Outcome of reserved presidential election will affect votes at next GE: Tan Cheng Bock

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock said President Halimah Yacob's walkover victory prompted a great outpouring of anger and frustration, and has thrown up a new obstacle for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock said President Halimah Yacob's walkover victory prompted a great outpouring of anger and frustration, and has thrown up a new obstacle for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's first reserved presidential election will weigh on the minds of voters when the next general election comes around, said former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock on Saturday(Dec 16).

President Halimah Yacob's walkover victory prompted a great outpouring of anger and frustration, and has thrown up a new obstacle for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), he noted at a forum on the country's political future.

It will affect how people vote at the next general election, he said, in his first full remarks after the presidential election, which was reserved for Malay candidates.

"Singaporeans felt they were deprived of their democratic right to vote for a president of their choice," said the former PAP MP of 26 years, who lost the 2011 presidential election by a razor-thin margin.

"How you capitalise on this is a task for any politician wanting to see a change. And a change can only come if the electorate sends a strong signal by voting for more alternative MPs in Parliament."

Dr Tan repeatedly urged Singaporeans to step forward and help bring about change at the forum, which was part of the Future of Singapore series curated by veteran urban planner Tay Kheng Soon.

An audience of about 150 people quizzed Dr Tan on various topics during a lively two-hour question-and-answer session, ranging from whether he would set up his own political party to whether he would help bring opposition parties together. They included Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah and former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Lim Tean.

Revealing his post-election plans for the first time, the veteran former MP said: "I'll keep my options open, but I would also love to be a mentor to many people who want to go into the political arena."

"I'll teach them the art of winning the elections... I want to be a mentor. I've got knowledge, information. I know how Singapore runs, how it ticks," he added.

He is open to helping aspiring politicians across party lines including those from the PAP, he said, as his objective is to train good MPs who will think of Singapore first, regardless of party affiliation.

Dr Tan added that he has met "quite a few", without elaborating.

Regarding his his constitutional challenge on the timing of the reserved election which was dismissed by the High Court and Court of Appeal, Dr Tan said he took it up as "a concerned citizen".

He hopes to encourage Singaporeans to do the same, and challenge the Government when they feel something is amiss.

He also urged those interested in politics to get a better understanding of bread-and-butter issues such as transport and education.

"Singaporeans need more convincing on how alternative parties can address issues of the day that affect them," he said.

He also gave his thoughts on the current slate of PAP leaders, whom he felt could have more diverse views and backgrounds.

Recalling how then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wooed him into politics, Dr Tan said: "I told him frankly I wasn't enamoured with the PAP at all. He said, 'If people like you don't come forward, how are we going to bring the country forward... I don't want yes men'. That's why I went in."

Dr Tan said that he spoke up often in his years as an MP and did not always toe the party line, citing how he had voted against the Nominated MP scheme.

He added that he does not want to set up his own party "just yet", as that would just add to the number of existing political parties here.

Dr Tan was repeatedly asked if he would help rally the various opposition parties together.

These parties have their own agendas, and "too many of them have their pride and will not want to give up their positions", he noted.

But, he said: "My hope is that if all the political parties can come together, I don't mind being your mentor, being your neutral man, to see whether you can come to some understanding."

Ms Felicia Tan, 30, a communications consultant, agreed with Dr Tan that the reserved election could be a pain point for the PAP.

"There was a lot of unhappiness with the PAP in the years before 2011 GE, because they didn't handle population matters well, for example. And voters showed they were unhappy when they went to vote," she said.

" There was a lot of anger over the walkover and the changes to the elected presidency this year too, and I know the election is years away - but it's going to be an anger that will stick with some people even then."