Beyond endorsements: Scrutinizing Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s political track record

by Teo Soh Lung

I would like to respond to Professor Tommy Koh’s endorsement of former People’s Action Party (PAP) politician, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam as president.

While I agree that Mr Shanmugaratnam believes in multiculturalism and has consistently won the Jurong GRC with a greater majority than our prime minister, I do not think he has the moral courage and is so independent as to speak his mind on crucial issues that affect Singaporeans, especially our young people.

I say this because throughout his decades of service as a member of parliament and then as a minister, he has not attempted or has failed to persuade his colleagues not to pass laws that do great harm to the people and damage Singapore’s image in the world.

He did not object to the passing of the following oppressive laws:

1. Public Order Act which makes it an offence for one person to hold a piece of cardboard with the Smiley symbol. Many young people have gone to jail because of this law.

2. The Administration of Justice (Protection) Act which lowers the burden of proof in favour of the prosecution for contempt of court cases. Many young people have been charged and convicted under this law.

3. POFMA or Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which gravely restricts our freedom of speech and expression. Many people and political parties have suffered under this law.

4. Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, which instils fear among civil society.

5. Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Act which requires a candidate to be a CEO of one company with a shareholders’ equity of S$500m. This requirement has prevented Mr George Goh from qualifying as a candidate, and I am sure has prevented many good people from contesting this election.

6. Various government policies that cause hardship to people.

As minister for finance, Mr Shanmugaratnam did not exempt essential goods from Goods & Service Tax (GST). This has a grave effect on poor people.

This list is not exhaustive.

Throughout his years in government, Mr Shanmugaratnam, as part of the cabinet, has not granted a single clemency petition. Petitions that were sent to him were not even acknowledged.

I am not saying that he is the only one who does not acknowledge letters. Other members of parliament and ministers too do not acknowledge receipt of letters that they do not like to read. This applies to President Halimah too.

I have no doubt that Mr Shanmugaratnam will be a good diplomat and may render Mr Vivian Balakrishnan redundant. He will bring prestige to the PAP government. But bringing prestige to the PAP government should not be his priority. He has to take care of the people, even those who do not agree with the government.

Mr Shanmugaratnam definitely knows how to keep our national reserves. But does he know how to spend it, especially for senior citizens who today are still toiling away in coffee shops, hawkers’ centres and our public toilets?

Visitors to Singapore are always shocked that our elderly are not taken care of. This is bad publicity for Singapore. He has to remember that our seniors made great sacrifices. A large part of our national reserves comprises land and properties acquired at drastically below market value under the Land Acquisition Act, which was passed soon after Singapore attained independence in 1965.

Finally, Mr Shanmugaratnam has not made any attempt to voice objection to laws that permit detention without trial.

His friends who were detained without trial in 1987 have been struggling to clear their names for decades. If he is elected as president, will he be able to right the wrongs done to them and to so many others who suffer under obnoxious and oppressive laws?

Will he instruct the PAP government to convene Commissions of Inquiry to investigate the wrongs done to people of various generations before they move on to the next world?

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