There are those who scoff at Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s chances of success at leading an opposition coalition. He has zero chance of pulling off a Mahathir, they contend.
It is true that whereas Dr Mahathir Mohamad was a heavyweight former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Tan was only a Member of Parliament in People’s Action Party colours and there is no correlation in terms of impact and expectation.
Dr Tan himself feels he only has a “small window of opportunity” to effect change in Singapore politics as potentially a mentor and leader for the proposed opposition coalition.
He is being honest and forthright in assessing his chances.
At his advanced age, he could have sailed off into the sunset after retirement but he chose to contest the Presidency and now harbours the hope of effecting change for the sake of the country.
Shades of Dr Mahathir Mohamad there, who is an even older warhorse.
Whatever we may say about Dr Mahathir – and whether we like the man or not – it cannot be denied that he chose to make a political comeback deep in the winter of life because he cared about where his country was heading.
Dr Tan, too, deserves the utmost respect of Singaporeans on several counts.
Firstly, we ought to salute him because he exposed the true colours of the PAP. We saw the extraordinary lengths they went through, abdicating moral authority, to deny him the opportunity to contest the Presidency a second time.
Secondly, Dr Tan showed that the men and women in white are callous, self-seeking and self-serving. Once his friends and colleagues, they distanced themselves from him, treating him like a pariah the moment he committed the ‘sin” of contesting the Presidency as a non-establishment candidate.
Thirdly, Dr Tan awakened the conscience of many Singaporeans and for that we salute his courage.
It is a reflection on our system that after all these years, it has yielded only one Tan Cheng Bock – in the sense that he is the one and only former establishment MP and PAP stalwart who has had the courage to come out and openly and officially oppose the PAP.
Finally, Dr Tan deserves our abiding respect because human decency always prevails.
As South African freedom fighter-turned-President Nelson Mandela said: “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.”
Even if Dr Tan fails to effect change in Singapore politics, his dignity remains intact and his spirit unbowed and undefeated.
That said, could Dr Tan beat the odds stacked so heavily against him?
No doubt he is no Mahathir, but then Lee Hsien Loong is no Lee Kuan Yew, and there are no Ministers of the calibre of Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye and S Rajaratnam.
Every now and then, something miraculous does happen.