June 25, 2017

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The Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse in People's Park Complex

THE police raided the clubhouses of Tiong Bahru Football Club, Hougang United Football Club and Woodlands Wellington Football Club at about 4pm today (Apr 20).

Soon after, investigators were seen entering the premises of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). FAS general secretary Winston Lee was seen accompanying the investigators into a room. Boxes of documents were seen being moved into a room at the FAS office.

Media crowd the doors at FAS during police investigations.

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It is not yet clear if the raids are linked to SportSG’s statement yesterday (Apr 19) that it had filed a police report against Tiong Bahru about misused funds and an allegation that a Tiong Bahru official had lied to another club to try and delay or obstruct the completion of audits until after the landmark FAS elections due on Apr 29.

FAS presidential candidate Bill Ng, is the chairman of Tiong Bahru and Hougang United. Mr Ng revealed this week that he had made a controversial $500,000 donation to the Asean Football Federation from Tiong Bahru’s coffers by way of the FAS.

The Straits Times reported today (Apr 20) that Tiong Bahru had earned $37 million in revenue from its jackpot operations.

Police carry boxes of documents and CPUs to a back room at Tiong Bahru FC.

Woodlands Wellington has also been linked to Mr Ng. He had made an unsuccessful bid to take control of the ailing club in 2011 which faced opposition from fans. Mr Ng is running against Mr Lim Kia Tong to lead the FAS. It is unclear if the raids and ongoing police investigation will affect Mr Ng’s candidacy.

Plainclothes officers were seen moving several boxes of documents and several CPUs into a back room at the Tiong Bahru Clubhouse in Chinatown, and similar scenes are also unfolding at the other two clubs.

There have been no reports yet of any arrests.

 

Featured image by Erin Chua

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Mr Zainudin Nordin, President of the Football Association of Singapore; marking StarHub's appointment as official broadcaster and principal sponsor of the LionsXII in 2012.Image by HealthSX at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Bertha Henson

THERE’S something to be said about having free and open elections: It allows questions to be aired in the expectation that answers will be given.

I am not a football fan but the saga surrounding the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) upcoming April 29 elections has been riveting. Some might say that challenger Mr Bill Ng’s questions regarding a $500,000 donation he (or his Tiong Bahru FC) made was a distraction and that more attention should be paid to the plans of both teams that are contesting the election.

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I don’t think so.

What it shows is that an electoral process brings more scrutiny and urges more transparency from office-holders and those vying for the job. So world football governing body Fifa finally realised that for decades, the FAS was breaking the rules by having officers appointed by the G. After seven years on the job, Mr Zainudin Nordin has stepped down to pave the way for elections. FAS is usually headed by an MP, and the past list included those who have made it into ministerial ranks such as Mr Mah Bow Tan and Mr Ho Peng Kee.

Doubtless, the FAS is a tough organisation to manage given its myriad clubs, tournaments, programmes as well as the attention paid to it by people at the grassroots. That the G has a hand in its running isn’t surprising since it gives out grants to sports bodies, that is, taxpayers’ money of more than $2 million annually to FAS. Its other major donor is the Tote Board, which used to disburse some $25 million to the FAS annually, but which will now do so through Sport Singapore (SportSg).

Members of the public who are interested in the management of FAS can turn to its annual reports but in the main, the concern is about crowd turn-out, football rankings and whether goals of the football kind are being delivered given the resources poured into the sport. It takes an electoral process to bring matters out in the open, whether among those with a stake or the community at large. Of course, like all elections, there will be agendas and strategies, like rubbishing the old to make way for the new.

Now the FAS is embroiled in controversy with questions raised over the past year about its handling of money, including donations. There have been particularly feisty exchanges between Mr Ng and the FAS through the person of General Secretary Winston Lee over what happened three years ago. To put it bluntly, they are accusing each other of lying.

So what are the issues involved?

