PAP’s Co-Opting Strategy: Slowly Softly Surely

If you are a tired cynic of the Singapore political scene, you would say that this is another stage of the co-opting process of critics of the ruling party. Walter Woon was an academic and then a NMP, then an ambassador and then into the civil service.

The PAP is supposed to have lured its vocal critics into the fold. The clear example in this theory would be Raymond Lim, Minister for Transport and formerly founding member of The Roundtable, a non-partisan think tank poised to challenge the government’s policies in the 1990s. The PAP sizes up its critics and attempt to hook them into the consultation process through various avenues and become a PAP cadre, NMP, senior civil servant.

These people who are lured by the siren’s call to public service are not sell-outs as the hotheaded would denounce, but are probably seduced into the intricacies of the party machinery to change from within. The co-opting strategy shrinks the opposition’s potential talent pool as well as legitimises the PAP and its supposed quests for reform.

I like NMP Siew Kum Hong, and most bloggers would share my view I think. Ten years down the road, will he be co-opted by then?

‘Groomed’ to be AG
Hands on and on his feet, that’s Walter Woon

Weekend • April 12, 2008
Ansley Ng

This is the job for which he has been primed for years. That is what observers say about Professor Walter Woon’s (picture) appointment this week as Attorney-General.

From his time in academia to his stint in Parliament and, subsequently, in diplomacy, he has impressed, say those who have seen him in action.

Now, at 52, Prof Woon has been made AG. Justice Chao Hick Tin took office at 64 and held it for two years, while Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong served as AG for 14 years, starting at 55.

“Prof Woon was a brilliant academic, a very respected member of the NUS law faculty and many of us knew that he would go on and do something beyond the university,” NUS law faculty dean Professor Tan Cheng Han told Today.

As a student taking part in inter-school debates decades ago, Prof Woon already caught the attention of his seniors. One of those who had been impressed was former judicial commissioner KS Rajah, who said: “When I was sitting as a judge in the secondary school and university debates, he was a participant. He was first-rate material all the way.

“He may not have been an advocate in court as much as some other lawyers, but he has shown that when he participated in debates, he is capable of putting forward cases as forcefully as anybody else,” said Mr Rajah, now a senior counsel and consultant at Harry Elias Partnership.

Prof Woon began his legal career by topping his law class in 1981. He then taught at the NUS. In 1992, he was selected as Nominated Member of Parliament and served till 1996. He then spent nine years as an ambassador to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Last year, he was a member in the high-powered task force behind the Asean Charter.

“He has been very nicely groomed for this job,” said Mr Rajah, who described Prof Woon as more “outgoing” than his predecessors, probably due to his posting as a diplomat.

As the Solicitor-General, the affable prosecutor was known to take on a hands-on approach, squaring off against defence counsels.

In his latest appearance in the High Court, Prof Woon was involved in an appeal against the sentence of a reckless driver who was given a year for a fatal hit-and-run case. The sentence was enhanced to four years.

And some expect him to be just as hands on as AG, the government’s chief legal adviser who also decides on which cases to prosecute. Typically, AGs have not been known to argue cases in court but are instead represented by the Solicitor General and deputy public prosecutors.

“He is likely to want to be on his feet and that will be a good thing,” said Mr Rajah. “When you are on your feet, you see the work that is done by enforcement agencies.”

According to observers, Prof Woon is unlikely to make many changes to the legal service.Issues would change, said Prof Tan, but the approach the AG’s Chambers takes is likely to stay largely untouched.

“I don’t see a different spin or different approach. The issues will change, with the attempt to liberalise the Singapore legal services sector,” said Prof Tan. “These are issues that Walter would have to deal with.”

Criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan, who heads the Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore agreed.

“With K Shanmugam as Minister of Law and Prof Woon as AG, we have a very strong combination,” said Mr Subhas. “I think we can expect better things.”


One Response

  1. […] Knee Jerk Economics – e pur si muove: Andy Ho: articles and ripostes – The Sun Shines on Singapore: PAP’s Co-Opting Strategy: Slowly Softly Surely – P65: New Media – A Formidable Political Dimension? – Alice Cheong in Wonderland: One can get away […]

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