By: Yoong Siew Wah
The spectre of Dr Tan Cheng Bock being elected President in the next Presidential Election had been haunting a diffident PM Lee Hsien Loong and his drolling Cabinet for a long time after the last EP election in 2011 when Dr Tony Tan won by a miniscule 35.2 % with the PAP fearing and declining a run-off. Dr Tan Cheng Bock, if elected, would not be a compliant President like Dr Tony Tan and the late SR Nathan.
So the PAP caucus, under the so-called sagacious PM Lee Hsien Loong, had been racking their brains to try to find a solution to this vexing EP problem. Some bright spark in the Cabinet, probably PM Lee himself, came up with a lifesaving solution of establishing a Constitutional Commission to review the EP Scheme which would set the eligibility criteria so high that Dr Tan Cheng Bock would automatically be precluded from standing as a candidate for the EP.
Indeed, Dr Tan had earlier indicated that he would stand as a candidate for the next EP election and he was so popular with an overwhelming public response that it would be a cinch for him to become the next President which was seen to have sent a shiver of fear down the spine of the PAP caucus.
So when PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the establishment of the Constitutional Commission to review the EP Scheme, it sent an unmistakable message to the public that this was all a massive exercise at public expense just to preclude Dr. Tan Cheng Bock from standing for the next EP election.
Notwithstanding all the blatant tongue-in-cheek talks by PAP leaders that this was not an exclusion exercise against any particular individual, no amount of glib talks by the PAP leaders would be able to convince the public that this was not against Dr Tan Cheng Bock. In fact this had been the talk of the town. In the end the Commission Report has confirmed their greatest fear.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock is a hardy politician and had been mentally prepared for such political adversity which he has to his credit gracefully accepted. He knows that he will never qualify to stand with the $500 million company equity requirement and will only be an exercise in futility to pursue it. The Commission Report with some slight modification has been incorporated in a Government White Paper which will be debated in Parliament. It will just be an eyewash as with the Government’s overwhelming majority in Parliament there is no question that it will not receive approval.
The minority Presidential concession is no doubt a subtle move to appease the minority Malay Community which would otherwise feel marginalised. It may be apparent that they may regard this a a gesture of tokenism.
Mr Yoong Siew Wah was the Director of Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) from 1971 to 1974. He was Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in the 1960s, and had a distinguished career in the Singapore Special Branch in the 1950s. The erudite Mr. Yoong, who is in his late eighties, keeps a blog Singapore Recalcitrant.