A former stalwart of Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) on Friday announced he was joining hands with former party colleagues to form a new party – raising the prospect of a splintering of the party for the first time in decades.
Tan Cheng Bock’s announcement on Facebook comes amid rising speculation that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will call snap elections this year, well ahead of a January 2021 deadline.
The move comes eight years after the 78-year-old lost a contest to be president – a largely ceremonial role – by a wafer thin margin to the eventual winner Tony Tan, who had the backing of the PAP.
Tan said his new ‘Progress Singapore Party’ will include “some” ex-PAP cadres, but did not reveal who was joining him in the endeavour.
The formation of the new party needs to be approved by Singapore’s Registry of Societies.
“Over the years, a group of us have been walking the ground, meeting many Singaporeans from all walks of life. In my conversations with them, I listened to their concerns, heard their fears and felt their pain,” Tan said.
He added: “I felt a sense of duty to come forward and represent them in Parliament. So I decided to form a political party to add another voice in Parliament.”
Senior members of the ruling party – co-founded by Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s independence leader and Prime Minister Lee’s father – have not gone on to form splinter parties since independence in 1965.
Its last split was in the early 1960s – when it was the ruling party of semi-independent Singapore. Leftist elements in the PAP at that time formed the Barisan Sosialis.
That outfit was later neutered as its main leaders were detained by Lee Kuan Yew’s government, with the assent of colonial rulers Britain, for supposed communist links.
Tan, 78, served as an MP in the PAP from 1980 to 2006.
Tan split from the PAP in 2011 after he decided to run as president, even though he did not have the endorsement of the ruling party.
As a lawmaker, Tan was viewed as a firebrand who often defied the party line, though he was close to Lee’s predecessor Goh Chok Tong.
But in recent years he has appeared to be cast out of establishment circles, as he revealed in one instance that the prime minister had stopped inviting him to events held for former PAP MPs.
Late last year, he was spotted meeting in public with Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s estranged younger brother. That set tongues in the island state wagging.
Observers have said Lee Hsien Yang’s entry to the opposition could be a game changer in the local political landscape.
The PAP has won super majorities in every election since 1968. The party says its success is down to its central role in thrusting the republic into developed status in just one generation.
Critics say its success is at least partly to do with its strict political controls, including the muzzling of dissenters and the press.
In his statement, Tan said his party hoped to “build a compassionate and truly democratic Singapore where good values and people matter”.
“Freedom of choice and free speech without fear must be defended,” he said.
This article Tan Cheng Bock forms Progress Singapore Party to contest election first appeared on South China Morning Post