The key point is whether Mr Ng knew where the $500,000 donation was going to go. He claims it was for local football but it went to the Asean Football Federation (AFF). There’s no question that the AFF received the money – although it fumbled about whether the money was from the FAS or Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC. The FAS has a paper trail, including a letter setting out the terms of the donation, which Mr Ng, rather improbably said was drafted by the FAS and which he was somehow made to sign.

In any case, even if the money had always been intended for AFF, the question is why such a big sum, which is about half the income of an S-League club, should go to outside entities at a time of a struggling football scene here.

Another issue is whether the sum was properly recorded somewhere. So far, not a single person in past councils has come out to say he had knowledge of the sum. What’s worse is that most people evinced surprise.

Then comes the question of why Mr Ng chose to raise the matter now instead of three years ago. Is this an election gambit to allege improprieties in the FAS which he, a challenger, will want to clean up?

In the middle of it all is the deafening silence of ex-chief Zainudin, which the FAS said was the person who solicited the donation. Mr Ng, however, denied this and pointed his finger at Mr Lee.

Mr Zainudin must know by now that he would have to say something lest gossip and misinformation fill in the blanks, thereby impugning his reputation. To say nothing because he is not standing for the upcoming election is a bad excuse for something that happened during his tenure.

Which brings me back to the point of having democratic elections. They are complicated and fussy affairs and there might even be those who say that such “disagreements” should be dealt with behind closed-doors so as not to give Singapore football a bad name. If so, they forget that it was “closed-doors” which gave rise to the current controversy.

To a spectator, the FAS looks like the Augean stables. It might be better for the challengers to discuss sweeping and mopping up operations first, before moving on to pronouncing grand visions. SportSg has ordered FAS to give a full account of the donation. Hopefully, it will be done before the elections so that there will be more clarity.

Good luck to Singapore football.

by Khalis Rifhan

THE upcoming Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) annual general meeting (AGM) on 24 September will be closely watched as the body votes to make changes to their constitution ahead of their scheduled election of office bearers before the end of the year.

On Thursday, FAS confirmed that their proposed changes to their constitution have been approved by FIFA, the world governing body for football. Of the key changes, the president and eight other council members will be elected on a slate and, in order to widen the pool of potential candidates, there will be six individual slots for election into the council, bringing the total number of elected members to 15.

Venga’s commitment to Singapore’s football

Until now nobody knows exactly who will be running. No individuals have formally thrown their names into the hat for FAS’ top post, but former Woodlands Wellington manager R. Vengadasalam, often caricatured as the “opposition” in local football, has been actively campaigning on behalf of his team. He has only unveiled lawyer Alfred Dodwell and freelance football consultant Ronnie Lee on the slate so far. The ‘Mouth of the North’, as he was known during his days at Woodlands Wellington, presented his team’s manifesto a week ago in a meeting with representatives from the National Football League and the Island Wide League.

While Venga has a very colourful and controversial character, I can personally vouch for his commitment and passion for football as it was he who introduced me to football administration. I had the opportunity to work with him at a local privately-run football academy.

Although some of his comments and his history of poor discipline on the field may not sit well with certain quarters of the football fraternity, I would not question nor doubt his sincerity in wanting to bring positive change to Singapore football. But with his storied past, will he be an asset or a liability to his team?

A misguided accusation

How and when did all this commotion about wanting a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ election process begin? This issue was brought up by several opposition politicians during the last General Election, accusing the Government and the People’s Action Party (PAP) of meddling with the affairs of the FAS. This accusation held water with the public as Mr Zainudin Nordin was still a PAP MP when he became FAS president.

I feel that those who are calling for the Government not to be influential in the sports scene are misguided. Government support is crucial in ensuring a stable progression of sports in Singapore. In my decade of working in sports media-related organisations and politics, I have had numerous interactions with athletes and officials from various National Sports Associations (NSAs). Never once did I heard them telling me that the Government is a nuisance in the industry. Instead, they applaud the readiness and willingness of our Members of Parliament to coming forward and helm NSAs.

