Presidential hopefuls can learn from Worker’s Party

Posted on 09 June 2011

White is out these days. Which is why pro-establishment figures won’t stand a chance in the coming Presidential Election.

By Terence Lee

Tan Kin Lian trying too hard to be David Copperfield.

WHEN the Worker’s Party swept into Parliament in May, it was largely because they hammered home their campaign slogan: “Towards a First World Parliament.”

Never mind that many of their policy proposals were lame: People were clamouring for more opposition voices in Parliament, and they got it.

And I hope Presidential hopefuls Tan Kin Lian, Tan Cheng Bock, and maybe even George Yeo and former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, were watching closely.

Because therein lies the key to riches, glory, power, and fame — maybe not riches, because the Presidential salary is expected to be slashed.

But here’s the deal: Whichever candidate that comes across as the most independent-minded and sensible stands a good chance of winning.

And not just that. He must be like the Rock — the People’s Champ. He must be perceived as the People’s President; an advocate for the voice of ordinary Singaporeans.

In other words, the Presidential hopefuls must strike a balance between lame dog S.R Nathan and mad dog Chee Soon Juan (version 1.0).

Why do I say this? Two facts to chew on:

1) People have grown more comfortable with dissident voices in Government

Very likely, this Presidential Election will be contested. The last time there was a dogfight for the position was in 1993 where Ong Teng Cheong ran against a reluctant Chua Kim Yeow, henceforth called The Other Guy.

Both Elections have one parellel: They came after a surge in Opposition support in the preceding General Elections.

In 1991, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) captured three seats in Parliament, and the opposition parties secured 39 percent of the votes. The SDP was still intact in 1993.

Ong Teng Cheong from a bygone era. Photo: LEE CHIN

According to Warren Fernandez, then writing as a journalist with the Straits Times, The Other Guy won a substantial 41.31 percent of the votes largely because of his independent streak. This despite how people got angry that his campaigning efforts were largely non-existent at the beginning.

“Opposition parties, which had earlier asked voters to spoil their ballots, began urging them to vote for Mr Chua instead. As polling day approached, the front-runner’s lead narrowed,” wrote Warren.

A few things here:

Ever since the People’s Action Party had a track record, they began harping on it like annoying insurance salesmen. Teng Cheong tried it, and the Men in White did it again in the last polls. But if the results were any indication, this track record will not always play sweet music.

The gap between the General Election and Presidential Election will only be three months at most, compared with two years in 1993. Which means the Men in Blue’s victory in Aljunied GRC is still fresh on people’s minds.

This could galvanise Singaporeans. George Yeo could benefit from his defeat should he decide to contest this time around. Tan Kin Lian, who is friendly with the opposition parties, would surely welcome an endorsement from them.

2) Less is at stake at picking a dissident President

Think Chiam See Tong’s by-election strategy, Presidential Edition.

Lee Kuan Yew is famous for invoking the bogeyman of Singapore politics — the freak election. What happens if the opposition parties win by a large margin, and form the Government despite their ineptness?

Fear-mongering, for sure, but not invalid. Technically, if everyone voted because they want more alternative voices in Parliament, disaster would befall Singapore. That’s because the Worker’s Party had said that they are not quite fit to rule.

No such concern for the Presidential Election.

The Singapore President has limited powers. The Cabinet will still be around even if you pick a rabid dog to fill the post, and so will the Prime Minister. Less is at stake.

Singaporeans will be less disincentivised from picking a dissident as President.

For sure, all the potential candidates so far are ex-PAP men. But all display some semblence of independent thinking. Right off the bat, Tan Cheng Bock portrayed himself as a vocal backbencher who was not afraid to say it like it is. He has the first-mover advantage in this campaign, although his support of the arrests of the so-called Marxist conspirators will disgust left-leaning voters.

George Yeo calls himself a “minority voice” in the “broad church that is the PAP”. He’s widely respected by moderate voices, and you can count on fangirl Xiaxue to campaign on his behalf again (not sure if that’s a good thing).

