With Tan Cheng Bock entering into the political fray by announcing the formation of a new political party to contest the next general election, many pundits and bystanders are wondering if Tan will be the game-changer the opposition needs to reverse their fortunes.
Tan built his political career in the PAP, serving as MP for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006. Despite his party affiliation, Tan wasn’t afraid to break with the PAP if it meant sticking to his convictions as he often did.
In a forum by Future of Singapore (FOSG) held in December 2017, Tan revealed his frequent confrontation with the party. The only thing that was keeping him there was that the PAP leaders did not expect him, the only backbencher to be elected by the PAP cadre to go into the Central Executive Committee, something which should not be possible in the PAP system as members are told who they should vote for.
Tan shared that many times the PAP leaders told that they will be sacking him but never did so because they knew that he has no hidden agenda and that his agenda is very clear, which is the country comes first.
Tan Cheng Bock on PM Lee’s leadership
Dr Tan commented that the current leadership is worried, worried because their radar is out of place.
“There is a lot of difference between here. Leadership very stable during Lee Kuan Yew. He had many scouts, they are all not from the same mold, all from the grounds, later on, they had a lot of academics from the civil service.”
“Lee Kuan Yew took the trouble to get someone to come and find , not only me but a group of us.”
On the current leadership however, Tan raised concerns about the prevalence of groupthink.
They all think very all together, because they came from the same mold. Told many of my friends, if they are all one kind, they are going to die. But when you have not many options to take, that will be disastrous, the current leadership is very different from the time I was.
Dr Tan recalls being told by LKY, that he doesn’t want Yes man. “So that’s why I went in, although I have a very checked history from the days of army.”
Dr Tan also shared his shock when the Oxley saga was debated in parliament. He said that the Parliament is not the right place and such issues ought to be settled in court.
“What does it indicate for the leadership, if many of us were in parliament, we would have objected to it. Things have changed.”
Current generation of leaders avoid tough questions
Citing the debates in the amendments to the elected presidency, Dr Tan said, “Lee Kuan Yew will never run away from any fight. Even if he was in the wrong he will challenge you.”
He noted that in the first debate on the matter, PM Lee said something about taking an advice from the Attorney General, however, when the matter of advice was questioned by Sylvia Lim, it was DPM Teo Chee Hean who answered on his behalf. And when DPM Teo was questioned on the matter by Ms Lim, Minister Chan Chun Sing answered on his behalf. And when Minister Chan was questioned by Ms Lim, it was Minister of Law and Home Affairs who answered on his behalf.
Dr Tan said, “To me this is ridiculous, you make a stand, you answer for it, you don’t run away from it.”
Older generation of PAP leaders more willing to accept responsibility for mistakes
Dr Tan also recalled another experience during his days in Parliament when he raised concerns about the Ministry of Education’s syllabus.
At one of the parliamentary sessions, Tan took out a page from the primary school textbook and asked the Ministers and MPs if they knew what “Vegetative Propagation”, and questioned the ministry on its concept of teaching.
Following his speech, Dr Goh Keng Swee who was then Minister of Education, reprimanded him, “Young man, you did a wrong thing, don’t scold me in public. But you did the right thing, I will get it changed.”
“This is the quality of our old leader, prepared to accept that they are wrong and ready to change.” said Dr Tan.