The presence of politicians in NSAs does not mean that the Government is interfering with how the associations are being managed. Those who tout this hyperbole are just creating fear out of either frustrations or anger towards the Government. And this fear has been propagated by irresponsible individuals and groups with no substantial evidence of any wrongdoing in FAS or the Government.

G’s support crucial for success

While we need to prevent any political influence in any sports association, we must not forget that is it also essential to have Government support. We must not be mistaken between support by the ruling party and government interference. There has never been any interference in the way sports associations are being run in Singapore.

Rather, what we have seen over the last decades is sincere and pragmatic support by various Government agencies, ministers and the government towards building a sporting nation, and pave the way for athletes to succeed in the region and on the international stage.

The future of football in Singapore lies with various stakeholders and that includes support not only from the Government but also the fans. Thus we need an FAS president that is able to build healthy working relationships with all stakeholders and not someone who bangs the table whenever decisions don’t go their way. We need a leader in FAS that can think calmly the right way forward for football in Singapore and not someone who uses threats to bulldoze their ideas through at a meeting table.

My only hope for the upcoming FAS AGM and the election congress is that we see a healthy discourse from and between all potential candidates. This signals a new dawn for Singapore football with its first democratic election.

But should the upcoming FAS elections leave no room at all for the incumbents, it could destabilise the association and football as a whole in Singapore. With that, I wish a productive AGM for FAS and for the members to approve the proposed constitution so that the new team can be elected before the end of the year.

 

Khalis Rifhan is the former Editor of VoxSports and former Operations Manager of Sunset + Vine Asia (Digital). He began his sports journalism career as a freelancer in 2012 with S.League.com and Goal.com Singapore. In that same year, he was awarded the Best Reporter by Goal.com Asia. Khalis now runs his own digital media company, Ortus Media Pte Ltd and is studying Business and Law.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

THE Constitutional Commission’s report on its recommended changes to the elected presidency (EP) was masterly in marshalling the facts and people’s views into what is an extremely readable, even if thick, document. You can read our reports about it here:

Proposed changes to the EP: All you need to know

Back to appointed President? No chance

Would the three Tans qualify?

I think to myself, that’s what you get when you have eminent intellectuals dissecting an issue.

Of course, the members of Commission had to endure the usual conspiracy theories that it would just do the G’s bidding. In a way, they did – because they had definite parameters to work within. So the focus was on updating the qualification criteria, ensuring minority representation and strengthening the role of the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA).

The political decisions have been made. Its job was to find the best way to execute the objectives. For example, it’s not its job to find out if people agreed that a way must be found to ensure that a non-Chinese have a shot at the top job or whether the CPA was already strong enough.

So, it was quite strange for the commission to even raise the idea of reverting to an Appointed Presidency.

 

It’s not surprising that the proposal, so politely and carefully couched as the views of a group of citizens who had the chance to scrutinise the issue, was shot down.


It’s not surprising that the proposal, so politely and carefully couched as the views of a group of citizens who had the chance to scrutinise the issue, was shot down. Not that the argument was joined. The Prime Minister reiterated that a President with custodial powers must have an electoral mandate. But the Commission envisioned an appointed president with only symbolic functions and divesting the custodial powers in an appointed council of elders. That this was not merely a tentative idea was evident. The Commission went to some lengths to discuss how such a council could be picked, with examples of similar structures elsewhere.

Its key argument has to do with this: How do you expect a President who has to go through the political process of elections, to act as a symbol of unity? How to remove the politics from the presidency? It’s no wonder that the commission also went outside its parameters to suggest curbing campaigning excesses,   getting candidates to declare that they understood the role of an elected president and even making it a crime for them to make promises incompatible with the office. Can this work? To gain votes and act as a “check” which is what the people here are used to hearing about the role of such an office, candidates would have to show that they can exercise some degree of independence from the executive. How to put this across in a campaign?

