SINGAPORE – What do Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ), Sylvia Lim and Francis Seow have in common? A little known fact that most take for granted is that all three were formerly part of the establishment.
JBJ used to be part of Singapore’s legal service, serving in various various posts, including magistrate, district judge, crown counsel, deputy public prosecutor and registrar of the Supreme Court. Like JBJ, Francis joined the legal service and rose up through the ranks to become Solicitor-General. He was also the President of the Law Society. Sylvia Lim joined the Singapore Police Force as a Police Inspector and eventually became the staff officer to the Director of the Criminal Investigation Department.
How did they perform at the polls? JBJ eventually became the strongest opposition candidate by the late 70s, and was the first opposition candidate to achieve a breakthrough in PAP’s stranglehold. During his maiden election, Francis was part of a team contesting Eunos GRC, which stretched the PAP to the limit, only to lose with a narrow 49.11% of the votes. It was the best result that the opposition could ever muster so far in a challenge for a GRC. Sylvia also turned in a decent performance, achieving a respectable 43.9% margin during her maiden elections with the team she helmed at Aljunied GRC.
Thus, it appears that there is some causal relation between an earlier career within the establishment and a strong performance later at the polls as an opposition. What can their strong performance at the polls be attributed to? Perhaps, their previous background within the establishment may have raised their credibility profile in the eyes of the voters. Maybe, due to their previous stint within the public service, they may be perceived as being in a good position to represent the public’s interests because the candidate by virtue of his previous links may possibly be in a good position to expedite on issues that concern voters the most. Their links to the establishment means it is easier for them to find support from there, which may in certain instances be crucial in improving their performance at the polls.
There is an upcoming candidate who appears to fit into the mold of candidates who were previously part of the establishment. He is none other than Mr Tan Kin Lian. Tan joined NTUC Income (NTUC is considered part of the establishment) in 1977 as the chief executive officer and gradually built up its business, assets and sphere of influence. From a base of S$28 million, the total assets increased to over $18 billion during the time of his retirement. It is also interesting that Tan was also a member of the PAP for over 30 years, but has since quit from the party. He made the following observation of the PAP: “When I joined the PAP, it was the party of the people. It carried out many remarkable projects, such as building HDB flats, and created a transparent economy … … But as the years go by, I think the party has lost touch with the ground.”
However, the verdict is not yet out on whether Tan would come forward to contest the next General Elections. If Tan finally decides to come forward, he could be a major coup for the opposition party that takes him in. Of course, he doesn’t have to join any of the opposition parties if he elects to contest as an independent candidate. Anyhow, history seems to favor him. After all, he shares a similar background of an earlier career spent as part of the establishment, just like the aforementioned candidates who have done substantial damages at the polls so far, albeit from the perspective of the ruling party. It wouldn’t be surprising if Tan turns in a strong performance in the event that he eventually decides to contest.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew predicted there will be an increasing number of well-educated candidates with university degrees who will come forth and contest against the PAP. However, one source he didn’t mention is that which comes from the very establishment around himself.