George Yeo’s cryptic message reconsidered
This post is largely a speculative one. Readers who dislike rumours should ignore this.
Right on the eve of Cooling-off day on 25th August, former Minister George Yeo posted this cryptic message on his Facebook wall:
Here’s some context on when the message was posted. It was right after Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s rally and just before cooling off day. Immediately the cryptic message sparked speculation online that George Yeo might be endorsing Tan Jee Say, widely seen as the opposition candidate whose campaign logo of the heart was mentioned in George’s status. Others pointed to evidence that this was posted just after the conclusion of Dr Tan’s rally where the theme of Dr Tan Cheng Bock having a heart for the people was repeatedly emphasized.
Whether it was Tan Jee Say or Tan Cheng Bock George Yeo implicitly endorsed, one thing is clear: The message could not be interpreted in any way to be supportive of the PAP’s preferred candidate Dr Tony Tan. Throughout his campaign Tony Tan had stressed repeatedly that he had the most experience and knowledge to lead Singapore in dark economic times and that steady leadership was needed in the face of growing global economic uncertainty. If George had wanted to implicitly endorse Tony Tan, he could said he wanted a President with a clear mind and experienced hand. He would not have added that cryptic part about having a heart when just about no one would associate Dr Tony Tan as having a heart for the people. Others might instead argue that the part on having a clear mind automatically rules out Tan Jee Say given his confrontational attitude towards Tony Tan on the issue of Marxist detainees.
But why might George withhold support for Tony Tan and additionally insert doubt as to who he preferred as President? Couldn’t he have remained silent? Here are a couple of reasons.
Firstly George Yeo had openly announced he was considering running for President, only to withdraw that consideration on 15th June. The next day, the media ran a story on Tony Tan being seen as a likely candidate for President. SR Nathan, the incumbent President would announce he was not running shortly after. Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps George was told by party insiders that if he ran his standing amongst the PAP leadership would erode given that the PAP preferred Tony Tan. The PAP simply did not want to split the vote between Tony Tan and George Yeo, even as the PEC would later grant the presidential COE to three other candidates just for that purpose. George Yeo might have felt compelled to withdraw his candidacy because of internal party pressure on him by the top. He probably wasn’t too pleased that they pushed him off to make way for Tony Tan who they preferred.
Secondly, Tony Tan might have ticked off George Yeo without realising it. In a bid to soften his hardline image as an elite PAP insider, Tony Tan remarked that the GE results were win-win for both the opposition and the PAP and that WP’s victory marked a “new norm”. He was referring of course, to Aljunied GRC where WP’s elite team knocked off a sitting minister named George Yeo. A win for both the PAP and the opposition? Yes, perhaps. But clearly not for George Yeo whose loss meant he had to step down from office and parliament where he stood since 1988. He was the biggest casualty in the elections, a victim of the GRC system which ensured that the PAP won 93% of the seats even as it lost 40% of the vote to the opposition parties. George Yeo might not have liked the fact that Tony Tan’s words implied that the loss of George Yeo was for the greater good of the country. Never mind all of George’s past political contributions to Singapore and the PAP.
Did George Yeo make that cryptic message to get back at Tony Tan and the PAP which stood against his Presidential ambitions? Why didn’t he implicitly or explicitly endorse Tony Tan? Or even remained silent? We will never know for sure.