Singapore is famous for its unique solutions to problems that might crop up in the future. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system, enshrined even earlier than the EP, has been touted as a “stabiliser” which prevents racial politics. The town councils is another invention tying politicians to estate management. The GRC system has been enlarged, reduced and gone through many permutations. The town council legislation will be revised because politics sometimes gets in the way of administration. The EP is hailed as way to prevent elections going the way of “auctions” with politicians promising goodies that can only be delivered by raiding the reserves.

 

Good ol’ days?

Now, we’re harking back to a “convention” – having multi-racial representation in the top office. We’re suddenly reminiscing about the days of Mr Yusof Ishak and Dr Benjamin Sheares, both of whom, by the way, aren’t likely to make it through the proposed qualifying door. Mr Yusof was a journalist while Dr Sheares was a surgeon.

This particular parameter of the Commission’s work has consumed the passions of a large majority of Singaporeans, so much so that less attention has been paid to other aspects, such the powers of the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA). Because it is about race, everyone has a view on it but there’s quite a lot that can’t be said because it is deemed sensitive.

So, we’ve been pussyfooting around the Malay community, like why it hasn’t produced a presidential candidate. We talk about widening the pool, which really means lowering the bar on qualifying criteria. Or we come up with ways for minorities to team up with a Chinese candidate to go for the vote. But a tag team is complicated and a vice-president isn’t going to have much to do.

The Prime Minister said that the lack of a multi-racial guarantee was a problem identified way back when the elected presidency was mooted. Except that people were too polite to raise the issue. “But at the beginning, we felt that we had time. It was a problem, it was not an immediate problem because right… immediately we were not having fierce elections,” Mr Lee said. “We’ve had 25 years. I think we’ve seen how it’s worked.”

This is too odd because Singapore had just come out of a bruising debate over the introduction of GRCs where multiracial representation was a key issue. Nobody was polite then. The concept of an elected presidency as a second key was how the G pitched the idea. It had two White Papers and a parliamentary select committee to deliberate on these changes. So this means that everybody was either very polite or very stupid.

PM Lee added that he wasn’t being pressured by any group to make changes. “I’m pushing this not because I feel pressure from the minorities or because we need to make a political gesture, but because I think it’s a right thing to do. It’s a right thing to do. Nobody is asking but I think it’s something which we ought to do and do now for the long term of Singapore.”

So there’s no pressure, but he thinks there will be. This is even though surveys have shown that the younger generation is more race blind than their elders. The subject of race is being forced to the front of the political consciousness, with the GRCs and now the EP. That people prefer their own kind for the job, all things remaining equal,  is being sold as a “hard truth”. The thing is, in an election, all things are not equal. Candidates have different histories and personalities and will try to distinguish themselves from each other during their campaign.

 

Standards still hold

So has meritocracy been sacrificed? The Commission thinks not, since the bar isn’t lowered for anyone. That is true, except that voters will not be faced with a choice of candidates and given the chance to judge who is the superior one. It is not a question of picking the best candidate, but rather the best candidate of a race. At least in a GRC system, you pick the better slate of multi-racial candidates.

The Commission said that even those opposed to the introduction of race did not go so far as to suggest that the race of a candidate was “wholly irrelevant” to voting behaviour. Of course race is a factor, just as whether you have a welcoming demeanour is a factor.

It also said that while a 2011 survey conducted after the last Presidential election showed that at least 85 per cent of voters agreed that a minority candidate could be voted through the current system, the Commission pointed to the rest who said no, describing it as a “substantial margin” which might even be under-stated because people will give politically correct answers. So a case of a glass of water that is half-empty or half-full?

As for those who point to minority candidates who win parliamentary elections, this is how the Commission dealt with that argument: people would look at political parties they represent; it is “not analogous” to a Presidential election where the individual is non-partisan and has to stand on his or her own merits.

In other words, you can argue all you like, there will always be counter-arguments.

