

Not sure if TCB was given a spot on the actual pioneer party. That depends on how our PM defines ‘pioneer’, and how the hosts of the pioneer party feel about this awkward incident (They include Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and, and to no one’s surprise, Lim Swee Say).  Like the definition itself, this year’s pioneer invitees appear to be a mixed bag. They include Hooi Kok Wah of yusheng fame, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong and former MP Ong Ah Heng. Incidentally, MP Ong himself once admitted in 2010 to replacing elderly cleaners, fellow ‘pioneers’ even, with younger, fitter foreign workers upon receiving complaints by a family.

More than a decade ago, a pioneer generation was described as one who ‘grew up with Singapore’, called upon to sweat it out in factories and shipyards, or be among the first to serve the army. In 2007, PM Lee described the pioneer generation of public servants as ‘the last of the Mohicans‘. A survey on familiarity with Singapore ‘pioneers’ in 2012 included ‘founding fathers’, i.e political heavyweights like Devan Nair, LKY and Goh Keng Swee. In the Reach portal, they are those who built Singapore from her infancy, even if they’re today ‘scavenging for food to eat, tin cans and cardboard to sell’. It seems that anyone can be regarded a pioneer as long as you’re old, Singaporean, and worked almost your whole life to feed your family. If you’re an afterthought to the PM’s party, you probably haven’t contributed that much. Or contributed TOO much, stepping on the party organisers’ toes in the process, like TCB was known to do. You’re also unlikely to find billionaires in the list, because you don’t usually associate rich folk with out-in-the-sun back-breaking work that the image of a ‘pioneer’ summons, even if they’ve started out in life doing exactly that to become what they are today.

As symbolic as the 1500-strong party is supposed to be, those who believe they have served the nation beyond the call of duty but didn’t get the invite will be wondering ‘Why not me?’, just like being left out of any hip party hosted by the most popular person in school. Granted, it’s intended to span all walks in life and you can’t accommodate everyone, though by not making its criteria explicit it begs the question of how the PAP determines your pioneer value. But if you’re a true-blue pioneer, it shouldn’t matter if you’re remembered or not. And you wouldn’t complain on FB insisting that you’ve been mistakenly taken out of the invite list.


35.19% of Singaporeans voted maturely

From ‘Election reflected our maturity’, 29 Aug 2011, Voices, Today

(Sonny Yuen): Finally, we have a new Elected President after nine days of hustings; weeks, if we consider the excitement about who is qualified to be one. My heartiest congratulations to Dr Tony Tan. Allow me, as a newly-minted citizen but long-time resident, to make some observations.

Firstly, from the results, it is quite conclusive that Singaporeans, despite the political angst, are a mature lot. They are able to distinguish between mere rhetoric and the quality of each candidate; they based their judgment on substance. As such, the Government should breathe easy and not worry too much about a freak result. Singaporeans have proven time and again that they can think for themselves and for their future.

…After yesterday’s results, we have a President with 35.19 per cent of the electorate’s votes. I am sure that President-elect Tony Tan will do a good job in unifying the nation and representing Singapore well. Such is his character and personality, we can expect no less.

However, we should reconsider the first-past-the-post voting system. Instead, if none of the candidates has at least half of the votes, the top two candidates should face a run-off. The winner of this second round of polling should be then declared the Elected President, one with a clear mandate as well as the moral authority.

The same praise of being ‘politically mature‘ was heaped on Singaporeans opting for the status quo after the results of the GE just a few months ago, from what can safely assumed to be a PAP supporter. I wouldn’t go so far to say society has ‘matured’ because that would imply that, ON THE WHOLE, we have made a wise decision when this is far from the case, as Tony Tan’s slippery-thin victory margin has shown. A heightened ‘awareness’ in political matters doesn’t imply ‘maturity’, especially when this sudden interest is fueled by gossip, scandal and a slurry of  one bad joke after another.  The writer would probably think twice if he had seen the kind of vicious, irresponsible comments spilling out of Facebook posts and anonymous emails targeting all four Tans during the hustings. There’s a limit to how much parody one can tolerate before the whole PE becomes a Cirque de Soleil of media-whoring, remembered more for spectacle and goofy high-fives riding on an ebbing wave of Tin Pei Ling/ Nicole Seah fanfare from the last GE, than what the president elect will actually be doing in office for the next 6 years.

Just because nobody sprayed graffitti on the Istana walls or threw  pies in the candidates’ faces during their walk-abouts doesn’t mean that the electorate cast their vote sensibly after a period of deep, quiet contemplation on Cooling-off day. With Singaporeans still uncertain of what a President can or cannot do, no thanks  to the confusion tossed about by the candidates themselves, explaining the apathy or utter cluelessness behind the 30,000 odd rejected votes,   it’s a bit premature in my opinion to conclude that we have arrived politically, when  there are people who make decisions based not on the candidates’ abilities, but rather on how their respective wives pull off the ‘First Lady’ look. Or people who draw funny faces on their ballot cards just to make a statement of some sort.

Furthermore, it’s possible that Tan Cheng Bock’s close call could have been a result not of voters who thought TCB was truly worthy of the presidency, but voters who would rather have him INSTEAD of hot favourite Tony Tan, meaning the ‘neck-and-neck’ race was in fact an artifact. So narrowing the race down to a two-horse sudden death play-off does not necessarily eliminate the possibility that there were in fact Tan Kin Lian or Tan Jee Say supporters ‘spoiling’ their votes on the ‘lesser of two evils’. One can argue, then, whether such strategic voting is an act of ‘maturity’, or simply people toying with probability i.e betting on a ‘second-best’ outcome to minimise their ‘losses’,  which exposes the problem of ‘too many presidents spoiling the vote’.  But perhaps I’ve said too much when it’s all too little, too late. Congratulations to TT and family for having the last laugh despite being smeared to no end, and all candidates for fighting to a TAN-talising finish. And SR Nathan must be breathing a sigh of relief that he was never subject to the kind of scrutiny and pressure that Tony Tan will be facing for the rest of his term.

Tan Cheng Bock:Wah Teng Boh Wah Liao

From ‘Written Speech by Dr Tan Cheng Bock for Unifying Rally at Expo Hall 8’, 25 Aug 2011, TCB’s Facebook post.

…I would like to raise some question for you all here to consider.

Tony (Tan) is currently chairman of the National Research Foundation which is a department of Prime Minister’s Office. So he is still reporting to the PM.

Furthermore, he has just left GIC. Therefore, he is not in compliance with the MAS code of governance which says that he cannot be independent of GIC unless he has left for more than 3 years. He has only just left GIC for 3 months.

This is the practice for all public listed companies in Singapore, and there should be no double standard. In Hokkien there is a saying, wah teng boh wah liao.

In other words the soup is changed but the ingredients remain the same.

Wah Liao indeed.  This soup analogy is the Hokkien equivalent of the English trope ‘a leopard never changes its spots’, referring to Tony Tan’s inability to shake the ghost of his decades-long PAP affiliations. off his back. Despite our relentless Speak Mandarin campaigns, it’s not Confucian proverbs which capture the imagination of the electorate, but politicians’ Hokkien sayings which resonate among Singaporeans.  Though this should be deployed sparingly and with tasteful ingenuity lest ministers are accused of pandering to the older folk, or seen as being uncouth , highly paid Ah Bengs or Ah Huays, one does wonder if this double standard of our ministers speaking in a dialect which is otherwise discouraged from general usage has something to do with Jack Neo releasing the hugely popular  ‘I Not Stupid’ in 2002, the movie which somehow made Hokkien an unlikely political device to create an ‘everyman’ out of the PAP.

