Singapore

PM nominates Tan Chuan-Jin as next Speaker of Parliament

PM nominates Tan Chuan-Jin as next Speaker of Parliament
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, 48, has been nominated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the next Speaker of Parliament, nearly a month after the post was vacated by Madam Halimah Yacob who is contesting in the Presidential Election later this month, the Prime Minister's Office announced on Tuesday (Sept 5). TODAY file photo
Published: 5:00 PM, September 5, 2017
Updated: 6:53 PM, September 6, 2017

SINGAPORE — In a move that surprised Members of Parliament and political analysts, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, 48, has been nominated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the next Speaker of Parliament.

The announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Tuesday (Sept 5) came nearly a month after the post was vacated by Madam Halimah Yacob, who is contesting in the coming Presidential Election.

Mr Tan, set to be the third Speaker in less than five years, will need to be elected by Parliament at its next sitting on Monday. 

Should Mr Tan be elected by the House as Singapore’s tenth Speaker, he will be only the second one since the country’s independence to be appointed after serving as a Minister - following in the footsteps of Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, who became Speaker in 2002 after an eight-year stint in the Cabinet. Before he was made Speaker, Mr Tarmugi, who retired from politics in 2011 at the age of 67, was Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and subsequently the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

The PMO also announced Tuesday that Mr Desmond Lee, who was promoted to a full Minister in May, will take over the helm of the Ministry of Social and Family Development. He will relinquish his appointments as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), but continue as Second Minister in the Ministry of National Development. 

Ms Josephine Teo, who was also promoted in May, will replace Mr Lee as Second Minister in the MHA. She will let go of her porfolio as Second Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but continue as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister in the Ministry of Manpower.

Mr Desmond Lee (left) and Ms Josephine Teo. (Photo: PAP)

The Speaker’s post was vacated after Madam Halimah, 63, resigned on Aug 7 to run in the Presidential Election, the first reserved for the Malay community following changes to the Elected Presidency scheme passed by the House last year. Member of Parliament (Punggol East) Charles Chong, one of two Deputy Speakers, has since been filling in as Acting Speaker.

Writing in a Facebook post, PM Lee said it had not been easy to find a suitable replacement. “While Chuan-Jin stood out as the best choice, it was a very difficult decision to nominate him, as it meant losing an effective activist at (the Ministry of Social and Family Development),” he said. Describing Mr Tan as having “the temperament and personality for this role”, he added: “Chuan-Jin remains an important member of my team, though in a different role. I have asked him to maintain his interest in environmental and social issues, and his concern for the needy and disadvantaged.”

PM Lee said Mr Tan has agreed to continue advising the Ministry of National Development on these issues, and to oversee SG Cares - an initiative which encourages Singaporeans to give back to society - after he becomes Speaker. Mr Tan will also be appointed adviser to the National Council of Social Service, and continue to lead Marine Parade GRC, PM Lee said.

Mr Tan is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council. Noting that this is an elected post and not a Government appointment, Mr Lee said he hopes Mr Tan will “keep on leading and inspiring our sporting fraternity, as he did recently at the SEA Games”.

Mr Tan, in accepting PM Lee’s nomination, said: “Good ideas can come from both sides of the House, as does good intent. In fact they abound throughout the length and breadth of our society.

“Our duty must be to harness these for the common good – so as to put them to the service of fellow Singaporeans, and to build a better society.”

Commenting on his nomination in a second Facebook post, Mr Tan wrote: “May God continue to grant me wisdom, courage and love in all that I do. However inadequate as I may be, I hope that I can fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.”

Once seen as part of the core group of fourth generation leaders, Mr Tan joined politics in 2011, leaving his career in the army where he rose to the rank of Brigadier-General. 

Two weeks after the 2011 General Election, he was appointed a Minister of State at the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of National Development. He became Acting Manpower Minister in 2012, and a full Minister in 2014. About a year later, he took on the social and family development portfolio.

Mdm Halimah became the first female Speaker in January 2013. TODAY file photo

Madam Halimah, who also left her roles including as Member of Parliament and member of the ruling People’s Action Party, became the ninth Speaker of Parliament in 2013 after Mr Michael Palmer resigned in late 2012 over an extramarital affair.

Speaking Tuesday at a community event in MacPherson which was also attended by Mr Tan, Mdm Halimah said she felt that Mr Tan was a “very good choice” as Speaker. “I’ve known him for six years, and I know that he’s very committed, very passionate about the issues that are of concern to him... I think he will perform his duties as Speaker very well, if elected by Parliament. He will bring great professionalism and confidence to the duties he performs.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN AND KENNETH CHENG