SINGAPORE — The constitutional amendments that reserved the Presidential Election for a minority candidate and the government’s handling of the Oxley Road saga are the key issues that show the People’s Action Party (PAP) has lost its way, said former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock at the launch of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on Friday (26 July).
Alluding to the special Parliamentary session in July 2017 that was called to address accusations by Lee Hsien Yang and his sister Lee Wei Ling against their older brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Dr Tan noted that Parliament is meant to be a place that sets laws for the country and constitutional amendments.
“But when you use Parliament as a place where you debate your family issues, to me, that is not correct,” said the 79-year-old PSP’s secretary general of the two-day debate that concluded that PM Lee had not abused his power, as alleged by the younger Lees.
“Then when Parliament refuses to answer questions from the opposition and push that question to the courts to decide, it is wrong again.”
In a press conference that was scant on details of the PSP’s policy proposals, Dr Tan promised to reveal more details of the party’s platform at a public event on 3 August. The former PAP MP pointed to an “erosion of transparency, independence and accountability” in the government as his key reason for starting the PSP.
“I worry because I see the foundations of good governance eroding. Singapore needs a good political system. This means a robust system of checks and balances,” said Dr Tan, who added that it was his “moral duty” to get involved in politics again.
“I didn’t change. The PAP changed.”
On the issue of transparency, he questioned why PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching was running Temasek Holdings, as well as the appointment of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How’s wife as the Auditor-General.
“We are not questioning the credibility of these people who were there, but what we are worried is the process (of appointing them).”
Will Lee Hsien Yang join the party?
Dr Tan once again pointed to his independent streak during his 26 years as a PAP Member of Parliament, “As an MP, I once voted against all of them when I needed to take a stand which was unpopular...In Parliament, I once voted against all of them, despite the party whip, on the issue of Nominated MPs.”
He also alluded to what the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, said to him when he was first recruited into the PAP in 1979, “I am not looking for yes men. I need people like you to help me.”
The PSP chief revealed that his party has recruited a “couple of hundreds” of members since he announced his intention to form a political party in January.
One prominent supporter: Lee Hsien Yang, who has been spotted with Dr Tan in public on several occasions. In a Facebook post in January, he said, “Cheng Bock will groom future parliamentarians who will serve our country and people before party or self. This is good for the future of Singapore. Cheng Bock is the leader Singapore deserves.”
So will the estranged younger brother of PM Lee be one of the PSP’s candidates in the next General Election?
“He and I are good friends...if he wants to join me, he is always free to join me (but) he must adhere to my PSP terms,” said Dr Tan, who noted that Hsien Yang might be perceived as having a “personal agenda” if he were to join the party.
“So if he ever joins, he must join on my terms.”
The former Ayer Rajah MP of 26 years would not reveal how many candidates the party has lined up - “I will wait till Nomination Day” - and decried an earlier report that said the PSP intends to contest eight constituencies, including five GRCs, as “fake news”.
Asked about accusations that he is starting a new party as he is bitter about being unable to run in the 2015 Presidential Election, Dr Tan replied with a smile, “I have resolved the Presidential Election. I don’t know if you people have resolved it.”
A personality-based party?
Dr Tan, a former Central Executive Committee member of the PAP, acknowledged concerns that the PSP might be seen as a personality-based party.
“There is some truth in it. They think that the PSP is as good as Tan Cheng Bock. So if I’m not around, the PSP will collapse. That is what I was worried too,” he admitted, noting that he has “a very short time frame”.
“That’s why I got together a group of people to look at the bigger picture. It’s not me. I don’t want to be Prime Minister. I want to help Singaporeans to come together...and provide that alternative for Singaporeans,” said Dr Tan, who added that he had already started succession planning in the party.
Asked why the PSP’s key office-holders all appear to be from the older age group, Dr Tan stressed that there were many younger members of the party who had not been revealed yet. “You will see them as we draw nearer to GE....So don’t think that my party is just old, old men and old women,” he quipped.
He added that qualifications and motivation were more important. “It’s not the age, you know...if the heart is in the right place, if they want to help me make this change in Singapore, it doesn’t matter.”
“But these old people...are showing to the younger people not to be afraid, that they should come forward. They set the example of not being too fearful...they will be helping me to mentor all the younger ones who will be joining us.”