Goh Chok Tong started the ball rolling with the classic pah see buay zao’ saying in a 2002 National Day Rally to describe Singaporeans who are ‘stayers’ as opposed to ‘quitters’ seeking greener pastures elsewhere.  In 2004, Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean used ‘mai zo lau kui’ (Let’s not embarrass ourselves) to describe NS men in training exercises, an ironic phrase to say the least, in light of how NSmen deal with their backpacks outside the realm of mock warfare.  Lee Hsien Loong himself took a wild crack at Hokkien with Mee Siam Mai Hum’ (2006 National Day Rally), a viral gaffe which became one of the first internet satirical sensations in the country, and still summoned today whenever the Black Eyed Peas’ awful  ‘My Humps’ is being played.

Some Hokkien sayings make TCB’s ‘Wa Teng Boh Wah Liao’ sound like grand oratory in comparison. ‘Ai pang sai ka che jamban’ (looking for a toilet only when one needs to pass motion) was used by then MP Bee Wah to mock the opposition’s call to delay the GST hike, not at a rally in the heart of Geylang, but in PARLIAMENT (2008). ‘Pang sai’, of course, is a low-brow colloquialism for ‘taking a shit’, a phrase which should never be uttered before the Speaker and Prime Minister, though ‘pang sai’ pretty much describes what comes out the mouths of some MPs taking the stand anyway. Something which a certain foul-mouthed NTU valedictorian would surely emphatise with.

Last but not least, anyone who recalls MG Chan Chun Sing’s call to arms in the 2011 General Elections, please KEE CHIU!

Tan Cheng Bock thinks he’s the Queen of England

From ‘Odd campaign issue’, 23 Aug 2011, ST Forum

(Ang Seng Yong): PRESIDENTIAL candidate Tan Cheng Bock wants the Prime Minister to move out of the Istana, ostensibly to assert the Elected President’s independence…His call ignores historical precedent and current realities.

Historically, the Istana complex served a dual purpose. It was the British Governor’s official residence. In addition, Sri Temasek, located within the Istana grounds, served as the official residence of the Colonial Secretary.

Since 1959, the Istana became the official residence of the Yang di Pertuan Negara and later the President, and Sri Temasek that of the Prime Minister.

Neither our Presidents nor Prime Ministers have actually lived there. But both have used the Istana as their offices and shared its state rooms. This arrangement saves money. Unlike heads of state and prime ministers in many neighbouring nations, ours have not spent hundreds of millions of dollars building themselves opulent palaces.

If the Prime Minister is to be thrown out of the Istana annexe, can he use Sri Temasek? Or does Dr Tan propose to throw the Prime Minister out of the Istana grounds altogether? If so, on what basis can the President declare that the Prime Minister cannot use any part of the Istana?

Does Dr Tan see himself as the Queen of England, occupying Buckingham Palace all by himself?

…It is odd that Dr Tan considers evicting the Prime Minister from the Istana such an important issue.

…Dr Tan’s failure to take account of history calls into question his care in making statements. Raising this point as a key campaign issue, against the backdrop of the current economic challenges, calls into question his judgment. It is a sad day when political gimmickry replaces substantive issues.

TCB’s reason for ‘evicting’ the PM was the fear of  ‘familiarity attracting unwanted suspicion of undue influence’. As a former MP himself who has rubbed shoulders with the ruling party for 20 years, it’s strange how proximity is suddenly an issue as presidential candidate, when this hasn’t stopped him from being a vocal, supposedly independent-minded backbencher within the party itself.  TCB’s proposal seems to stem from personal preference of working style rather than speaking on behalf of what the other candidates may fancy. I don’t see why Presidents and Prime Ministers can’t circumvent the ‘familiarity breeds compromise’ problem as mature leaders. It’s ironic , however, that the writer uses the sarcastic Buckingham palace taunt on TCB, because that is exactly what ‘istana’ means in Malay: a Palace (Premier will entertain at Sri Temasek, 8 Aug 1959, ST)

