Dr Tan Cheng Bock: "You ask yourself what is it you want? You want results or to show you are such a great fighter..."

The question Dr Tan Cheng Bock stated in the article may be more than a simple rhetorical question. It can be addressed to one specific Presidential candidate or even to the rest of Presidential hopefuls.

I don't know about you. But I for sure would like to see not just results, but also the fighting process that leads to the results. With that I'd know that the results are indeed credited (rightly) to the fighter, I mean, the President.

As a Member of Parliament, he made headlines for his strong assertions against several government policies.

But if he becomes President, Dr Tan Cheng Bock will be less obtrusive as he employs a strategy he terms "quiet diplomacy".

Explained the 71-year-old Presidential hopeful, it means engaging the relevant people in quiet, private discussions — for instance over transport fare hikes, which is outside the realm of the Presidency — instead of coming at them guns a-blazing.

"It's not necessary to go posture yourself and say, "I'm so great or I'm coming here to defend this case" but the end result is naught, zero," said Dr Tan, in an interview with Yahoo! Singapore.

"You ask yourself what is it you want? You want results or to show you are such a great fighter, for me I would rather make sure I get good results."

It is a strategy Dr Tan has employed since his days as a doctor in the Ama Keng village and later, when dealing with international affairs.

"When I was asked to manage some issues in Europe for the government, I didn't go to Parliament and just make a great speech and impress them," said the former MP, who led the Singapore-Europe and Southeast Asia Parliamentary Groups from 1991 to 2006.

"Instead, I will go down and discuss with those people about certain issues that we don't agree and over a glass of wine, we talk about it and they say "okay, let's forget it"."

During the 40-minute interview last Friday, Dr Tan shared his views on the role of elected President and gave insight into the type of President he would make.

If elected, Dr Tan said he would look at issues broadly instead of targeting specifics, such as housing prices or healthcare costs, because each area would have a spillover effect on another.

"We must establish a good environment in our society so that it will not disturb the whole cycle of things that's happening to the country," he said.

But does Dr Tan, a candidate not endorsed by the government, foresee any difficulty working with the ruling People's Action Party government to effect positive change?

"They will feel a little bit disappointed that somebody they are not comfortable with to suddenly come and sit at the round table but I want to believe they are also honourable," said Dr Tan, who was a backbencher for 26 years before he quit the PAP this year.

He acknowledged that the government could be "quite stubborn" in wanting to do things "the right way" but "maybe we can convince them, look, we have different ways of reaching our goal".

If somebody makes things different for him, Dr Tan said he would convince them to find common ground and work out their different ways of doing things.

"That will be my style but that does not mean I'm weak because if I think something is wrong, I will tell you," stressed Dr Tan.

He reiterated how he stood by his beliefs during his MP days, choosing to criticise the push for foreign talent in 1999 because he felt Singaporeans were worried about losing their jobs during the recession.

"When you make such a stand, you know you can get walloped because you are going against party policy," recalled Dr Tan. "I was really reprimanded, even by Lee Kuan Yew himself, who scolded me in public."

"It was very sad because you feel like you are being classified as an anti-nationalist," shared Dr Tan. "But I guess I have no hard feelings. He's (Mr Lee) done a lot for Singapore."

'Presidency not a figurehead'

Even if he manages to work with the government, just how much influence can the elected Presidency have? In recent weeks, government officials have sought to define the powers of the President, leaving some wondering if the role is simply a figurehead.

"I think many people got the wrong idea that the President is so helpless," corrected Dr Tan, elaborating his views first shared during a press conference last Friday.

While he noted that the Presidency is "still evolving" - with changes depending on new Presidents' assessments of improvements to the Constitution and Parliament's approval - he pointed to earlier comments by former Senior Minister S Jayakumar and Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam as having helped "cage the Presidency" by focusing on the legalities, the Constitution.

Dr Tan said he has plans on how to guard, say, the reserves -- which he will unveil at a later date -- but he also emphasised the "softer side" of the President.

"Very important, the President must be seen not as a figurehead but as somebody the people can look to for support for some of the issues, national problems and so on."

"He may not initiate issues but his very presence has certain functions to cool down people's concerns," continued Dr Tan, adding he would like to play "a much bigger role" to engage Singaporeans and have them "come to talk to the President".

"The President must not be such a distant person," stressed Dr Tan, describing how the Presidency should draw different groups of people together, and thus serve to unify Singaporeans.

Underpinning all this is trust. Urging people to assess him based on his actions, Dr Tan, "If they trust me, they will know I'll manage their funds well. If they trust me, they know I'll make sure appointments (of ministers) are not just appointments for appointments sake because these are people who are going to decide the future."

Without trust, Dr Tan said he would not want to be President. "Because along with trust, they know you have an independent mind (and) when you make a decision, it's all in the interest of the country."

From Yahoo! News, "Tan Cheng Bock: No need for grand posturing".


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