92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad made history last night by defeating the incumbent at the polls and ushering in Malaysia’s first transition of power since independence, at the watershed 2018 Malaysian General Election.
Mahathir, who helped establish the ruling Barisan National (BN) coalition in power and served as Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, stepped out of retirement and left the ruling party to lead the opposition. Breaking the BN’s six-decade long monopoly, Mahathir beat his one-time protégé Najib Razak and is set to become the world’s oldest head of government when he is sworn in.
Mahathir’s stunning election upset has prompted many Singaporeans to express their desire to see veteran politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock contest the next General Election in Singapore as an opposition candidate.
At 78, Dr Tan is 14 years junior to Mahathir. Much like Mahathir, Dr Tan was also with the ruling party previously and served as People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian for 26 years, between 1980 and 2006. He was also elected into the PAP’s Central Executive Committee in 1987 and remained a member until 1996.
During his tenure as ruling party politician, Dr Tan served as the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPCs) for Education (1987–90), National Development (1991–95) and the Environment (1995–97), and was the Co-ordinating Chairman for all GPCs from 1987-88. He was also a member of the GPCs for Communications (1997–2000) and Defence and Foreign Affairs (2001–06).
The Ayer Rajah Single Member Constituency (SMC) Member of Parliament (MP) also led the Singapore-European Parliamentary Group between 1991 – 1996 and Singapore-SEA Parliamentary Group between 1997 – 2006. Besides this, he served as Chairman of the Jurong East Town Council from 1989 – 91, Chairman of the West Coast-Ayer Rajah Town Council from 2001 – 04, Chairman of the Bukit Timah Community Development Council from 1997 – 2000, and Chairman of the Feedback Unit at the Ministry of Community Development from 1985-89.
The medical doctor retired from the ruling party before the General Election in 2006.
In 2011, Dr Tan contested the Presidential Election. After a fierce fight with establishment favourite Tony Tan, Dr Tan lost the race to his fellow ex-PAP MP by just 0.35% of votes.
5 years passed. In March 2016, Dr Tan announced his intentions to contest the 2017 Presidential Election. Just 8 months later, in November 2016, Parliament announced new amendments to the elected presidential scheme and outlined that since there has not been a President from the Malay community for five consecutive terms, the 2017 election will be reserved for those from the Malay community.
In his constitutional challenge to the court, Dr Tan disputed the counting of the five consecutive terms and argued that if the AGC counts from President Ong Teng Cheong, Singapore’s first rightfully elected President instead of counting from President Wee Kim Wee who was an appointed president, this year’s PE would not need to be reserved in accordance to the new amendments.
Justice Quentin Loh ruled that, “Ultimately, since (the Constitution) does not fetter Parliament’s power … Parliament’s choice of (the first elected President) is a policy decision which falls outside the remit of the courts.”
Dr Tan responded that the Judge may have misconstrued the Constitutional provisions surrounding the matter and appealed the decision in Singapore’s apex court. In August last year, a panel of five Court of Appeal judges threw out his appeal to dismiss the High Court’s earlier rejection of his application after reserving judgment at the appeal hearing on 31 July 2017.
Following the apex court’s decision, Dr Tan offered to groom political candidates from any political party. He added that “quite a few” individuals have already approached him and that he will be meeting these individuals soon: “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.”
As to whether he would join an opposition party in the next General Election, which must be held by 15 Jan 2021, Dr Tan said: “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.”
He added that he does not intend to start his own political party as there are already too many political parties in Singapore.
Mahathir’s historic victory has prompted Singaporeans to express their desire for Dr Tan to achieve something similar by contesting the next election from the opposition’s camp: