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Tan Cheng Bock maintains a dignified silence despite Goh Chok Tong’s persistent digs

"I will never talk about my friend in public. That’s my answer. I won’t go into that as respect for my friend," said Dr Tan




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Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock has maintained a dignified silence despite Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh’s persistent digs at him. Dr Tan has deliberately chosen not to speak about his friend despite ESM Goh’s lack of hesitance in attacking the man he once called his “very close friend”.

ESM Goh and Dr Tan have been close friends for nearly 60 years – in fact, Dr Tan was one of just three visitors who were permitted to see the ESM apart from his immediate family when the former Prime Minister underwent a major surgery in 2014. Just last year, Dr Tan was among a select group of friends at ESM Goh’s intimate 77th birthday bash.

What appeared to be cracks in the friendship between the two politicians arose soon after Dr Tan – a former ruling party parliamentarian – announced the formation of his own opposition party to seek accountability and transparency from the Government.

On 31 Dec 2018, Dr Tan said that he is retiring from his practice of medicine to serve Singaporeans – his post was taken to be the clearest indication at the time that he would contest politics once again. Just a day later, ESM Goh wrote on Facebook: ““To serve my country” is a well-worn out cliché favoured by politicians, new and old alike.

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“Watching politicians all over the world, including Singapore’s, pardon me for asking whether that is indeed the true intention of many of them. Fathoming a person’s heart beyond his words is difficult. One, therefore, must be especially sceptical of any veteran politician’s practised words.”

Although Mr Goh did not refer to any particular “veteran politician”, several political observers suggested that the former Prime Minister was most likely referring to Dr Tan Cheng Bock since his post came just a day after Dr Tan’s announcement.

Later that month, Dr Tan announced the formation of the PSP. In starting his own opposition party, Dr Tan became the very first former ruling party politician to join the opposition in the history of Singapore.

Days later, ESM Goh made what appeared to be another dig at Dr Tan on Facebook. He wrote: “I too try and touch the lives of our vulnerable citizens, old and young. At 78, I find this a more meaningful way to continue working for a kinder and gentler society than trying to make a come-back in politics. Unlike in Malaysia, there is no need to do a Mahathir in Singapore.”

During the PSP’s media conference and official launch in August, Dr Tan put forth the message that the ruling PAP has changed and has “lost its way.”

Mr Goh sniped on social media later: “Tan Cheng Bock says that Lee Kuan Yew invited him to join the PAP. Ouch! He omits to say that I put his name up to LKY. Surely I deserve some credit — or rather, blame — for who he has become now?”

He added: “Tan Cheng Bock was my classmate in Raffles Institution. I have known him close for over 60 years. It saddens me to see how he has “lost his way”. He is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills”

Derived from the novel ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes, the phrase ’tilting at windmills’ refers to wasting one’s energy fighting imaginary enemies.

Yesterday (29 Sept), Dr Tan and his Progress Singapore Party (PSP) visited 29 constituencies across the nation in their inaugural islandwide walkabout. Sharing photos of PSP members reaching out to residents at Marine Parade GRC, ESM Goh wrote on Facebook: “PSP eyeing Marine Parade. ‘Et tu, Brute?'”

‘Et tu, Brute?’ is a Latin phrase literally meaning ‘and you, Brutus?’. It is notable for its occurrence in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, where it is spoken by the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Junius Brutus at the moment of Caesar’s assassination.

In the play, Caesar utters these words as he is being stabbed to death, having recognized his friend and protégé Brutus as one of the assassins. Today, the phrase is often used to signify an unexpected betrayal by a friend.

ESM Goh highlighted his long friendship with Dr Tan with his short post and indicated that Dr Tan is ‘betraying’ him like how Brutus betrayed Caesar.

Despite ESM Goh’s persistent attempts at putting down his “very close friend,” Dr Tan continues to take the high road. When reporters asked Dr Tan about ESM Goh’s comments that he has “lost his way” last month, Dr Tan asserted:

“I will never talk about my friend in public. That’s my answer. I won’t go into that as respect for my friend.”

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