It really depends on who’s the PM’s eventual presidential neighbour. Tony Tan’s presence would be warmly welcomed like a Proverbial son return for obvious reasons, and it doesn’t matter whether the PM is out-stationed on Pulau Tekong or sharing the same office and coffee-lady as TT because everyone knows where the latter is leaning towards in any case with or without the ‘undue influence’. But between the prospect of humouring Tan Jee Say along the toilet corridor and moving into the guest house or at worst, shipping out totally, the PMO may opt for the latter, though one may also argue that any tense relations between the two parties may ease out if they work closer together. Sometimes all it takes is a simple garden party. Just look at how pleased LKY and past presidents are with each other’s company below. (On an eerie note, all of these Presidents have died since, while LKY is still very much alive)

Lee Kuan Yew with the Sheares

LKY and Devan Nair. A case of picture speaking a thousand words

Batik party with Wee Kim Wee

One also has to think of foreign VIPs. For practical reasons it’s easier for our guests to visit both PM and President in one place rather than arrange for separate venues out of the Istana, especially for visitors like the Pope himself in 1986. A president worthy of respect is one who learns to live with constraints and former opponents/colleagues graciously, and is able to work independently without his immediate neighbours ‘cramping his style’. Having the PM and President in different locales doesn’t make any difference to the electorate in this age of telecommunication and instant messaging, and no one should use this physical separation issue as a vote for TCB in any case. This is the Istana, not a Survivor episode, and if TCB wants to react to his proposal going unheeded like how he quit the JGH board over the hospital being renamed as Ng Teng Fong, then this president hopeful is not so much guided by his principles, but blinded by them.

Tony Tan: ISA is a very blunt instrument

From ‘Candidates clash on role of ISA’, 20 Aug 2011, article by Teo Xuanwei, Today

When Operation Spectrum was launched in 1987, one was the Education Minister while the other was Principal Private Secretary to then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

At a forum on Thursday organised by The Online Citizen, the episode – which saw 22 alleged Marxist conspirators detained under the Internal Securty Act (ISA) – sparked a terse exchange between former Cabinet Minister Tony Tan and former senior civil servant Tan Jee Say, after the four presidential candidates were asked what each of them thought of the detention.

Dr Tony Tan said the case was “discussed very carefully” by the Cabinet but he could not disclose what was said as the discussions were covered under the Official Secrets Act. He added that the ISA was a “very blunt instrument” that should only be used in “the most extreme circumstances”, such as terror threats.

When it came to Mr Tan Jee Say’s turn to respond, he said the ISA had “outlived its usefulness”. He added: “I don’t even know whether (the ISA) was justified in the first place because the ISA has been used on political opponents.” Dr Tony Tan interjected: “To be fair … this is a very serious charge. You must be able to back it up.”

To which Mr Tan Jee Say responded: “Well, the people who have been detained had opposed the Government, that’s what I’m saying.” Referring to Dr Tony Tan, Mr Tan Jee Say added that he had been “attacked on (his) understanding of the English language”.

Mr Tan Kin Lian said that all he knew about the episode was what was covered in the media. Both he and Mr Tan Jee Say also proposed that a committee of inquiry be convened to review the detention. Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who was heading the Government’s Feedback Unit at that time, said that based on the information he had then, he agreed with the Government’s position. He added that he would only give his views if new evidence was available to him.

The ISA was borne out of the 1948 Emergency Regulations in June 1948 in response to the communist threat. It was later renamed the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance in 1955, before settling on its current incarnation since 1963, a vague euphemism of the true workings of this document. If our new President can’t do anything to amend the act, which is likely the case, at least he could offer a suggestion to change its title from the ‘Internal Security Act’ (Aren’t all our policemen performing ‘internal security’?) to something that better reflects its purpose so that citizens will appreciate it better, such as KENA (Known evidence none, Arrest!)

Here’s a sampling of people being detained by the ISD without evidence, based on little more than suspicion and fear, where the definition of a ‘political opponent’ becomes fuzzy, and it remains debatable if these detentions were made on the basis of ‘the most extreme circumstances’.

