27 September 2006

How can we trust Tan Tarn How?

Granted, the man may now be a researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies, and he may have retooled himself as an analyst and an advocate, according to his blog>, but doubts remain.

Why is he one of the very few researchers at the venerable IPS without even a postgraduate degree? Just how did he manage to be a "senior research fellow", given that other senior research fellows in the IPS have not just postgraduate degrees, but teaching qualifications to boot?

And why was he even chosen as a key speaker in the Singapore Theatre Festival 2006 (otherwise known as the Singapore Political Theatre Festial) "Art and Life Sessions" forum, alongside other pro-democracy dissidents like Gayle Goh, Martyn See, and Sylvia Lim?

Does anyone remember this hatchet job of a piece, written by the same Tan Tarn How on 29 Oct 2001? Does anyone remember how Tan Tarn How was the hatchet man at the Straits Times, or how he single-handedly demolished the credibility of the Worker's Party 2 election cycles ago, by whispering... either WP is honest but incompetent or they are dishonest and putting a joke on us?

Bungle and break-up may help WP, Poll Watch, Tan Tarn How

Disqualified from Aljunied GRC, it can focus its resources on two wards, while JBJ's exit may strengthen Low's hand.

The joke going round after the disqualification debacle by the Workers' Party (WP) is that it is junking its "Power to the People" slogan for a new one: "No More Forms".

Whether that would go down better with the electorate, no one will ever know.

Meanwhile, being barred from contesting in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency after the pathetic slip-up with the statutory declaration forms leaves Mr Low Thia Khiang's party with fights in only two single wards, Hougang and Nee Soon East.

Add to that the acrimonious break-up with former party boss JB Jeyaratnam and his supporters, and some are saying the WP now looks a little like the walking wounded, shot in the foot both by itself and its former commander-in-chief.

This, after the recent hype that Mr Low is likely to lead the party and the opposition into a new future.

But things may not be what they seem on the surface.

While Mr Jeyaratnam's joining forces with Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and the slur on his erstwhile protege for the bungling at Aljunied will, no doubt, draw some of Mr Low's blood, it may make the incumbent MP in Hougang and his party stronger for the future.

The reason: Mr Low's rebuilding of the WP is perceived to be strapped not just by Mr Jeyaratnam's legacy but by his continuing membership of the party.

Thus, Mr Jeyaratnam's quitting legitimises Mr Low's succession by sparring him the difficult task of removing the old warrior, which would have tarnished Mr Low for betraying a former patron.

As for the disqualification, it leaves the WP with only two contestants and this is four short of the six needed to get free air time for political broadcast on television. It has denied itself the straight to the living room search given the PAP, the Singapore Democratic Alliance (13 candidates) and the Singapore Democratic Party (14 candidates).

If the WP has ended as a "small player" this time round, so be it, Mr Low said.

The new WP faces among the rejected Aljunied hopefuls, Mr James Gomez and Mr Yaw Shin Leong, would also not be able to earn their bustings spurs, valuable since in the last 20 years, no opposition candidate had made it to Parliament on his first try.

But the pros of the disqualification may overweigh (sic) the cons.

Fighting fewer battles will help the WP by concentrating its forces.

Mr Low's Hougang bid thus gets a lift; but more crucially for the party, Dr Poh Soh Guan's closely-watched one-on-one skirmish with PAP candidate Ho Peng Kee in Nee Soon East will get a boost from the extra hands - and handshakes - in a widely anticipated close contest.

And the Aljunied red card lets Mr Low plug the party fine and accuse the PAP of not giving the people a choice.

The PAP's stand that it was the Election Department which made the decision and that the PAP would not have objected about the technicality is unlikely to work with Mr Low's supporters.

All in all, the WP may now stand a better chance of wrestling a second seat from the PAP - and if the SDA and SDP fizzle out, Mr Low will then be the de facto leader of the opposition, ahead of Mr Chiam.

It is not how many seats you contest but the number you win that counts.

In the end, the most beguiling theory about the Aljunied fiasco is that it was an elaborate piece of wayang put up by Mr Low.

How else can one explain that he did not spot the basic error?

Mr Low, the theory goes, intentionally did not fill in the name of the GRC in the candidate's statutory declarations for all the above considerations.

There is only one hitch: Mr Low seemed visibly and genuinely frantic on the mobile phone when he heard of the trouble with the forms on Nomination Day.

He didn't seem like acting, so there goes that line of speculation.

Unless, of course, he is a better actor than anyone can imagine.

And the joke wasn't on him, but on all of us.