By Augustine Low
The one thing you cannot say about Chan Chun Sing is that he is lacking in self-belief and self-confidence. In fact, you can hardly come across anyone who is as dead sure of everything, above all himself.
His demeanour is that of a person overflowing with intelligence. To the extent that he reeks of the idiom too clever by half – defined by the Oxford dictionary as persons “annoyingly proud of their intelligence or skill, and liable to overreach themselves.”
Somehow this conjures up the image of Chan Chun Sing in full flow.
To recap what he is like, Chan told Parliament last year during the debate on the water price hike that much more needed to be done to “socialise our people to the challenges that we are facing on the water front.” There must be agreement by everyone that “water is existential,” he repeatedly stressed with a flourish.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the existentialism of water went over the heads of those sitting in Parliament, so how could ordinary Singaporeans have figured out what Chan was alluding to? But the Minister in full flow is liable to launch into platitudes of the sort.
During the state funeral service of former President S R Nathan at the NUS, Chan gave the sixth of seven eulogies. It was fine until he started shouting Majulah Singapura on stage! It was most awkward; was it a solemn funeral service or a political rally? But Chan aka Kee Chiu in full flow is prone to such theatrics.
He also has the regrettable tendency to wade in on issues without restraint. This was why recently, in less than a week, Chan as the PAP Whip had to make a U-turn over whether MPs should write letters on behalf of constituents to the courts.
Again this harks back to the fact that Chan is super confident of his ability to pull everything off. The politics of restraint and circumspection is not in his DNA.
Chan’s rhetoric and soundbites are also an uncanny regurgitation of PAP party lines and catchphrases. Consider these standard platitudes of Chan, actual lines and phrases he has used which we have heard before, word-for-word or with very slight variations:
– Singapore faces life and death struggles
– No one owes Singaporeans a living
– Singaporeans can be the agents of change
– There’s no problem with having highly skilled foreign talent
– The government must be accountable and responsive to the people’s needs
– Trust needs to be earned and maintained by each generation of leaders
– We overcame challenges and thrive as one united people regardless of race, language or religion
It is as if parroting these well-worn motherhood lines and putting on a moral posture would put Chan in line to be the next PM.
And he not only does it on home ground, he even went to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month and mimicked a global leader. He expressed his confidence in the Chinese winning the trust and confidence of the world. “The Chinese have a saying yi de fu ren – use your benevolence to bring about a global community,” he said.
Nice one, except that this was the exact same phrase deftly and memorably used by President Xi Jinping at the same Davos forum the previous year to assure the world of Chinese good intentions.
But kudos to Chan for effort; at least you know he wants to be PM as opposed to someone who is ambivalent about it. He is spilling over with ambition, his demeanour says it all and he has tried hard to stamp his mark and engage in one-upmanship.
By sticking resolutely to his script, even if predictably so, Chan Chun Sing could claim the biggest prize, the prime ministership. Too clever by half he may well be, but will he have the last laugh?