Cheng Bock, The Man Who Could Have Been President

The theme this week is Oldies But Goodies.Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah

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First, Dr Adrian Tan Cheng Bock, 76.

The former PAP MP for Ayer Rajah and, more important, the man who would and could have been Singapore’s last elected president, is unhappy about being robbed of a chance to try again.

In fact, many Singaporeans believe he was robbed of the 2011 presidential election, if not for the entry of the other two non-PAP-endorsed candidates, Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian.

Just to recollect. Dr Tony Tan won – having garnered 745,693 votes out of 2,118,549 (35.20 per cent). Dr Tan Cheng Bock got 738,311 votes (34.85 per cent).  We all know that Tan Jee Say, one of the other two candidates, stood clearly as a non-PAP “opposition” candidate and had strong endorsement from opposition elements. As it turned out, he won quite a substantial number of votes – 530,411 (25.04 per cent). So, no quarrel over him. Good for him.

But I think a lot of pro-Cheng Bock people were cheesed off by the entry of Tan Kin Lian, who became, in their eyes, the spoiler. His 104, 095 votes (4.91 per cent) could have made a big difference.

Cheng Bock lost by only 7,382 votes (0.35 per cent).

He is now doubly miffed that he is being robbed a second time – that, under the changes to the presidential election, he is ineligible for the upcoming poll in September.  He is neither a Malay nor the most senior executive of a company that has at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity.

Realistically, Dr Tan is making a quixotic stand, trying to tilt against the windmills.  There have been winds of change in the political landscape since 2011.

The angst against and dissatisfaction with the PAP have much dissipated in the runup to the 2015 general elections. Against a backdrop of a raft of policy changes and astute though overdue corrective moves – including the Pioneer Generation Package and in housing, healthcare, jobs and, perhaps, immigration – voters are no longer as angry as they were before 2011. That was clearly reflected in the 2015 general elections.  And if there was any doubt as to where voter sentiment lay, the Bukit Batok by-election in May 2016 showed that even a “heavyweight” opposition figure in the form of the Singapore Democratic Party leader Dr Chee Soo Juan could not defeat a non-Chinese PAP candidate, Murali Pillai.

Singaporeans may not now regard the elected president as a kind of lightning rod to channel their fears and worries at the highest level, notwithstanding the constitutionally restricted role of the EP.

But there is definitely a role for Dr Tan, the man who could have been the Singapore President. As a journalist, I was once asked to track the performance of the second generation leaders during their Sunday walkabouts in the early 1990s. I remember one walkabout. The late President Ong Teng Cheong was visiting the then Ayer Rajah constituency.  Dr Tan was the host MP. The chemistry between the two was very good. The crowds enjoyed the repartee going between the two. The highlight of the visit was when Ong, for no apparent reason, went to collect water from the tap of a resident’s flat, drank it and declared dramatically that our water was safe to drink. Dr Tan laughed aloud, along with the residents.

Talk about being leaders with the popular touch – and with heart and integrity.  Mr Ong, the man who asked a thousand questions about our financial resources, was one. Dr Tan is quite another.

If he cannot be our President, Dr Tan can be our conscience. He should be our Moral Ombudsman, voicing out the feelings of the people on vital issues of the day. Suggested agenda: Help ensure that the PAP keeps its promises and does not go astray. Or he can be the anchor of a GRC opposition team, the way the PAP uses a heavyweight to anchor its teams.

Meanwhile, hallelujah to two other golden veterans.

May basic 3G phones be around for a long time, for the sake of senior Singaporeans and other users who do not want features they either do not want or cannot afford.

It is not necessarily about costs, though. It is about needs – just phone calls and  sure touch sms function will do. Who needs mind-boggling smartphones when your fingers are unsteady, eyesight poor and hearing bad?

And to Mr Bob Dylan, 75.  The American singer will finally accept his Nobel Prize for Literature at a meeting with members of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm over the weekend:

I don’t want to fake you out
Take or shake or forsake you out
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me
See like me or be like me
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you
.”

– All I Really Want To Do.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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