A fracture between old guards and current generation leaders?

Chan Jia Hui

Alec Tok, Vincent Wijeysingha, Tan Jee Say, Michelle, Ang Yong Guan leading a march towards the Nomination Centre

Alec Tok, Vincent Wijeysingha, Tan Jee Say, Michelle, Ang Yong Guan leading a march

I have been following SDP candidate’s Mr Tan Jee Say’s speeches and media reports since he has thrown his lot with the opposition. I was struck by his opening statements about how “gratitude is not servitude”, and how he saw it as his responsibility to put the path we are taking as a nation right.

At last night’s SDP rally which coincided with Labour Day, Tan further revealed details of his work within our administrative service. He announced to the rally crowd that he wanted to leave the civil service at the end of his scholarship bond in 1984 but was persuaded by then superior, current Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to stay as his Principal Private Secretary.

Goh needed Tan at a time when there is a transition of leadership from the first generation of leaders under Mr Lee Kuan Yew to the second generation. As Tan puts it, he was needed by Mr Goh to help in leading the second generation of leaders during the transitional stage.

Dwelling further into his rally speech, he was effusive of his praise for the late PAP old guard, Dr Goh Keng Swee, describing the latter as a brilliant economist and architect of Singapore’s economy. In fact, I can tell from his speech that Tan was proud of his work under Dr Goh. The reason for Tan’s foray into opposition politics stems from a difference in ideology of the direction Singapore must take economically and as a society as compared with the current generation of our leaders.

At 57 years of age with a past record of working under old guards such as Dr Goh and a shepherd to the second generation of leaders, Tan clearly belongs to the old guards that drove Singapore into the current era. When I use the term “old guards”, it should be taken to mean an all inclusive term that extends beyond leaders from the PAP to architects from the Singapore government establishment, i.e. former civil servants like Tan, who contributed to our past as well.

Tan’s good friend, Dr Ang Yong Guan, 55, has similar credentials and track record of work within the establishment as well. A trained medical doctor and a psychiatrist in private practice, he was former president of Singapore Psychiatric Association and chairman of the Chapter of Psychiatrists, Academy of Medicine. He was also formerly the Head of the Psychological Medicine branch of the Medical Military Institute, Singapore Armed Forces, attaining the rank of colonel.

His career achievements aside, Dr Ang has previously worked with PAP MPs and activists in his capacity as chairman of the management committee of Punggol Community Club, and secretary of the Kampong Kembangan citizens’ consultative committee.

During Dr Ang’s unveiling as an SDP candidate, he made an allusion of his and his friend’s foray into opposition’s politics as the first wave. They will form the first wave that will spur subsequent waves to follow.

The foremost thing that came into my mind when I first read about Dr Ang and Tan’s contest in this general election is if there was a fracture between the old guards and the current generation of our leaders. The fracture is based on differences in ideologies and visions on Singapore’s future. Such old guards will be in the similar age cohort as Dr Ang and Tan or even older and whom have formerly contributed to Singapore’s progress.

Therefore, when Dr Ang spoke of being the first wave to be followed by subsequent waves and in my opinion of what looks like an old guard-new generation leaders fracture, will we see old guards from Tan’s cohort contesting in future elections?

Although we have younger scholars like Mr Jimmy Lee and Mr Benjamin Pwee contesting in opposition colours, it will be interesting to speculate whether old guards will come forth to contest against the PAP in future elections. This will mean that the current election could be the flood gate opener for subsequent waves of old guards to come forth to contest for an alternative vision for Singapore.

Photo courtesy of Aidil Omar.