'Our differences have never been with Mr Chiam'

(UPDATED 2 Feb at 1pm, adding response from group of former SPP members)

The six former Singapore People’s Party (SPP) Central Executive Committee members who resigned from the party last week have acknowledged the response given by its former secretary-general Chiam See Tong on Wednesday night.

Following Chiam's clarification that the SPP had received legal advice to confirm the constitutional legitimacy of its Central Executive Committee (CEC) election at the party's Ordinary Party Conference (OPC) last Sunday, the group said on Thursday morning that his clarification and accountability "bodes well for the SPP's credibility".

The six, which consist of the party's former first and second assistant secretary-generals Wilfred Leung and Benjamin Pwee, organising secretary Ting Sze Jiang, Malay/Muslim affairs head Mohamad Hamim bin Aliyas, his wife and businessmen affairs head David Tan, made clear in their statement that their differences held with the party over leadership styles had never been with Mr Chiam.

"We hold Mr Chiam in high regard and have never ever questioned his role as Sec-Gen and leader of the Party," they said, adding that with regard to "all matters", they have always striven to hear his views directly.

"We all want to continue his legacy and spirit of standing for consultation, democracy and inclusion, in society, in Parliament and in the Party," they added.

In response to Chiam's accusation of the group advancing collective leadership "in isolation from other CEC members", the group said that they had brought the matters he raised and many others to the Chiams and to the rest of the CEC for "collective consultation, response and decision".

"We together tried hard to seek consulted, collective CEC decisions on these and other matters," the group said, stating that the only reason why they shared the reason for their departure was to be accountable to the SPP, its supporters and voters.

"Our leaving was not due to any dispute over who was to take over the Sec-Gen post from Mr Chiam. We chose to leave, to prevent further internal conflict and damage to the SPP leadership, and to allow Mrs Chiam and her team to continue to lead the Party in her chosen style and direction," the statement said.

On Wednesday night, Mr Chiam issued a personal statement on the group's resignations from the party, addressing the media for the first time since the events that unfolded over last weekend.

In his statement, he confirmed that the party received legal advice to refute claims that its election held for new CEC members last Sunday at its OPC were unconstitutional.

Chiam wrote, “Those claims were made by the ex-members who were not present at the OPC, and thus may not have been aware of the proceedings that day.”

Refuting claims by key veterans in the party’s CEC, Chiam said, “I am aggressively building up the next batch of potential leaders and our talent pipeline is not affected.”

He has also highlighted that the “baton should only be passed when the right leaders are in place.”

“It has been levelled against me as secretary-general of the SPP that I am not interested in leadership renewal and succession, or in being consultative. Nothing can be further from the truth,” the 76-year-old said.

“I believe in the merits of a consultative, collective leadership. But the situation of a ‘lack of collective leadership’ which the party has been accused of was in fact a situation of ‘collective leadership’ exercised by those ex-CEC members in isolation from other CEC members,” he added.

“A key example of this was the setting up of their proposed community foundation under the banner of the SPP, which was privy only to them. The rest of the CEC was not consulted or involved in this setting up of this foundation,” he revealed in the statement.

Earlier on Tuesday, the party released a statement on its website and Facebook page, saying that it saw recent resignations from its CEC as “an opportune time for the party to renew and strengthen the team”.

The opposition party cited new applications for membership that it says it received, and maintained that it now turns to its three points of focus—namely building a sustainable pipeline of talents, maintaining continuity with the party’s work and keeping Potong Pasir, Bishan-Toa Payoh and Hong Kah North as their priority constituencies.

In a longer statement sent to the media, however, the party also addressed reports from Chinese media that former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say was a factor behind the resignation last week of six key members of its CEC, including first and second assistant secretary-generals Wilfred Leung and Benjamin Pwee.

“It was reported in several sources in the print and online media reported that the resignation of the CEC members was linked to former presidential candidate Mr Tan Jee Say. That rumour went that the possibility of Mr Tan joining the SPP was met with resistance from within the party. This is not true,” the party said in its statement.

“If Mr Tan decides to join the SPP, we will fully welcome him. The SPP is also supportive of opposition unity and initiatives towards this end,” the statement continued.

English versions of the Chinese tabloid reports that appeared online were also refuted by some of the six SPP members who resigned on Friday, who said outright that they were “completely fabricated and untrue”.

The SPP’s statement was the latest in a series of developments surrounding the party that unfolded over the past two weeks past. On Sunday, two days after being hit by the mass resignations, the party reportedly elected new members of its CEC, but their identities remain unconfirmed.

Former party chairman Sin Kek Tong, who according to some media reports was voted into the new CEC following Sunday’s Ordinary Party Conference (OPC), said earlier this week he knew nothing about it.

The only reference SPP made in its statement with regard to its new CEC was in its second sentence, which repeated what its former second vice-chairman and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam had said on Sunday — that individual appointments will be subject to a vote within three weeks of last Sunday, and “will be announced in due course”.