SINGAPORE - After five years at the helm of two ministries, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin on Monday (Sept 11) embarked on his new role presiding over Parliament as its 10th Speaker.
Once he had taken his seat on the Speaker's chair, six MPs rose to laud the fairness and compassion he displayed as Minister of Manpower and, later, Minister of Social and Family Development - values they felt would continue to serve him well as the head of Parliament.
They also paid tribute to Mr Tan's predecessor, Madam Halimah Yacob, who resigned as Speaker in August to contest the presidential election. She was seated in the section of the chamber reserved for dignitaries with her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee.
Leader of the House Grace Fu, who nominated Mr Tan, said members had full confidence in his ability to conduct Parliamentary debate and proceedings with fairness.
"Everyone who has interacted with you can attest to your patience and willingness to listen to both sides of the debate," she said. "In the years ahead, the many complex and multi-faceted challenges facing Singapore will need fair, frank and honest debate. This House can expect a Speaker who will conduct the proceedings with impartiality, and enable MPs to serve their fellow Singaporeans in building a better society."
Ms Fu said Mr Tan has, over the years, demonstrated a strong passion and heart for the people, and his sincerity and affable demeanour has helped him reach out and connect with people from all walks of life - from social service organisations to foreign worker advocates.
He had, she added, earned the trust of people with different views and convictions.
"Your capacity to encourage civil dialogue and conversation among people of diverse perspectives will be something that is, as Speaker, central to ensuring we continue to have productive and healthy debates in this house," said Ms Fu.
His exposure to a range of issues - from infrastructure to manpower - will stand him in good stead as he presides over debates on a wide array of legislation and policies, she added.
"We are therefore delighted to welcome you as the new Speaker of Parliament while we'll miss your contributions in Government. In electing you to take the chair of this Parliament, this House places its full confidence in your ability to preside over proceedings with fairness and uphold the standard of this august institution," she said.
"We've been jogging partners along the river and along Parliament. Now that you are leading this institution, and have an office here, I hope we'll have more opportunities to run together, and look forward to a refreshed gym in Parliament," said Ms Fu to laughter.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim - who has worked with Mr Tan in the ministry and who was MP overseeing Chai Chee which Mr Tan now oversees - called the new Speaker a "champion of fair play", and was certain he would bring with him impartiality and boundless energy.
Meanwhile, Ms Tin Pei Ling - whose MacPherson ward was part of Mr Tan's Marine Parade GRC before it was carved out as a single seat ahead of the 2015 General Election - spoke fondly of Mr Tan's "heart of gold" in ensuring no one is left behind, his ability to manage issues in a balanced manner, and his gravitas, which will help him manage any situation, including debates should a deadlock arise.
These qualities make him best-placed to be Speaker, she said, adding that as Parliament becomes more diverse, it will need not just a Speaker who is fair and balanced, but one who is caring and compassionate - who will inspire Parliament to "continue to pass good laws to continue and improve the lives of our people".
When it was announced last week that Mr Tan would be stepping down as minister to take on the post of Speaker, speculation that he had been "demoted" followed. Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong on Monday said she begged to differ, questioning whether a person's measure of success should be limited to the position he holds and the salary he earns.
"We all serve. No office can limit the passion to serve. No office can limit the talent to make an impact. And any office can be one for exemplary service," she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Chris de Souza hoped that Mr Tan would help "protect the sanctity of independent thought", and give room for innovative suggestions to flourish during debates.
Most of the MPs who spoke also took the chance to thank Madam Halimah for her four years as Speaker, and wished her well in her future endeavours.
Ms Fu noted that Madam Halimah had presided over an eventful period in Parliament, from the intense debate over the Population White Paper less than a month into her new role, to the passing of amendments to the Constitution in November last year.
And she also made Parliament House available to Singaporeans from all walks of life in the days after the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew for his lying-in-state, noted Ms Fu.
"She has exemplified the principles of fairness and equality," she said, adding that Madam Halimah had made sure debate was robust and civilised. "Madam Halimah leaves behind a stronger institution."
Dr Faihal said Madam Halimah has upheld the dignity of the House, and "wherever she ends up, we can have utmost confidence in her abilities to do well".
"While it will be a loss to this House, it will hopefully be a gain for Singapore," he said. "I look forward to having our first female head of state."
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