The report said: “The Commission agrees emphatically that a race-blind society is the only legitimate aspiration for Singapore; but there is a pressing need to ensure that no ethnic group is shut out of the Presidency even as progress is made towards that ideal; lest the office of President loses it vitality as a symbol of the nation’s unity.” Pressing need when no ethnic group is complaining? Loses vitality?

 

Anyway, it’s a done deal, unless Parliament says no, which is as good as the sun rising in the west.  

 

Anyway, it’s a done deal, unless Parliament says no, which is as good as the sun rising in the west.

What is heartening is that the Commission proposed a method which might not be used, if the different communities somehow managed to rotate the presidency among themselves. If one community has not held the job for 30 years, then the next round will be reserved for it. When or if this happens, the spotlighted community must bring pressure to bear on its elite, however small the pool, to be its standard bearer. Imagine if none surfaced and the election is thrown open? What will this say about the community?

My own view is that a proud community would always make sure it has a candidate for every election, lest it be seen as merely waiting for a reserved round to get an easier ride. My hope is that the 2017 PE will not be a reserved election and a minority candidate will be thrown up – and elected in a contest. Wow! This would confound all expectations!!

Okay, I’m being sarcastic. Like I said, it’s a done deal. But I still don’t have to like it.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana. 

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President Barack Obama takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

REUTERS

Democratic Nominee for Vice President Tim Kaine addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette
CROWDS: Democratic Nominee for Vice President Tim Kaine addresses the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by: REUTERS/Scott Audette)

 

President Barack Obama takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
INCUMBENT: President Barack Obama takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. (Photo by: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

 

First Lady Michelle Obama smiles as she takes the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron - RTSJMDQ
ELECTRIFYING: First Lady Michelle Obama smiles as she takes the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. (Photo By: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

 

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton reacts to the speech by first lady Michelle Obama as former Attorney General Eric Holder (R, rear) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA), (rear) applaud at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTSJMFV
OLD GUARD: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton reacts to the speech by first lady Michelle Obama as former Attorney General Eric Holder (R, rear) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA), (rear) applaud at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention via a live video feed from New York during the second night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich - RTSJTGY
LIVE STREAM: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention via a live video feed from New York during the second night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo by: REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich)

 

A staff member holds the delegate vote count for Alabama at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking. - RTSJSHP
THE COUNT: A staff member holds the delegate vote count for Alabama at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. (Photo by: REUTERS/Rick Wilking.)

 

Actress Meryl Streep speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSJTF6
STAR POWER: Actress Meryl Streep speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

 

A gender-inclusive restroom sign is seen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller - RTSJLY1
ALL-GENDER: A gender-inclusive restroom sign is seen at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by: REUTERS/Charles Mostoller)

 

A delegate wears a Barack Obama dress and a "President Hillary" necklace during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
PRESIDENTIAL DRESS: A delegate wears a Barack Obama dress and a “President Hillary” necklace during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.. (Photo by: REUTERS/Charles Mostoller)

 

Democratic footwear is seen on a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTSJL4R
BEST FOOT FORWARD: Democratic footwear is seen on a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

 

Featured image and video by REUTERS.

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by Felix Cheong

IT’S no offence under the Official Secrets Act to reveal that generals in Singapore have it good. Talent-spotted early, time-tested in the field, fast-marched to important positions. And then, of course, rappelled into politics or business.

Take your pick: From Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng; from SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek to former NOL CEO Ng Yat Chung.

It’s a uniquely Singapore manoeuvre to maximise the small talent pool before the sun dries it out. Here are a few terms I’ve coined to describe this phenomenon.

General interest:

When the civil service mistakes your mugger demeanour for the aloof look of a general and expresses interest in awarding you a one-way ticket to the good life.

Sweeping generalisation:

When three or more colonels, including yourself, are promoted at the same time.

