SINGAPORE: Former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo has indicated that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was not happy with Tan Cheng Bock’s candidacy in the 2011 Presidential Election, in his new book series ‘George Yeo: Musings’.
In the third volume of the series, Mr Yeo recounted that after he lost Aljunied GRC to the Workers’ Party in the 2011 general election in May, he was called to PM Lee’s office to discuss the presidential election which was due to be held months later.
Mr Yeo recalled, “I was among a few whom PM Lee thought could beat Tan Cheng Bock.”
Mr Yeo told the PM that he was “temperamentally unsuited to be president”. He said, “I then said he could treat me as a spare tyre to be used only in an emergency.”
The former politician added that PM Lee’s late father, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew also urged him to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential election. Mr Yeo, however, stressed to PM Lee that he “was not going to stand if he had another candidate in mind”.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam then offered himself as a candidate, according to Mr Yeo.
Mr Yeo said he was “happy to move on” and added, “In my mind, I was sure that Lee Kuan Yew preferred Dr Tony Tan to me for that role. I also thought that Dr (Tony) Tan would be more suitable.”
Dr Tony Tan narrowly won the election with 35.20 per cent of the vote, compared to the 34.85 per cent Dr Tan Cheng Bock garnered in the four-cornered fight.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock indicated interest to contest the succeeding presidential election but the constitution was amended in 2016, reserving the 2017 presidential election for only Malay-Muslim candidates.
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob left PM Lee’s party and Parliament to contest the election. She became President unopposed when two prospective candidates were disqualified from the race due to the amended qualification criteria.
Mr Yeo’s revelations make clear that the PM and his father were worried about Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s popularity and, possibly, the kind of President he could have been.
Although he was a former People’s Action Party (PAP) backbencher MP, Dr Tan Cheng Bock has cultivated a strong reputation as an independent politician and is one of the rare few who has voted against his party in Parliament even though the whip had not been lifted.
He promised in 2011 to be an independent President and reiterated his 1985 speech that there should be no more blank cheques given to the Government.
Interestingly, Mr Yeo’s remarks also make it clear that the People’s Action Party (PAP) is very concerned as to who will occupy the President’s seat.
Although limited, the executive powers the President holds are very important to the PAP. Former President Ong Teng Cheong was allegedly stonewalled when he tried to get information about the national reserved and he told Asiaweek in 2000 that he felt “a bit grumpy” that the Singapore government thwarted his attempts to do so.
The establishment favourite for the next Presidential Election, which is due to take place in just a few weeks, is former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam – PM Lee’s former second-in-command.
He faces competition from another establishment figure, former GIC chief economist Ng Kok Song, as well as Tan Kin Lian – the ex-NTUC Income chief who contested the 2011 election, alongside Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Dr Tony Tan. /TISG
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