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PE2023: And then there were three

Three of the 80 bee
<a href="" rel="nofollow">Three of the 80 bee</a> by <a href="" rel="nofollow">U.S. Department of Agriculture</a> is licensed under <a href="" rel="nofollow">CC-CC0 1.0</a>

On Friday, the media asked Mr George Goh if he would throw his weight behind any of the three candidates who have made it to Nomination Day. He said politely that he would want to see through to the end of the Presidential Election as a regular citizen. He still has one vote, he chuckled.

That’s a question that some people have been asking. After spending so much time on the ground and garnering quite a hefty Tik Tok following, especially among the Chinese-speaking, his support would be quite a prize for any candidate.

I don’t know if the inimitable Mr Tan Kin Lian has made more overtures to Mr Goh since yesterday. In the early days, he had clowned around on social media about whether he would run or won’t run or can’t run. For just long enough to irritate people, at least, me. 

Then he dropped the bomb that he had already submitted his papers some time ago. He said rather nobly that he was just an “insurance” in case Mr Goh didn’t make it in. An independent was, after all, was needed for the job of President.

Next, he turned up with opposition politicians in tow, still beating the independence drum while keeping silent about his partisan bedfellows.

He’s an admirable showman, skilfully manipulating the media with his calls to Mr Goh to discuss who would contest the election should both get in.

Finally, he said he would pull out, giving way to the younger and more vigorous Mr Goh whom he described as ‘nasty’. 

To the George Goh camp, he was an annoyance, providing fodder for the media looking for drama. Mr Goh wanted to fend off questions about this supposedly potential pact to focus on his own campaign. In the end, he went further than we wanted him to in trying to silence the talk. He told Mr Tan not to lose his deposit. 

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There was a point behind the scathing comment. Those below 33 years old probably don’t know that Mr Tan was reviled for depriving Dr Tan Cheng Bock of the presidency in PE2011. Although he lost his election deposit, the 4.9 per cent he garnered could have gone to Dr Tan, who was just 0.35 per cent shy of beating the Establishment candidate Dr Tony Tan.

It was rather ironic that just last night, opposition politicians called on Dr Tan, founder of the Progress Singapore Party, to support Mr Tan Kin Lian’s candidacy as a show of opposition unity.  Perhaps, it is a reflection of the small number of people who are willing to stick their necks out to challenge the Establishment publicly.

If Mr Tan was PE2011’s voter spoiler, can Mr Ng Kok Song then be described as the PE2023’ vote splitter?

After Mr Tharman announced he was quitting the party and the Cabinet to run for President, word started making the rounds that the Establishment had a ‘reserve’ candidate. Several names were tossed up, mainly chief executives and businessmen closely associated with the Government and had prominent roles in the community. 

Even politician-turned-private sector leader Mr George Yeo’s name was trotted out, like the emergency spare tire he had described himself as when PE2011 rolled around and the Establishment was looking for a candidate to beat Dr Tan Cheng Bock. I recall the ‘is he in or is he out’ puzzle that was played then – until it was confirmed that the Establishment had plumbed for Dr Tony Tan. (For this PE2023, Mr Yeo is taking part as a character referee for fellow Catholic Ng Kok Song. )

When Mr Ng’s name came up, we had to google him. Who was this man? Why hadn’t we heard of him? We dug up his ex-GIC credentials , how his own company had help from his former employer and Temasek to start up and his friendship with the Lee first family.

We were frankly relieved that he would now be able to take over the “plant” or ”puppet” label that had been pasted on Mr Goh initially even though Mr Ng’s strategy was to paint himself as an ex-G man although not a PAP man, a Tharman fan but also his own man.

Whose votes was he really trying to win over?

Just two hours after Mr Goh knew he was not eligible, Mr Ng’s team made overtures for his support. We rebuffed the move immediately.

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Would Mr Goh move his support to Mr Tharman? Nobody asked this silly question. Mr Goh’s platform of a truly independent private sector president would never gel with that of an ex-Cabinet minister who was also ex-GIC and ex-MAS with a long political party history to boot. Nor would we expect Mr Tharman to come looking for support, so confidently muted is his campaign despite jumping the gun with a campaign launch.

So the electorate is now left with three choices: a candidate who is the opposition’s man, another who is from the Establishment and a third sitting somewhere in-between. 

Some people have said that those who would have voted for Mr Goh would now give their votes to Mr Tan. But to put him in the same category as Mr Goh does not give an accurate picture of either man. Nor would it be right to stick both Mr Ng and Mr Goh in the same box, when Mr Ng is rather more like Mr Tharman. Both G-men are like two peas in a pod, touting themselves as a safe pair of hands because of their familiarity with the reserves and government finances. 

As for the man who could be Prime Minister, he is playing it cool, talking about high level ideals like multiculturalism. 

To most voters, their choice of President would probably depend on how they feel about the government of the day and their own circumstances in this period of high cost of living. The next factor would be which candidate’s personality resonates with them. 

The Presidential Elections Committee has, after all,  already decided on the short-list of the competent and the honest on behalf of the electorate. Unlike a general election, with election manifestos and agendas detailing the action that will be taken if elected, there is not much else voters have to go on when making a decision.

The Prime Minister will doubtless tell citizens to vote wisely at tomorrow’s National Day rally. Whatever he says, the PE will be a political PE, a foretaste of what is to come when the GE takes place.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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