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Tony Tan: one man who cannot be overlooked

by: Ravi Philemon/
picture: Shawn Danker/

There are many reasons out there in the online world detailing why one should not vote for Dr Tony Tan. I am writing this note to say why he may not be half as bad as most of the online world makes him out to be.

When Dr Tony Tan came out and said that he will be contesting in the Presidential Election of 2011 with his speech "How could I remain a spectator?",  I was (I suspect like most in the socio-political blogosphere) extremely skeptical.

After the lunch with Dr Tan (with some other bloggers), I was still unconvinced about him. I wondered if he was engaging without wanting to be engaged.

But the more I thought through what Dr Tan said throughout his campaign period; the more I hear the various (often opposing) views, the more it dawned on me that it is not so easy to ignore him.

Yeah in the 'Face to Face 2' Presidential forum, Dr Tony Tan seemed to imply that the detainees of the 1987 'Marxist Conspiracy' were terrorists.

But if you really heard the question MARUAH's Clara Feng asked (HERE), it was a two-pronged question. She started off by asking about the ISA and then she veered from that question to inject the 'Marxist Conspiracy' into it.

Dr Tan may have of course heard the first part of her question, where she started off by saying, "My question is on the Internal Security Act (ISA) and it is directed to all the candidates", and so his defence too could have been of that particular Act and not of the detention of the 'Marxist Conspirators'.

Donaldson Tan argues quite cleverly (HERE) how the ISA itself has gone through several revisions since 1987, and even if it can still be reformed further, it remains an effective tool for countering terrorism.

Dr Tan could of course have defended the ISA as it is today, and not the ISA of 1987.

This interpretation seem to make more sense when you consider that later in the same Forum in answering another question:

"On the 25th anniversary of the of the Marxist arrest in May next year, will you if elected as President, take any steps to influence or lobby the government to review what happened in 1987 with a view to clearing the names of those that are alleged to be part of the conspiracy?"

from Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh, Dr Tony Tan answered:

"Next May - it depends on what new information or evidence is made available at that time and I will consider it in the circumstances of the case at that time."

which seems to suggest that he will not be closed-minded about the innocence of the supposed 'conspirators' and will be open to reconsidering it if he is elected President.

He of course went on to say that he will not be able to comment on Cabinet discussions as they are covered under the Official Secrets Act and some have criticised that he had discussed that he repealed the Graduate Mothers' Scheme as Education Minister.

What we have to remember is that he did not disclose Cabinet discussions, even in the Graduate Mothers' Scheme, but information which was available publicly.

I, in fact, have the highest regard for people who stand by those with whom they have cast their lot with.  It takes a man to stand by a collective decision (whether it is good or bad) made, take ownership of it, and face the music for it.

My respect for Tony Tan would have been greatly diminished  if he, in considering the 'new normal', had chosen to distance himself from his past.

My participation in MARUAH's 'What do you do Mr President', further reinforced my belief that Dr Tony Tan cannot be written off.  For as constitutional law expert, Dr Kevin Tan so rightly reminded, Mr Ong Teng Cheong (whom Mr Tan Jee Say says is his role model), was also a Deputy Prime Minister (like Tony Tan), before being elected President of Singapore.

The machinery of the People's Action Party probably went on to endorse him and secure his victory, but once he was elected, his allegiance was no longer to the PAP; but he had a mind-shift - he was now aligned with the people of Singapore.

I had initially wanted to rebut The Straits Times' Zakir Hussain's assertion that "independence is ultimately a matter of the mind, not of past institutional links", but now I somewhat agree with it.

Who is to say that Dr Tony Tan if he is elected, will not have a mind-shift of allegiance, from the PAP to the people of Singapore?

Yeah, of course most of the people who spoke at his rally where from the establishment.  But did he have a choice? Would someone from the alternative stick out their necks for him and 'lose their reputation" of being the opposition?

The only person who was willing to be that brave is the Singapore People's Party member and former-Acting Town Councillor of Potong Pasir, Mr Gunalan. He told me when I met him at Tony Tan's lunchtime rally, "I'm voting for Tony Tan".

I also agree with Terence Lee, editor of New Nation's comment on Facebook, "IMO, Tony Tan has the most well-run campaign so far", and because he has run the best campaign of the four, he cannot be overlooked.

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