Saturday, 22 February 2014

Tan Cheng Bock talks politics

By Tessa Wong, MyPaper, 21 Feb 2014

THE People's Action Party (PAP) Government may be trying hard to fix problems caused by the large inflow of foreigners, but it has got itself in a tight bind, said former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.

Its difficulties could help the opposition Workers' Party (WP) in the next general election, he said.

The former PAP MP for Ayer Rajah spoke on the future of both political parties in an hour-long interview with MyPaper at his home.

Since the watershed 2011 General Election, the Government, especially its younger ministers, has been "trying very hard" to resolve issues - like immigration - that contributed to its loss of votes, he said.

In 1999, when he was still an MP, he had called on the Government to tone down its talk on attracting foreigners, earning rebukes from ministers, including then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"Now, (the Government) has a quota system for foreigners in HDB," noted Dr Tan, 73.

But they have got themselves into "a very tight situation" by letting in too many foreigners.

"The original lax policy has created a lot of problems. If you suddenly pull the brakes too titrate wrongly, you have a big, big problem, because the companies will suffer," he said, adding that the Government may now be "overdoing it" in tightening labour flows, as businesses are facing a manpower crunch.

This means there is "a very likely chance" the WP could win more seats at the next election, given that some wards in the last election were won narrowly by the PAP.

"I think it's good because the WP can make the Government work harder, and also I think debate on issues will be much better," he said.

Asked what he thought of PAP's criticism that WP often sits on the fence or does not voice out its position on several issues, Dr Tan said: "They don't have to put forth an alternative every time an issue comes up. You can always wait. Timing is very important in politics... So they will know when to push their agenda.

"I think the PAP is the same, because (when rolling out) some of their policies they will wait."

With next year marking 50 years of independence, "if I were the Government, I would capitalise on it".

One thing working for the party now is its renewed vigour in fighting for votes, he noted.

But despite efforts to communicate more with citizens, "I don't think they have really nailed it yet...there is still a lack of trust" in the Government and its leaders, he said.

They have also yet to solve the "divide" in the party, where grassroots activists can feel snubbed after "they work like hell but they don't get to be MP" when the leadership parachutes elite "prefectorial, army, navy types" who are not in touch with the ground.

One exception is Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, whom he praised as "down to earth".

"Tharman is the type of person we should look for, and if we can get many people like him, I think the PAP will win (future elections) hands down," he declared.

"I think Tharman is a very practical chap, he knows how to move the ground...he's got the charisma to convince me that I want to go along with him," he said.

Dr Tan and his packed calendar
By Tessa Wong, MyPaper, 21 Feb 2014

SOCIAL media is one of the main avenues which former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock uses to keep in touch with the public these days.

He makes it a habit to post at least once a week on his public Facebook page, which has about 43,500 fans, penning his thoughts on everything from health-care policies to his granddaughter's first day at school.

It was on this page that he wrote about the People's Association rescinding its invitation to him for its annual Chinese New Year garden party.

That post, at last count, was seen by more than a quarter of a million Facebook users, according to figures Dr Tan shared with MyPaper.

But he also makes an effort to meet up with people as much as possible. "I'm still active on the ground," he said.

To keep himself busy, he packs his social calendar with talks, lunches and meetings with a diverse range of interest groups, from taxi drivers and former MPs to young entrepreneurs.

Occasionally, the former president of the Jurong Country Club squeezes in a round of golf.

But Mondays and Tuesdays are when he "works like hell". That is when the doctor consults part-time at his cousin's clinic in Jurong West.

Many of his old patients who used to go to his Ama Keng Clinic, which he closed in 2012, still visit him.

A number of them are elderly women, who have been his patients for decades, with one even aged 103.

When they visit, "the nurse will say: 'Your old girlfriend is coming!'" he said, with a chuckle.

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