Singapore's old order ready for fall, says candidate Tan Jee Say
Opposition candidate says ruling People's Action Party may lose the 2016 elections in a backlash against influx of foreign workers
Encouraged by recent electoral gains, opposition candidate Tan Jee Say believes the ruling party's long-held grip on government could come to an end in Singapore's next general election.
The former senior civil servant, who ran unsuccessfully in the election two years ago, intends to take part in the poll expected to be held in 2016, and believes the opposition is ready to run the city state.
"I will be contesting in the general election. It is a possibility for the opposition to take over the government in 2016," he said on a recent visit to Hong Kong.
Very much a product of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP), which has been Singapore's ruling party since 1959, Tan appears an unlikely opposition candidate.
From 1985 to 1990, he was the principal private secretary to then Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was prime minister from November 1990 to August 2004. From 1979 to 1985, Tan was a civil servant in Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry. From 1973 to 1976, he studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University on a Singaporean government scholarship.
"I am grateful to the government for giving me a scholarship and career, but gratitude is not servitude. It doesn't mean blind loyalty," said Tan, who worked for financial institutions like Standard Chartered Bank after leaving public service.
For the upcoming general election in 2016, Tan said: "I will probably join a broad-based political party that will cater to the interests of the widest section of people."
The Workers' Party is the biggest opposition party in Singapore's Parliament, with nine seats out of 99, while the PAP holds 80 seats. Tan declined to say if he would join the Workers' Party or return to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), where he unsuccessfully ran as a candidate in the general election in May 2011. Two months later, Tan left the SDP to contest unsuccessfully in the country's presidential election in August 2011.
If the PAP failed to win a parliamentary majority in the next election, one possible scenario was a coalition of opposition parties forming a new government, he said. "The opposition today is more ready than the PAP in 1959 to form a government."
Although a civil servant for many years, Tan said he had disagreed with some of the government's policies.
In the 1980s, Tan opposed then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's social-engineering scheme of encouraging university graduates to marry each other, and giving them incentives for having children. His parents, who were immigrants from Hainan , China were not graduates, Tan said. "If that rule came in my time, I would never have been given a chance to succeed."
As a civil servant in 1979, one of his jobs was to help the government reduce the city state's reliance on migrant workers.
"Now there is a high influx of foreign workers. The current problem started from 2003, when the Singaporean government decided to have casinos. It's not the way to develop the economy. In 2004, when Lee Hsien Loong took over as prime minister, he lifted the floodgates that allowed a massive influx of foreign workers for the casinos and related services," Tan said.
He related an incident where a middle-aged woman approached him while he was campaigning two years ago. The woman, a waitress in a restaurant, told him: "Five years ago, I earned S$1,500 a month as a waitress. How come I now earn only S$800? (HK$4,900)?"
There were many young waitresses from China at that Singapore restaurant working for S$800 per month, Tan recalled.
Last month, Tan was a speaker at a rally attended by several thousand Singaporeans - the biggest demonstration in the tightly-controlled nation since its independence in 1965 - to protest against immigration.
The PAP last year lost two by-elections to the Workers' Party, which also won seven seats in the 2011 general election, the largest win by an opposition party in decades.
Recently, Tan said, a few current PAP members of parliament privately bemoaned that this string of electoral setbacks and the recent demonstration did not bode well for the party.