I am prepared to mentor aspiring politicians: Tan Cheng Bock

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock addresses the audience at a forum organised by Future of Singapore on Saturday, 16 December, 2017. PHOTO: Nicholas Yong/Yahoo News Singapore

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock said he is prepared to groom aspiring political candidates from all across the political divide, but was coy about the prospect of becoming a rallying figure for the opposition.

“I would love to be a mentor to many people who want to go into the political arena, teach them the art of winning elections,” said Tan at a public forum on Saturday (16 December).

Asked by Yahoo News Singapore if he saw himself as a unifying figurehead for the opposition and if he was prepared to mentor say, Workers’ Party candidates, Tan responded at length, “I’m prepared to mentor any political group, even PAP chaps can come to me, I’ll still mentor them. Because the objective must be very clear: you want to train people who will be good MPs. MPs who will think of Singapore first.”

But given that Tan, 77, had said Singapore’s political system tends to create citizens who are “very obedient, insecure and many a time, fearful of authority,” wouldn’t mentoring PAP candidates perpetuate this system? “On the contrary, if you come under my fold, I’ll tell them not to think like that. So if they do enter into the political arena, even into the PAP, I think they will carry some of my views,” said Tan.

He added that he had been approached by “quite a few” individuals, whom he would be meeting in due course.

The father of two was taking questions from a crowd of more than 100 at the forum entitled “Dr Tan Cheng Bock: Post-PE 2017 Singapore Moving Forward”, organised by Future of Singapore (FOSG). It was his first public appearance since attending a silent protest in September against the reserved presidential election. Most queries centred on the state of opposition politics in Singapore and how each citizen could play a meaningful role in society.

Pressed by an audience member on the issue of becoming an opposition figurehead, Tan replied, “To be a unifying person, I think first you must have acceptance. I cannot just say well, I want to be a unifying figure…let me think more…options will not be closed off just yet.”

Whither post-PE2017?

Reiterating his point that Halimah Yacob’s is “the most controversial presidency in the history of Singapore, Tan noted, “In all my years in public service, I have never witnessed such an outpouring of frustration and anger in Singapore over a presidency.”

Referring to the constitutional challenge that he had brought against the timing of the reserved presidential election, Tan said, “The government may have won the case, but even to allow the issue to be resolved in court is poor political management.”

Tan predicted that lingering resentment by voters over their inability to choose a president at the ballot box would have an effect on the next General Election. Nevertheless, Singaporeans need more convincing of how the alternative parties can address the bread and butter issues of the day that affect them.

He spoke of the “intra-personal conflict” of the average Singaporean voter. On the one hand, the voter is concerned about the effect on his personal interests, such as health and housing, should he plump for an alternative party. “Because he’s worried, he has never experienced any other government, so he’s not sure if he can trust you or not…so he has exercised his vote in the past elections to preserve those needs.”

On the other hand, the voter “lost an important right in the PE: that is, the opportunity to exercise his vote in the presidential election…this loss is weighing on his mind and will affect his vote in the next election.”

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