PSP's younger members given room to 'manage the ground', says leader Tan Cheng Bock after party's first islandwide walkabout

Wan Ting Koh
Progress Singapore Party founder Tan Cheng Bock taking a picture with some patrons at Tiong Bahru Food Centre on Sunday (29 September). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — He might be the face of Singapore’s newest opposition party, but veteran politician and former Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Cheng Bock said he was kept in the dark about his party’s first official walkabout on Sunday (29 September).

Instead of dictating the Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) strategy, he leaves it to the younger members of his party to decide how to “manage the ground”.

“I put some of them to be in charge of some of the things that normally we will not give to these new people because we don’t how they’re going to handle it,” said the 79-year-old during an interview at his home after visiting Ghim Moh and Tiong Bahru in the morning. He added that he was glad for the different “campaigning style” that the younger PSP members brought to the table.

“I watch how they distribute flyers and conduct themselves. So far I think they are okay,” said Dr Tan, who noted the importance of letting these members get to know the ground.

Describing how his team decides on which areas to visit for him, he joked about being kept out of the loop when it came to deciding which areas to visit.

“I said, ‘I’m the boss and you all never tell me. They said ‘When the time comes you go’,” he quipped.

Dr Tan speaking to patrons at the Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre on Sunday (29 September) morning. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

29 constituencies visited

Sunday marked the opening of PSP’s election campaigning, with some 300 PSP members and volunteers conducting walkabouts across the island’s 29 constituencies.

Dr Tan’s route began at 8.30am with a visit to the Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre, which falls under Holland-Bukit Timah group representation constituency (GRC). There, his entourage comprising over a dozen PSP members handed out party pamphlets to patrons and stallholders. Included on the pamphlets were QR codes that linked users to a survey through which they could raise their concerns on social issues.

Some patrons at the food centre seemed to know Dr Tan, who spent 26 years as an MP for the Ayer Rajah single member constituency (SMC). He was also a candidate in the 2011 Presidential Election, in which he narrowly lost to former president Tony Tan.

One Ghim Moh resident who recognised and greeted Dr Tan was Kelly Ng Yik, who owns the 63 Laksa stall at the Ghim Moh hawker centre. “I met a person who almost became the president, which is not a common thing even though we are a small island... As long as he is mentally agile and is approachable to comments (from the ground), things will always be good,” said the 48-year-old hawker.

A ‘not confrontational’ meeting

Dr Tan’s second stop for the morning was Tiong Bahru Food Centre, where he ran into Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah. Both exchanged greetings and wished each other well before going on to chat with patrons at the crowded food centre.

Asked about their encounter, the 56-year-old Minister in the Prime Minster’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education said, “I come here regularly, I do my visits here to touch base with residents once in a while to make sure I keep in touch with people on the ground.

“It’s nice to see people pop by occasionally, and I just said ‘Hi’ to Cheng Bock.”

Asked if she was concerned that Dr Tan would be contesting in her area, Indranee said she “did not think of things that way”.

“When the appropriate time comes... the residents will decide on who based on what they feel has been done for them and whether you'll be the best person to represent them,” she added.

Dr Tan later described the encounter as being “not confrontational” and said that he hoped to see an end to the “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” attitude in local politics.

Anthony Lee, the PSP's assistant secretary-general, and PSP secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock greeting a Ghim Moh resident. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

Trusting the younger generation

After the islandwide walkabouts concluded at around 10.30am, members of the media were invited to Dr Tan’s home in the Holland area for a group interview with members of the PSP’s central executive committee.

Among those in attendance were assistant secretary-general Anthony Lee, 39; assistant treasurer Hazel Poa, 48; as well as committee members Peggie Chua, 39, and Michelle Lee, 42.

Poa was the former secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party while Chua is a former People’s Action Party member. Michelle Lee was a former candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party.

While the team could not say how many PSP members under the age of 25, the party’s youngest member is only 17 years old. The team also declined to reveal their number of members, although Dr Tan added that he believes the figure will exceed 1,000.

Elaborating on the younger party members’ different approach to campaigning, Dr Tan said they got him to break away from his “old style” of visiting just one hawker centre at a time.

“In life you cannot be captured by the past. If you’re not prepared to change for the future, you will stagnate,” he added.

“I always tell (the older) chaps you must learn to give way. We are only tutoring (the younger PSP members), teaching them. We will move out.”

Dr Tan applied to have PSP registered in January. The party had its application approved in late March and held its official launch on 3 August. Earlier this month, the Elections Department announced that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee had been formed, which has left many speculating that the election could be called as early as this November.

Singapore’s next general election must be held by April 2021.

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