Tan Kin Lian’s claim to fame was when he organised a rally for investors of the High Notes and Minibonds investment products, which saw a turnout in the thousands. He’s the candidate that the opposition parties and supporters are most likely to endorse.

Tony Tan is, well, Tony Tan. Although he opposed the Graduate Mothers Scheme, his low profile in recent years will work against him. Should he decide to run, he has a lot of media schmoozing to do, although that won’t be a problem.


Already, online discourse has placed Ong Teng Cheong as the President by which the upcoming contenders will be measured against. That’s no surprise, considering his vocal opposition against the government, plus the fact that he was never given a State funeral.

Ironically though, the candidate that stands the best chance to win it all would be the one that can emulate The Other Guy’s campaign message: A “credible apolitical alternative”, they called him.

But scratch that “apolitical” bit; it’s an uncool term nowadays.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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  • Anderson

    Tan Kin Lian will want to take the clue from Workers’party and create the slogan for his presidential campaign.

    “Towards a First World President.”


    “Towards the People’s President.”

  • Eve

    I’m sorry but this is poorly written article.

    • Terence Lee

      oh, come on, you can do better and actually offer some constructive comments.

    • Roxanne Lee

      How poorly written is poorly written?

  • bluexspore

    Debate yes, but do not take those in authority as ‘equals’
    The Straits Times (Singapore) 20 Feb 1995 p11

    Remember your place in society before you engage in political debate, said Information and the Arts Minister George Yeo yesterday.

    Debate cannot degenerate into a free-for-all where no distinction is made between the senior and junior party, or what the Hokkiens describe as ‘boh tua, boh suay’.

    You must make distinctions—what is high, what is low, what is above, what is below—and then within this, we can have a debate, we can have a discussion, he added.

    Speaking to reporters … on the parameters of debate, an issue sparked off by the Catherine Lim controversy, he made it clear that people should not take on those in authority as ‘equals’. The Prime Minister responded to writer Catherine Lim for her article on his governing style because her tone showed disrespect for authority.

    Brig-Gen (NS) Yeo recalled that in 1991, the National Trades Union Congress raised a rumpus when Straits Times columnist Sumiko Tan criticised then union-MP Goh Chee Wee for his speech in Parliament.

    Mr Goh felt that Miss Tan was ‘wagging her finger at him’, he said. Likewise, during last year’s Budget debate, Parliament took issue with ST columnist Cherian George for his comments on the Speaker’s handling of the guillotine. ‘He had no right to speak to the Speaker as an equal.’

    Pointing to a more recent example, he noted that the judiciary responded when American academic Christopher Lingle took ‘pot shots’ at it in an article he wrote in the International Herald Tribune. He added: ‘This is not to say that MPs, ministers, Speakers or judges cannot be criticised … They ought to be criticised if they are wrong but it should always be done in a way which doesn’t tear the social fabric.’

    He said that these individuals did not arrogate to themselves the right to receive respect: MPs were elected while judges were appointed in a solemn ceremony.

    Turning to examples abroad, he said the British monarchy had fallen into disrepute because newspapers cirticise the royals to increase circulation. But the Thais threw those who criticise the royals into prison.

    ‘Every society creates immune systems to defend its own key organs and we must have the immune system in Singapore. Otherwise, by slow increments, we allow these organs to be infected and degraded. And that is not good for us, it is not good for the health of whole society.’

  • bluexspore

    April 2005 in Parliament – Goh Chok Tong: “Right from the beginning, I kept an open mind on the casino question. When the subject was first broached by George Yeo, the Minister for Trade and Industry, PM and many Ministers were against it. The project nearly did not see the light of day. But George Yeo persisted. As the Minister in charge of the economy, he had to persist.”

  • bluexspore

    Does Dr Tan Cheng Bock make a good candidate just because he spoke up a few times? Did he follow up or do anything else besides speaking up? He was an MP for so long but did he do anything to actually improve Singaporeans’ lives? Why did he not say anything before GE 2011? Why is he only speaking up after GE2011 when he’s running for President?

  • J

    The second paragraph already struck me as “lame”. Can you substantiate that “many of their (Worker’s party) policy proposals were lame”?

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