All is not well within the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) — and all this barely a week before its party congress.
Rising differences within its leadership came to a head on Friday, when the SPP’s first assistant secretary-general Wilfred Leung, who was widely-tipped to succeed veteran leader Chiam See Tong as the party’s next secretary-general, told its central executive committee (CEC) that he does not intend to accept nominations to the committee for the coming two-year term.
Leung’s announcement, Yahoo! Singapore understands, was accompanied by notice of an impending resignation from the party by another of its CEC members David Tan, who heads its SME businessmen affairs bureau. Tan is a long-time friend of Mr and Mrs Chiam.
At the same time, second assistant secretary-general Benjamin Pwee communicated to the rest of the CEC his intention to decline offers to co-opt him back into the committee for another term.
Yahoo! Singapore understands that at least three other key members of the CEC plan to either resign from the party or decline nomination or being co-opted into the committee for the new term.
Several CEC members whom this reporter spoke to on Saturday admitted that internal relations among the SPP’s leadership turned sour after the 2011 May General Election, when seven members of the party stood in two single wards — Hong Kah North and Potong Pasir — and the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representative Constituency.
A rift appears to have developed between newer members of the party’s CEC and those who have led the party for a longer time, and Pwee confirmed there were differences over the style of leadership within the CEC.
“Most of us have been trying to move toward a more collective style of team leadership in the SPP, where we can consult with one another and make decisions together, or at least with a majority,” said Pwee, who added that other members of the CEC were more used to Mr and Mrs Chiam making all the decisions.
Key veterans on the party’s CEC have also expressed their discontent with Mr and Mrs Chiam, saying they felt that the Chiams had “disappointed the SPP”. More vocal members of the CEC such as Pwee and Tan are believed to have locked horns with Mrs Lina Chiam on a number of occasions in recent months.
More developments may follow in the days leading up to the party’s congress on 29 January, where the current CEC will be relinquishing their posts and a new one is set to be elected.
Given the unwillingness of at least six of its current key members, the questions of who will take over as the party’s next chairman and secretary-general remain open and unanswered.
Putting aside the internal tensions within the party, Pwee, his fellow Bishan-Toa Payoh candidates Jimmy Lee and Mohamad Hamim bin Aliyas as well as the SPP’s organising secretary Ting Sze Jiang were all smiles on Saturday afternoon.
The group -- alongside members of the National Solidarity Party (NSP), a representative of the Reform Party and presidential candidate Tan Jee Say – took part in a community outreach effort at Ang Mo Kio, distributing oranges and greeting residents ahead of the Lunar New Year.
Noticeably absent, however, were the Chiams, who Yahoo! Singapore understands planned a walkabout around Potong Pasir instead. Members of the Singapore Democratic Party were conducting parallel walkabouts as well, and the Workers’ Party had also been invited to the informal meet-and-greet session although they did not attend.
NSP secretary-general Hazel Poa told reporters that the outreach event serves to "create opportunities for (opposition parties) to have more interaction, and hopefully lead to better understanding and greater cooperation between the opposition parties in future".
Tan also stressed the importance of the opposition coming together in order to work towards presenting a credible alternative to the ruling People's Action Party.
"Ultimately we have a common purpose and a common destination... all of us are different, but we have a common objective, and we will work towards that and come together," he said.