Dr Tan Cheng Bock has been compared with Dr Mahathir Mohamad. But the one he more closely resembles – in spirit and in destiny – is Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar has come so near yet so far many times. His highest political aspirations have been cruelly foiled time and again through injustice and betrayal.
Dr Tan came to within a whisker of winning the presidency in 2011, losing by only 0.34% of the votes to Tony Tan.
Had the two other Tans not contested, he would most certainly have won. A heartbreaking defeat that should never have been.
After six long years, Dr Tan was widely seen as a favourite to capture the presidency in 2017. But changes were made to reserve the elected presidency for minorities only. And just like that, his presidential aspirations turned into ashes. Dr Tan contested the legitimacy of the changes – but unsuccessfully. He went from favourite to non-starter in the election.
Undaunted, Dr Tan formed the Progress Singapore Party. He has been raring for a go at the general election, aiming to lead a GRC team to victory. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Sensing opportunity, the People’s Action Party has signalled that it could call an election even amidst the pandemic.
Will a pandemic general election kill off Dr Tan’s chances of victory and deny him a third time?
There are those who say it’s not a done deal – we don’t really know which way Singaporeans will vote in a crisis.
For a clue, just look at what’s happening in the United States. President Donald Trump and his administration are widely seen as inept and have badly mismanaged the COVID-19 outbreak. Still, latest polling shows that Trump’s approval ratings have gone up. Americans are like people anywhere else – in times of crisis, they choose to rally round their leaders. Very few want to rock the boat amid a crisis and the opposition risks becoming irrelevant.
Dr Tan has been making spirited and cogent arguments against a pandemic general election. He has rightly warned of the dangers of exposing more than 2.6 million voters to a health crisis. But his proposal for a caretaker government has been dismissed by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who called it unconstitutional, misleading and unhelpful. Doesn’t that tell us which way the wind is blowing?
Still, it is the people who have the ultimate say. Pandemic election or not, can Singaporeans find it in themselves to stop the lightning bolt from striking Dr Tan a third time?