Written by Ng E-Jay
19 August 2011
An Open Letter to Dr Tony Tan
Dear Dr Tony Tan,
I do not support booing. I believe there are far better ways for voters to express their disapproval of your candidacy, such as voting against you on polling day.
However, do you know why you were booed? Do you know why people turned up at the nomination centre to call you “jiak liao bee” — a Hokkien slang meaning “good for nothing”? Do you know why some people shouted the name of your son Patrick (NOT that I would EVER condone such behaviour)? Do you know why the crowd chanted “bullshit” at the end of your speech?
Booing of election candidates happens very often in developed countries. The Prime Minister of Australia has been pelted and booed. It is boorish and unproductive behaviour that should never be encouraged. However, what happened on nomination day in Singapore was a different matter.
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) governed Singaporeans with an iron fist for much of our nation’s history since independence. In the early years, the government under former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew shut down civic organizations, eradicated political opposition, and co-opted all influential segments of society to serve the PAP’s interest exclusively.
As cabinet minister from 1980 to 1991, and later, from 1995 to 2005, Singaporeans see you as part of that enormous PAP machinery that hollowed out civil society and clamped down on freedom of speech and expression. Unlike Dr Tan Cheng Bock who was a PAP MP from 1980 to 2006, you never offered vociferous opposition to policies and governmental actions that manifestly served the party’s rather than the people’s interest.
For a long time, the mainstream press has been part of this machinery that perpetuated PAP’s dominance and kept dissenting voices from being aired. As Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) from 2005 to 2011, you remain in the minds of the younger generation a potent symbol of how the government has muzzled citizens. You are seen as part of the force that has tried to hold back change.
You have been openly and repeatedly endorsed by key PAP ministers, as well as trade unions, clans, and other civic organizations that have no businesses entering the political arena. I do not know if all this endorsement will work in your favour, but I certainly hope they backfire. These endorsements tell me you are not independent as you claim to be.
Singaporeans have lost life and limb serving National Service. All they ask in return is that every citizen is treated equally and fairly. Yet when the time came to be transparent and forthright about your son’s 12-year deferment, you were neither. You had one chance to set the record straight, but you fled like an apparition encountering the first rays of the morning sun.
You have participated in defamation suits that ultimately led to the bankruptcy of J.B. Jeyaretnam and Tang Liang Hong.
You were a silent supporter of the 1987 ISA arrests unlike Mr Chiam See Tong, who despite not being in the PAP inner circle, knew that those arrests were a breach of human rights and had the courage to speak his mind in Parliament in defence of those 22 innocent social workers.
Compared to the suffering of these people, your being booed on nomination day pales in comparison.
In a nutshell, other candidates were cheered while you alone were booed because other candidates want Singaporeas to overcome their shackles and aspire to greater heights, but you alone want Singaporeans to be content with the status quo.
Singaporeans are no longer content to remain in shackles or to accept the status quo. They want change. You do not represent change. You represent an era of government oppression that held back change and incarcerated or even bankrupted those who campaigned for change.
I do not believe you should be booed. But I firmly believe you should not be president. You do not deserve that honour.