Photo of Tan Chuan-Jin during his house visits to residents (Taken from TCJ's Facebook page)

Strange that PAP did not utilise TCJ’s popularity for their benefit

by Han Lang

Leadership is not a popularity contest. But at a time when the electorate is more educated and has ready access to information which their parents and grandparents did not enjoy in the first 30 years of Singapore’s independence, one cannot help but agree that a well-liked leader would help, to a certain extent, in securing the buy-in from citizens on certain policies.

Academics (and even politicians themselves) have acknowledged that a young voter in his 20s is unlikely to vote for the ruling People’s Action Party just because he feels indebted to the government – the way his parents and grandparents had felt obliged to do so over the past 50 years.

Without any doubt, a charismatic and well-liked Prime Minister, similar to Bill Clinton in the 1990s and, to a certain extent, Tony Blair (in the early years of his premiership), would play a key role in managing the expectations of a different generation today.

It, therefore, remains a mystery as to why Tan Chuan Jin was removed from the Cabinet last September – at a time when public anger was rising over key issues such as the changes to the Elected Presidency.

Our politicians clearly know the impact and importance of social media; otherwise you won’t see everyone rushing to post photos of their house visits every now and then.

But what many of them have failed to achieve is a sense of bonding with their “followers”.

If the number of Facebook likes is any indication, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has to be the most popular politician in Singapore – with more than 1.2 million likes. He is followed by K Shanmugam (122,000) and Vivian Balakrishnan (98,000).

Tan is ranked a respectable fourth – with 93,000 likes. By comparison, the “frontrunners” for the post of PM – as was first declared by one particular member of the media – each had about a third of Tan’s figures. Chan Chun Sing has 37,000 likes, Ong Ye Kung has 35,000 while Heng Swee Keat has 39,000. If these are indeed the three “frontrunners”, why have they not achieved what their Cabinet colleagues such as Josephine Teo (65,000) and Ng Eng Hen (75,000) managed to do so – that is to attract more “likes” from the netizens? Even former President Tony Tan, who was supported by slightly more than just a third of the electorate in the 2011 Presidential Election, has 54,000 likes on his FB page. Another 4G leader, Lawrence Wong, also has more likes than any of the three “frontrunners”. Why is that so?

However, the number of likes is only one part of the equation; the other key component is the level of engagement brought about by their postings.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that Tan Chuan Jin’s posts attract much more shares and comments than Chan and Heng combined and this is a clear indication that the current Speaker has been more successful in reaching out to the masses than the “frontrunners”– one of whom will become the next leader of Singapore.

In view of his popularity – not just among netizens, but also among his former colleagues and the other folks in his constituency (just go listen to what they have to say about him), it is baffling that PM would appoint Tan as the Speaker of Parliament instead of placing him in a more important portfolio such as Home Affairs Minister.

Is it any surprise that the so-called “frontrunners” for the PM post was announced by one particular member of the media just right after Tan Chuan Jin’s removal from the Cabinet?

Tan’s popularity would have helped to lessen the impact of unpopular moves and without any doubt, he would have been able to win more votes for the PAP as PM than any of the “frontrunners”.

Wouldn’t Tan be more suitable to lead the upcoming  “national conversation” with Singaporeans as compared to Chan or Heng?

My gut feel tells me that Tan’s departure from the Cabinet was probably well-received by some of his former colleagues – perhaps similar to how the exit of George Yeo from politics in 2011 gave opportunities for certain members to climb up the ladder much faster than if Yeo had remained in the team.

At the end of the day, Tan’s departure from the Cabinet is not only a loss to Singapore but it will also, ironically, deal a severe blow to the PAP at the next GE – especially if he retires from politics. Apart from DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who in the present Parliament has the level of charisma like Tan to gain votes from the undecided voters? Ironically, both Tharman and Tan could step down at the next GE.

Tan is one who would have helped to “plug” some of the holes in the ship but perhaps his rising popularity was not viewed with the right spirit and was not utilized in the right approach.

That’s a real pity.