Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Game-Changing Union Man

8287 – if some of you tried to buy this number at your neighbourhood 4-D shop yesterday, you would have been sorely disappointed. It sold out!

We learnt yesterday that 82 out of 87 seats in the Singapore Legislature will be polled on 7 May 2011. I want to touch on one game-changing moment of the day, while I accept there were many others.

Unionist Steve Tan is going into the history books of both PAP and the National Trades Union Congress, the king-makers of PAP.

Early in the day, we learnt that he was withdrawing from the PAP slate in Tampines GRC, led by the current godfather of Singapore’s public housing policy, Mah Bow Tan.

Mah responded like a cool-cat to the development. After all, that is the chilling effect the godfather’s award-winning neighbourhood has left on at least one other person.

Some years ago another potential PAP man, Ahmad Nizam Abbas, did the same thing to Mah and PAP, albeit Ahmad’s withdrawal from the PAP slate didn’t happen so late in the game and was not as significant.

As a result, supporters of Baey Yam Keng learnt early in the day that he would be moved from Tanjong Pagar GRC to Tampines GRC. If you have met Yam Keng – I have known him for almost a decade now since the days we both lived in England – you will know he is a gem of a person. He pours a great deal of passion and sincerity into the things he does. He believes fundamentally in public service, notwithstanding that he has now entrenched himself in the private sector. It is thus no surprise that Yam Keng’s departure left tears in the eyes of those who had worked with him.

So far, we have only seen unionists cry. Today, we learnt a unionist can make other people cry too. In this light, union man Steve has a lot of explaining to do.

All he has said so far is that he is leaving for “personal reasons”. Even the Prime Minister gave a lengthy eulogy about Steve's departure but it just boils down to “personal reasons”. What really these reasons are we know not.

Thanks to Steve’s sudden flight, the grassroots and electorate of Tanjong Pagar GRC will now have to live with an MP-elect they know very little about, and who may find it tough to match Yam Keng’s legacy in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Steve was probably recommended to PAP selection hawks by the NTUC leadership. Given NTUC’s symbiotic position with the party, their recommendation of Steve would have been treated as a matter of priority. A lot of time and money must have also been invested in preparing him for the hustings.

Union man Steve cannot therefore couch his departure behind the veil of “personal reasons” and simply run back to his old union yard. Steve surely owes a more comprehensive explanation to the electorate of Tampines GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, and the supporters and members of PAP and NTUC. This should come sooner rather than later.

Dharmendra Yadav

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