General public:

When you show your face (and your stars) in public once a year on SAF Day or during the National Day Parade.

General mood:

When people wonder aloud why a small country with a largely civilian army has more soldiers pinned with stars than chefs in a Michelin Guide.

General paper:

When the edict comes from upstairs of upstairs, telling you it’s time to put on your jogging shoes and run for elections.

General elections:

When you finally realise why you can’t simply win civilians over just by barking a few orders.

General assembly:

When you and your GRC teammates pose for a group photo for the press and you make sure to step, ever so gently, on the anchor minister’s coattail so he doesn’t need to launder it.

In general:

When you are the flavour of the month with the people and get wefie-ed left, right and under someone’s armpit.

Generally speaking:

When your mouth still hasn’t been extricated from army lingo and still blurts out words like ‘outflank’ and ‘kee chiu.

General knowledge:

When you know, and we know that you know, and you know that we know, what your salary is before and after leaving the army.

General terms:

The three to five terms of political office you need to serve before slow-marching into a corporate sunset.

General practitioner:

When you finally land a high-ranking position in a government-linked company and hentak kaki (marking time) there till retirement.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

WITH 61.2 per cent of the vote, People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate Murali Pillai defeated Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan in the Bukit Batok by-election. Mr Murali thanked Dr Chee and the SDP for running “a well-organised campaign”, while Dr Chee congratulated his opponent and pledged to stay on in the constituency. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote in a Facebook note that the PAP victory showed that “the G and people are united in building a better nation together,” and along this tangent Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said Mr Murali’s performance was stronger than expected.

In fact, this by-election result has already thrown up questions for observers. With his best election showing in five attempts, is this a sign of political progress for Dr Chee and the SDP? Are group representation constituencies – an electoral scheme implemented to ensure minority representation in Parliament – still necessary, given the margin of Mr Murali’s victory? And did the “by-election effect” alone lead to the almost 13-percentage points drop in PAP vote share, and how did national or local issues influence decisions of voters?

The Bukit Batok by-election was not the only election around the world. In numbers:

72: The number of seats won by Malaysian ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) in the Sarawak state polls, or 87.8 per cent of the seats, even though Prime Minister Najib Razak has been dogged by scandals and corruption accusations surrounding state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. This is a 10-percentage point improvement for BN from the 2011 state polls, and a crushing defeat for the splintered opposition parties and their lack of emphasis on bread-and-butter issues.

1: Former human rights lawyer and a Labour Party leader Sadiq Khan was elected as London’s first Muslim mayor, by winning 56.8 per cent of the vote. During a time of increasing Islamophobia, Mr Khan rose above the religious, ethnic, and cultural tensions in the region and focused on bread-and-butter issues such as transportation and housing costs. “London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division,” he said after his election victory. “Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city.”

5: The number of candidates in the Philippine presidential election. Filipinos go to the polls tomorrow, and mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been leading in the polls. His supporters are drawn by Mr Duterte’s promises to rid the country of crime and corruption, while his opponents have – referencing his crass jokes about rape and remarks about killing criminals – characterised the mayor as the Donald Trump of the Philippines. Outgoing president Benigno Aquino had sought the other four presidential candidates to join forces to prevent Mr Duterte from winning, but the lead of the latter is sizeable and voters are unlikely to change their minds a day before the elections.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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by Felix Cheong

AS WE approach the first anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death, we pay tribute to him by imagining how he would’ve responded to events after his passing, through a character we fondly name Lee Kuan New.

In today’s edition, Lee Kuan New takes a long hard look at the GE2015 results and still finds something’s amiss.

 

Featured Image by Natassya Diana.

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock speaking at the press conference.
Speaking at the press conference at MHC Asia Healthcare building today, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 75, announced his intentions to run for the next presidential election.

by Bertha Henson

What a brilliant opening gambit by Dr Tan Cheng Bock!

Announce intention to contest the presidential election early – so that the Constitutional Commission will have to watch how it draws up candidacy criteria in case it disqualifies someone who had qualified before.

