Dr Tan Cheng Bock as Dr Subtle
During the presidential campaign, many opposition voters and strong establishment critics expressed lukewarm support towards Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s campaign. Most frustrating to them were his repeated remarks that the President cannot engage in day-to-day policy debate with the government, and that the role of the Cabinet and Parliament must be respected. Similarly, these people might have been disenchanted with his refusal to publicly promise that he will cut the President’s salary or donate it to charity (and even indirectly criticised Tan Kin Lian for having promised so). In reality, though Dr Tan refrained commenting publicly on policy or current events, he did so in his own unusual way.
While Dr Tan was not half as confrontational as Mr Tan Jee Say, he was in fact sending disguised messages of solidarity to establishment critics in the conduct of his presidential campaign. Unfortunately it appeared that few amongst the more fired-up establishment critics deciphered those messages and most went heavily for Tan Jee Say on Polling Day.
For example, Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s earliest and first campaign slogan was “Let conscience be your guide”. This was unveiled shortly after he announced his intention to run for President. This was soon to change, however.
Dr Tony Tan first came under public mainstream criticism for his controversial policies on reforming university education to double the foreign student intake through overseas recruitment and offering scholarships to firegn students, at an SMU lecture on 19th July 2011 [Source: The Straits Times, S’poreans first, but don’t shut out talent, 20/7/2011].
A few days later on 22nd July 2011, Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s campaign suddenly unveiled a new slogan: Think Singaporeans First, possibly in response to public criticism of Tony Tan’s university education policy. The old slogan appeared to have been side-lined and from then on the new slogan would appear on every new poster or campaign material produced after that date.
When the story of how the CMC mediator bungled a case of mediation between a local Indian and migrant PRC family over cooking curry indoors broke on Aug 8 here, Dr Tan Cheng Bock made no public comments. However, in his trademark subtle manner, Dr Tan’s campaign picked the palm tree as his logo, explaining that
“The leaves of the palm represents our multiracial society, the trunk represents it coming together, and the roots represents us taking root in Singapore…”
[Source: Presidential symbols and their meaning, TNP, 18/8/2011] (note that this dated after the curry incident)
SINGAPORE: Dr Tan Cheng Bock continues to promote multi-racialism, by opening an Indian restaurant, Mahaa’s Spicy Corner, in Little India on Sunday.
However, he said it had nothing to do with the Facebook movement “Cook and share a pot of curry day” after a misunderstanding between a Chinese and Indian family over the smell of curry.
Come on, Dr Tan, do you take people as fools to not notice that? Ok I get that it’s supposed to be secret. Hush!
Subtle hints during GE 2011
If one investigates further there is earlier evidence that Dr Tan was somewhat subtly standing on the side of the establishment critics during the earlier GE in May 2011.
For example, during the earlier part of the GE campaign, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, the anchor PAP minister in Holland BT GRC made the following veiled gutter attack on the opposing SDP team which Dr Vincent Wijeysingha was leading:
I am not sure what (the Singapore Democratic Party’s) strategy is. I would like to know whether they have confirmed that they are contesting, I would like to know their line-up. I can’t help feeling that part of the reason for their reticence is they have elements of their agenda they are not prepared to disclose and subject to scrutiny. Eventually, they will have to come out of the closet.
[Source: The Incumbents, ST, 20th Apr 2011, emphasis added]
While Vivian did not explicitly say what he was talking about, it didn’t escape the notice of blogger and gay activist Alex Au that Vivian was making a veiled reference to SDP’s support of gay rights and a likely allusion to Dr Vincent Wijey’s orientation.
It took only a day for Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s blog to post the following statement:
No Gutter Politics,Please –We’re Singaporeans
Elections is just around the corner. Political parties are fighting hard to win votes. They are revealing their manifestos,their agenda,showing their candidates’ strengths and making promises of change when elected. This is all part and parcel of campaigning. In the heat of political debates many unkind words may be spoken,accusations of wrong doings may be hurled at each other and challenges thrown at one another. All these can be expected. But as our nation has always pride itself for doing the right thing,I hope political parties can move a few notches up in their political debates and not resort to gutter politics to win votes. We must respect our voters who are now more educated and politically savvy. Then we will show the world that we have arrived also as a politically matured society .
April 21st,2011 | Category:Uncategorized
Another somewhat crytic post on Dr Tan’s blog appeared on Apr 30th:
GRC Whose interest? People’s or PAP’s?
GRC serves the PAP not the People’s interest says Low Thia Kiang WP opposition candidate for Aljunied GRC but PM Lee maintains that it is to serve minority interest as the system ensures minority representation in parliament. But in 1981 JB Jeyaretnam won the single member Anson seat in a predominantly Chinese area,counters Low. However after the 1984 GE when voting pattern was seen to move towards race bias,parliament in 1988 passed the GRC legislation to make sure that minority will always be represented. Each political party is expected to produce a slate of candidates,amongst which there must be a minority candidate be it a Malay,an Indian or Others.It started out as a 3 or 4 grouping.Over the years the GRC grouping increased from 3 to 6 members and was seen by the opposition as a change from its original intention.They think the PAP is using the system to bring in people by riding on the coat tails of seasoned campaigners.
Can a minority candidate win in a single member seat ? The answer lies in this coming GE when Michael Palmer an Eurasian is being challenged by 2 Chinese candidates in Punggol East.
April 30th,2011 | Category:Uncategorized
Why only on April 30th when GRCs have long been around since 1988, and their existence in this year’s GE was confirmed by the electoral boundaries released as far back as 24th Feb? Could it be because Nomination Day a few days ago on 27th April saw a controversial first-time candidate named Tin Pei Ling formally confirm her candidacy for MP in Marine Parade GRC, running under the coattails of then-SM Goh Chok Tong? While it was not out of question, it was entirely possible for the PAP to drop Tin Pei Ling as a candidate before nomination day, similar to the way a certain would-be candidate was dropped from the PAP Tanjong Pagar GRC team.
While it is starkly (and depressingly) apparent now that Dr Tan will never be Singapore’s seventh President, one may conclude from how he ran his campaign that he would have been a subtle advocate and voice for the people in his own way. One which does not conflict or contradict his public statements never to clash publicly with the Cabinet or Parliament on issues but would convey the people’s concerns behind closed doors as he had promised the public.
Such a campaign strategy was probably the most viable given his PAP background and past, Dr Tan would inevitably lose some opposition support to the other candidates. Hence he could not afford to alienate PAP-leaning moderate voters who want change but not drastic changes while appealing to opposition-leaning critics.
Alas! If only a minute fraction of the more fired up PAP critics had deciphered those messages in time and voted for Dr Tan Cheng Bock instead of Mr Tan Jee Say, they would have elected a president much more receptive to their sentiments than they had suspected.