However you call it, as a matter of fact, Tan Chuan-Jin’s appointment as Speaker of Parliament us nothing short of a demotion and a removal from cabinet.
The Speaker of Parliament in the Westminster system has no role in policymaking. His/her role is only to facilitate debate. Unlike the House Speaker in the USA, the Speaker of Parliament has zero powers to check the incumbent. In short, he/she us no different from the elected president – a puppet in place with no control over the currents. At least the president has power to block and relinquish key appointments. But the Speaker’s job at best is to only act as policeman and one who runs the risk of falling foul of the establishment if he/she even dares to enforce the law against them in parliament.
At the same time, it also makes sense to demote Tan Chuan-Jin. Love him or hate him let’s give credit where its due. His comments about the elderly selling cardboards are at worst comments from a technocratic (albeit insensitive) perspective and nowhere as close to Khaw’s butterfly lover, Chan Chun Sing’s challenge to the WP to sue the government over the elected presidency, or Goh Chok Tong’s “not my brother”.
Tan Chuan-Jin is one of the few cabinet ministers who has largely refrained from engaging in Opposition fixing and mud slinging bar an occasion in the Bukit Batok by-election when he jibed at Chee Soon Juan’s line (though it was nowhere close to a personal attack) and a Facebook clash with Png Eng Huat over a Second Link incident which can be said to an extent that his hand was twisted into doing so because of the high profile nature of the incident. Other than that, he has stayed out of the entire AHTC saga when other ministers such as Shanmugam and Heng Swee Keat jumped in although it was none of their business. And he refused to engage in the dirty politics of GE 2015 despite facing a strong WP team. He was the minister responsible for strengthening the social safety nets.
On top of that, he was one of the few ministers who refused to defend the government’s case on 38 Oxley Road. In short, he is a person in government with the only aim to serve the people, and he believes that, rightly or wrongly, that the best way to do so is to join the PAP. Other then that, he is not one who is there to bow down and worship the cult of Lee or for his own gain. Unlike his successor Desmond Lee who refused to recuse himself from the AHTC case, responded to concerns on the overreach and skewed oversight by the latest amendments to the Town Council Act by making attacks on the WP and giving support to the cult of Lee by supporting the government’s position on 38 Oxley Road. That is why his Marine Parade team did pretty well despite coming up against a strong WP team. Let’s think about it, if he wasn’t on the team, at best the PAP would have scored a high 50 in the contest.
What this means right now is this. Tan Chuan-Jin is no lackey or stooge but at the same time he is the PAP’s poster boy. He is one of the biggest cause for the swing back to the PAP in GE 2015 and a plain removal from cabinet would be sure way to incur the public’s wrath. So instead why not put him in the charade of an appointment of the Speaker which sounds glamourous on the surface but other then that a paper tiger position that would keep him out of the cabinet? In short, his appointment is nothing short of killing a monkey to scare the forest – subject yourself to the cult of Lee and the Lee Hsien Loong Way and be rewarded with million dollar salaries, glamour and power. If not, be prepared to lose everything, even if you are a PAP member, like the way Tan Cheng Bock is treated by the establishment right now.
Moving forward, Tan Chuan-Jin’s appointment must be opposed. Parliament exists as a check on the executive and as a show of that symbolism the Speaker must be someone not aligned with any of the parties, nominated and elected on a secret ballot.
And most importantly it is a message to the incumbent that lackeyism in the government is unacceptable. Cabinet ministers should not be removed at the whim of the PM to be filled with yes-men and women who would carry out every whim of the PM. It has to be a place filled with people whose passion is to serve the people, not the political masters of the day. A no vote to Tan Chuan Jin’s speakership would send that message clear.