Announce intention to contest early – so that those people who did not know who Dr Tan was in the last presidential election will know now.

Announce intention to contest early – and scare off others thinking of running because this is the man who, after all, almost became president.

Gasp! Since when did Dr Tan become a …politician?

Dr Tan was coy about whether the timing had anything to do with influencing the commission’s recommendations on new eligibility rules. He told the media that he couldn’t possibly be “so great’’ that the commission would set out to “eliminate’’ him. The commission is supposed to get its job done before the PE is due by August 2017.

Dear Doc, you did lose by a whisker – 7,382 votes – to President Tony Tan in a nation-wide poll. And that was a four-way fight too. Who knows how a straight fight would have turned out?

In 2011, he sailed right through the selection process along with Dr Tony Tan, with The Presidential Electoral Committee making public its views that it was “satisfied” Dr Tan Cheng Bock was a man “of integrity, good character and reputation”.

Even so, there was some rumbling about whether a medical general practitioner, even if he was a long-time chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, really, really qualifies to look after the nation’s finances.

Frankly, if there is anything that could disqualify the Doc, it would be age. He would be 76 next year and the presidency is a six-year term. But setting a ceiling on age would have people up in arms and isn’t in line with the G’s emphasis on active ageing. Plus, it would disqualify the likes of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, 74, the Doc’s old friend from Raffles Institution days, from the ring.

Or, maybe the commission would try to ensure that candidates were non-partisan by eliminating those with past party political affiliations. But that would knock out nearly all past contenders including past presidents like the late Ong Teng Cheong as well as the sitting President.

Yesterday, Dr Tan declined to be drawn into commenting more on the commission. He said he had given it his feedback privately. That’s smart because a wrong word in public can be interpreted as bad mouthing a high-level panel that is headed by no less a person than the Chief Justice. That is not presidential behaviour.

He also danced a fine line between speaking up for the people and keeping to the president’s rather more quiet constitutional role as custodian of finances. He does not want to be a separate power centre which would “distort the whole political picture’’. If he has views, he would talk to the relevant minister privately, he said.

Well, that knocks out one of the worries people had that the elected President shouldn’t think he is a second Prime Minister. So Dr Tan, if eligible and if elected, will have private chats with ministers and G departments, who can’t possibly close the door on a president, right? Or treat him like an Opposition MP? That would be rude. At least, he will have the Istana to himself and doesn’t need an invitation to a garden party. You can read about that kerfuffle here.

Now, one of the things about throwing your hat in the ring early is that you are allowing yourself to be put under scrutiny for an even longer time than usual. That means some verbal swordplay which can cut sharp. Dr Tan can be expected to be asked to elaborate on his motivations, agenda, past political affiliations and political ideology, for example. He is a public figure again and cannot not respond to questions of public interest.

What his erstwhile comrades in the People’s Action Party will say about his opening move, for example? That the former MP for Ayer Rajah is politicising the presidency? Or may the best man win?

To be sure, Dr Tan is a formidable figure even among the party faithful who elected him – a backbencher – into the Central Executive Committee in 1987. And who has not heard the story of how Dr Tony Tan, a former Deputy Prime Minister who was nicely ensconced as chairman of Singapore of Press Holdings, had to be called upon by the establishment to do combat with the doughty doctor in 2011?

Will Dr Tony Tan, who is 76 now, be asked to seek a second term? Or is there another heavyweight out there who can take on the Doc? Because, surely, the Establishment will not simply let him walk into the job, right?

 

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock

by Wan Ting Koh

DR TAN Cheng Bock can and wants to be Singapore’s next President, never mind the fact that the Constitutional Commission has not yet released the eligibility criteria for potential candidates.

In a press conference held at the MHC Asia Healthcare building in Commonwealth today (March 11), Dr Tan made a strong case for his eligibility – ranging from his mental acuity (despite his age – 75 years old) to his experience in both the finance sector and as a former Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006.