Feb 1963: 113 detained from Operation Cold Store. Even people from seemingly harmless associations like the Spinning Worker’s Union weren’t spared.

Oct 1966: Chia Thye Poh arrested on suspicion of being in cahoots with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). Exiled to Sentosa, now a Las Vegas wannabe and rich tourist playground.

Jan 1982: 10 members of the Singapore People’s Liberation Organisation, a ‘Muslim extremist organisation’ with the intent of ‘overthrowing the government through communal arrest and sabotage’.

May 1987: 16 people charged in Operation Spectrum for being part of a  ‘clandestine Communist network’, including lawyer Teo Soh Lung.

Sept 2002: 18 JI members detained for terrorist-related activities.

In a 2000 response to the use of the term ‘political prisoner‘ on Chia Thye Poh, The Ministry of Home Affairs responded that ‘the ISA has been used SPARINGLY the years as a measure of LAST RESORT against persons who pose a threat to NATIONAL SECURITY, and has NEVER been used to detain a person engaging in ‘constitutional’ political activities, but those who engage in unlawful acts against public order and in SUBVERSIVE activities. Detaining people and subjecting them to psychological torture methods like dousing cold water amid freezing aircon temperatures, before you even verify if they are guilty or innocent doesn’t sound like a last resort to me, but rather an ancient  technique to manufacture a confession out of possibly innocent victims to justify the initial arrest, i.e witch-hunt protocol.

By the careful use of ambiguity in phrases like ‘national security’ and ‘subversion’, you can oppose the government provided you don’t step out of line, incite riots or ‘subvert’ your fellow Singaporeans. But once you start raising suspicions and get an unexpected invitation to have a chat with ISD officers, you are labelled a menace to national security, or worse, a terrorist, before even starting to paint your banners or light your protest march torches. Goh Chok Tong himself once revealed that the decision to scrape this draconian inquisition would depend on ‘voters’, which implies that Singaporeans have the power to decide on the relevance of the ISA. I have my doubts about this, but the spectre of voters acting on behalf of human rights activists, who have been fighting against this archaic law for the longest time, has been revived again this presidential election. This was what Goh said on the ISA issue being a hot election topic (ISA issue: Voters must decide, says Chok Tong, 30 April 1988, ST):

If we detained people without trial and locked them up for no reason for years and years and people disappear and are accounted for, the Government will fall very quickly in the general election.

The second part of his statement doesn’t make sense. A paranoid government would do away with elections altogether, if not ensure results are always in their favour by detaining people who may actually vote against them.

Tan Cheng Bock had little to contribute throughout the whole discussion, though he was more vocal in his support of the Marxist coup as a PAP backbencher and Feedback Unit head back in 1987 (Most think Govt acted rightly, says Cheng Bock, 30 July 1987, ST). But back to TT’s description of the ISA as a blunt instrument. It’s strange that the word  ‘blunt’ was used to describe a system run by a unit consisting of  professionals and President Scholars claiming to be able to arrest ‘genuine subversives’. Professionals! I always thought the ISD were a legion of death-eaters and Ring wraiths on black stallions.

Middle Earth ISD

Perhaps TT was thinking of a hammer in relation to the accusations of the ‘Marxists’ ‘infiltrating’ the Workers’ Party as a cover for their ‘clandestine activities’. Anyone familiar with the trauma of being hit by objects would agree that you may wield a blunt instrument, but if you apply it with sufficient force, it’ll destroy you as would the sharpest samurai sword, except that it’s just a more horrible way to die. Though it’s reasonable that some breach of human rights should be necessary to deter would-be murderous extremists from blowing up this country, applying broad strokes on ordinary , outspoken citizens who have never fired a weapon in their life,  instead of exercising restraint and thoughtful precision, is a case of setting fire to a house the moment the floor starts to creak.

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.