Tan Cheng Bock: A vision of Singapore’s future or past?

Note: I researched and wrote this piece in mid 2019. It was originally published on New Naratif. Am republishing here for those who might have missed it. I have made edit notes on a couple of things that are out of date.

The entry of Tan Cheng Bock and his newly registered Progress Singapore Party into the political fray has stirred up excitement. But is Tan, a former PAP backbencher, offering a vision of Singapore’s future, or a return to its past?

The winds that usher in Singapore’s election season are, in many ways, familiar to illiberal democracies everywhere. Flags and faces popping up; government handouts; public largesse on incumbent brand-building, camouflaged as patriotic projects; the instilling of fear through new demons within and old ones abroad; and the obsequious submission of media outfits that have grown dependent on juicy government contracts.

One might spot some uniquely Singaporean bellwethers. Administrative Service Officers going for tea, their thinly-veiled political ambitions part of the great fiction of civil service independence; top army brass removing their berets to fulfill their lifelong dream of battle for the ballot box; and former government scholars and former foreign service officers and former this-and-that who have gone to the opposition dark side, to be feted like sadhus by that irascible, undying segment of “ungrateful” Singaporeans who are just out for a fight. (“What don’t you get? Have you not been to Jewel?”)

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