2017 Yearender: Shocks and surprises

Sudden exits

From politicians to a Hollywood mogul and chef of a two-Michelin-starred restaurant - here's a look at personalities who made the news this year with their sudden departures

Low's stunner at WP birthday bash

After being at the helm of the Workers' Party for 16 years, Mr Low Thia Khiang stunned many when he announced at his party's 60th birthday bash last month that he will not contest the post of secretary-general at party elections next year.

And with that, Singapore's largest opposition party will go into the next general election, due by 2021, with a new chief.

The 61-year-old made history when he led a team to victory in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 GE, and many wondered why he would step down to let a less experienced person lead the WP into the next polls.

Observers have said the unprecedented - albeit unsuccessful - leadership challenge mounted by fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao against Mr Low at the party's elections last year could indicate that there are those in the party who do not agree with Mr Low's leadership.

The handover could also help the party hedge uncertainties over the lawsuit brought against several of its MPs by an independent panel representing Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. Mr Low and WP chairman Sylvia Lim are tied to $33 million in claims and can be made bankrupt if they lose and cannot repay the sum.

On his decision, Mr Low had said he was ready to let younger WP leaders take over after accomplishing his goals of party renewal and electoral progress.

Political watcher Derek da Cunha said it could be an opportunity for the party to become "less low-key and more savvy".

Talk is that WP assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh, 41, is the prime candidate to to take over, and he has shown signs of being more combative than Mr Low.


From minister to Speaker

Being made Speaker of Parliament is surely a proud moment.

But when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in September that Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 48, would step down as Minister for Social and Family Development to be nominated for the role, the news was greeted with surprise.

The position had been left vacant after Madam Halimah Yacob, 63, resigned to contest the presidential election.

It had been widely expected that a senior backbencher or junior minister would fill the post. Given the oft-expounded difficulty in recruiting ministerial talent, the choice of Mr Tan, touted as a core member of the next-generation leadership, raised eyebrows.

PM Lee had said Mr Tan's temperament and personality made him well-suited for the role, though it meant the loss of "an effective and activist minister".

Still, many wondered if he was being demoted, with analysts saying the move meant he was no longer in the running to be prime minister. But former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said Mr Tan could still make his mark as head of the legislature, and is already shaping the role quite differently from his predecessors by taking to social media to explain parliamentary proceedings, for example.

Seow Bei Yi


Top chef to pursue other passions

Shock waves went through the restaurant scene when chef Andre Chiang announced that he will be closing his two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road.

The Taiwan-born chef announced on Oct 11 that he will close the restaurant on Feb 14 next year. He said he has achieved all that he set out to do, and wants to pursue other passions as well as learn more about his Taiwanese culture and roots.

Mr Chiang has been one of Singapore's top chefs since he burst into the scene in 2008, and has propelled Singapore's fine dining scene forward. But the influx of foreign chefs and rise of local talent, coupled with the opening of interesting and high-calibre restaurants over the past few years, have since raised the culinary bar. Many celebrity chefs have also set up outposts here. Next year, renowned French chef Alain Ducasse will open his first restaurant in Singapore.

Mr Chiang is exiting a scene that is now more mature and increasingly dynamic. Restaurateur Tan Ken Loon of The Naked Finn and Nekkid bar said: "You need a torchbearer when the industry is still at its infant stage... The community is now mature enough to spur each other on."

Rebecca Lynne Tan


Cathay Cineplexes change hands

In a landscape that seems to change daily, there are a few certainties that Singaporeans take for granted. One of them is that there will always be a Cathay cinema in Handy Road, and that a member of the family that founded the 80-year-old company will be running it.

Last month, the second of those certainties ended when Cathay Organisation's cinema business was sold to entertainment giant mm2 Asia. The $230 million deal put the exhibition arm and Cathay Cineplexes brand name into the conglomerate's hands.

Ms Choo Meileen, executive director of Cathay Organisation and niece of co-founder Loke Wan Tho, will no longer be in direct control of the cinema business. Cathay Organisation still owns the iconic buildings The Cathay and the Cathay Cineplex Cineleisure Orchard. The property business will now be its main focus.

For film fans, mm2 Asia's takeover will not have a noticeable impact - the buildings bearing the Cathay name will still be there, and business will go on as usual inside.

But the sale is significant. The dynasties that ran the Shaw and Cathay cinema chains still are pre-eminent. But this year, we learnt that dynasties, like everything else in Singapore, have to evolve.

John Lui


Ousted by people power

Call it the ultimate people power. South Korea's first female president was dethroned in March after months of street protests by millions of people holding lit candles in the freezing cold, calling for her impeachment over the country's biggest corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

Park Geun Hye, 65, faces 18 charges including bribery and abuse of power, in a massive trial that has landed several key aides and Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong - among other conglomerate bosses indicted - in jail. Park, who took office in 2013, has denied all charges and boycotted the ongoing trial, calling it "political revenge".

Her shocking exit came after it was revealed in October last year that she leaked state secrets to her friend of 40 years, Choi Soon Sil, and allowed her to meddle in state affairs and demand huge sums from conglomerates under the guise of donations. Prosecutors have demanded 25 years in jail for Choi, described as a Rasputin-like figure and daughter of a cult leader.

Millions of protesters, angered by Park's incompetence as a "puppet leader" and how she mishandled events like the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking, took to the streets to demand her resignation.

Chang May Choon


Day of reckoning for Mugabe

After leading Zimbabwe for 37 years, Mr Robert Mugabe was ousted in a swift, bloodless move by the army on Nov 21.

This was just 15 days after the 93-year-old sacked Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa from the vice-president's post, and was seen as planning to install his wife Grace to take over the country that was once known as Southern Rhodesia.

With a 95 per cent unemployment rate and high inflation, the army finally lost its patience with the man who had ruled the country since 1980, and installed Mr Mnangagwa, 75, as president.

As Mr Mugabe himself said in a speech in 1992: "As you and I are able to judge, the people no longer appreciate empty slogans and hollow speeches. They want us to talk about things that are meant to improve or sustain lives."

So was Mr Mugabe a hero or a villain?

He had always blamed his economic problems on Western countries, especially Britain, that wanted to oust him. His critics said he was to blame for often asking how to divide the economic pie rather than how to grow it.

Today, the task of repairing the economy in the country of 13.8 million people has fallen on President Mnangagwa, who was a long time ally of Mr Mugabe.


Weinstein scandal tips the scales

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has been an extraordinary tipping point, setting in motion a reckoning for sexual misconduct and workplace harassment in the United States and beyond.

Starting with explosive New York Times and New Yorker articles in October, more than 80 women, most notably actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have accused Hollywood star-making producer Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault.

His namesake studio sacked him on Oct 8, three days after the first New York Times report was published. By Oct 14, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had expelled him.

The Weinstein story, which included big names like Paltrow and Jolie, also appeared to galvanise people in a way the Bill Cosby scandal in 2014 had not, for example. A #MeToo movement sprang up, with women (and some men) around the world flooding social media with stories of sexual harassment or assault.

As waves of allegations swept Hollywood and other industries, more than 40 high-profile men - including actor Kevin Spacey, Today show host Matt Lauer and celebrity chef Mario Batali - have been sacked or forced to step down.

Correction Note: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that Ms Choo Meileen will have a seat on mm2 Asia's board. This is inaccurate. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2017, with the headline 'Sudden exits'. Print Edition | Subscribe