Dr Tan’s intention to stand for election follows an announcement in January to review Singapore’s Elected Presidency system in Parliament. The changes to a candidate’s eligibility requirements have yet to be announced and are due in the third quarter of this year.

 

Changes to come?

During the first session of Parliament in January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded to the need to “refresh” the political system. He said that while the principles behind the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates are still justifiable, they needed to be brought up to date to account for current circumstances. Singapore has changed over the past 25 years since the elected presidency scheme was introduced, he said. The country’s reserves have grown, and the size and complexity of organisations subject to these reserves have increased as well. While candidates are required to possess a paid-up capital of at least $100 million, that amount in 1990 would have a real value of $158 million today, said the PM.

 

Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his team
Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his team, comprising of (from left to right), Mr Lee Chiu San, G K Singam, Mr Alex Tan Tiong Hee, Mr Wang Swee Chuang, Mr Loganathan and Mr Kassim Syed Mohamed.

This time, this Tan

When asked what he thought the changes could be, Dr Tan declined to comment – though he did give his feedback to the commission, he said.

For the majority of the presser, the former runner-up of the 2011 Presidential Election and medical doctor put his case forward to some 50 journalists for why he was not only eligible, but would do a good job if elected as President. In the 2011 election, he narrowly lost to President Tony Tan by 7,382 votes – a 0.35 per cent margin. The two other Tans in the race, Mr Tan Jee Say and Mr Tan Kin Lian, secured about a third of the overall votes.

Yes, he’s 75 years old, but so what? Asked about a possible change to the age criteria of the requirements, Dr Tan said he was in good health, and mentally sharp. He watches what he eats, and walks a lot for exercise. He also pointed to Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir, whom he described as a “colleague” who was still “trying to improve the country”.

“We are looking after your money…If I’m not good in here, I will announce that, cause I will be doing you a disservice,” Dr Tan said, adding: “I don’t think age is a problem.”

Dr Tan also described himself as a “unifying figure”, that he would not be a “proxy to a political party” but would instead “represent all Singaporeans”. He is independent and outspoken, which means he’ll stand up to fight injustice, he said.

“If a Government policy is bad then I must voice out and ask for a review in the policy… I don’t think I can stay silent.”

Then, of course, there’s the long list of high-ranking appointments he’s scooped up, including being Coordinating Chairman for a year from 1987 for all Government Parliamentary Committees, and director of the Land Transport Authority (LTA). In the private sector, he was chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, a logistics and shipping company; and in the medical field, he was Chairman of the Society of Private Practice and a board member of the Singapore Medical Association Ethics Committee.

 

Running man

Regardless of how Dr Tan sees himself, whether he will be eligible to run ultimately depends on what the commission says in its review. In 2011, he sailed right through the selection process along with Dr Tony Tan.

In a press release, the Presidential Electoral Committee had said it was “satisfied” Dr Tan Cheng Bock was a man “of integrity, good character and reputation”.

In fact, it was Mr Tan Jee Say who nearly fell out of the race – the bank he had worked for, AIB Govett (Asia), did not quite have the required paid-up capital of $100 million. His position in the company was Regional Managing Director – again, not quite the “Chief Executive Office” listed as an eligibility requirement.

Still, the committee determined both his title and the company were of “comparable seniority” and “equivalent complexity”, and allowed him to stand for election. Mr Tan Jee Say has said he would not rule out standing in the next election, which has to be held by August next year.

While it’s unclear what changes the commission will recommend, Dr Tan’s ambition is without doubt. At the end of his presentation, he said: “I now declare that I intend, and will, contest the coming Presidential Elections in 2017.”

Constitutional Commission, what say you?

 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this report said that Dr Tan Cheng Bock was former MP of Radin Mas. This is incorrect. We are sorry for the error.

Additional reporting by Reuben Wang and Lionel Ong.

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