Current governance going “astray” from “transparency, independence, and accountability” a catalyst behind setting up PSP: Tan Cheng Bock

Watching “the processes of good governance” in Singapore going “astray” was the catalyst behind the establishment of Progress Singapore Party (PSP), said veteran politician and ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) cadre Dr Tan Cheng Bock on Fri (26 Jul).

Seen together with other members of PSP’s first Central Executive Committee, Dr Tan told reporters at the Swissotel Merchant Court today that such a phenomenon runs contrary to “the three foundations for creating trust between the government and the people”, namely “transparency, independence, and accountability”.

He also revealed that the “many different Singaporeans” he had spoken to during his multiple walkabouts have “expressed a desire to have a credible alternative to the current ruling party”, as they “feel that the current system is imbalanced”.

“Many are concerned that a government with an overwhelming majority in Parliament is going to fail to take in different perspectives, different ideas and just push through their policies without due consideration of sentiments from the people and longer-term consequences,” added Dr Tan, who was a popular candidate in the 2011 Presidential Election.

He lost to Tony Tan, the preferred candidate of the PAP, by a mere margin of 0.35% or 7,269 votes out of over two million votes overall.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock had previously announced his desire to stand again in the Presidential Elections in Mar 2017. However, he was barred from contesting, due to amendments made to the Elected Presidency which rendered the election reserved for Malay candidates only.

Former Parliament Speaker Halimah Yacob, with much controversy, was elected – or as many opponents of the #NotMyPresident vein have argued, appointed – as the President of Singapore in the 2017 election.

Progress Singapore Party chief and co-founder Tan Cheng Bock (centre) with other members of the party’s Central Executive Committee at a press conference on Fri (26 Jul 2019). Photo: TOC/Terry Xu

Dr Tan stressed the importance of having a culture of “positive politics”, where Singaporeans will have a space to “come forward to share and debate policies, opinions and ideas with respect for each other” despite clashing views “without fear of being judged or shamed or other consequences that come from speaking a different point of view”.

“As a Member of Parliament (MP), there have been several times when I needed to take a stand which was unpopular,” said Dr Tan, in reference to his suggestion to limit the influx of foreign talents into Singapore during the recession in 1999.

“They were very upset with me [George Yeo and Lee Kuan Yew],” he added.

He also highlighted that he also took a stand against the issue of Nominated MPs, where he had “voted against all of them, despite the party whip”.

“I believed then, and I still believe now, that MPs who vote on Bills in the House must have the mandate of the people,” said Dr Tan, adding that the Bills should not instead be chosen by a committee.

“It seemed to me that party interest was being put above national interest, but I was the lone voice … And it isn’t enough to be the lone voice inside the PAP.”

“We need more Singaporeans” from “all corners of society” to “come help us”: PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock

Having served for nearly three decades as an MP, Dr Tan said that returning to politics and forming PSP was not an easy decision.

“I’m not a young man anymore. I am 79 this year. After the last Presidential Election, I thought of retiring from politics to rest,” he said.

However, he expressed grave concern on the growing inequality in Singapore society over the years prior to his return to politics via PSP.

“[W]e have become more polarised … I want PSP to serve as a unifying catalyst, to bring people together from all corners of society, working towards a better system for Singapore,” he said, adding: “We need more Singaporeans to come help us.”

Addressing the older generations of Singaporeans, Dr Tan called upon the Pioneer and Merdeka generations to contemplate their role in leaving a better country for the next generation.

“When I was first recruited into the PAP in 1979, Lee Kuan Yew said to me, “I am not looking for ‘yes men’. I need people like you to help me.” So I put my country first and put the people at the front of everything I did … I feel that it is my duty, and I hope others of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations also feel this way – to want to do something for the Singapore we will be leaving to the next generation,” said Dr Tan.

PSP chairman Wang Swee Chuang, as well as former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa and former Singapore Democratic Party candidate Michelle Lee were also present as the party’s assistant treasurer and CEC member respectively. Both Ms Poa and Ms Lee had contested in the 2011 general election.

Candidates unconfirmed, will be kept under wraps until Nomination Day: Dr Tan

Other than keeping PSP’s potential candidates under wraps, Dr Tan also dismissed speculations on where the party will be contesting.

However, he confirmed that there have been discussions between the party and other opposition parties over certain matters, adding that PSP will avoid three corner fights if possible, and that the same applies to the other parties he had engaged with.

He noted that some may choose to step aside so as to allow better candidates to stand for particular constituencies in the next general election, which many have speculated could take place as early as this Sep. The next general election, however, must be held before Apr 2021.

Progress Singapore Party chief and co-founder Tan Cheng Bock (centre) with other members of the party’s Central Executive Committee at a press conference on Fri (26 Jul 2019). Photo: TOC/Terry Xu

When asked as to whether Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has joined PSP,  Dr Tan went on to say that while the two of them are “good friends”, Mr Lee would have to join the party on the party’s terms if he desires to do so.

“I must say if he wants to join me, he is free to but he must adhere to my PSP terms, because many people would have thought he was coming to join me for his personal agenda.

“He must make it clear. I’m very clear and he knows if he joins, he must join on my terms,” added Dr Tan.

The first Central Executive Committee of the party consists of:

  • Dr Tan Cheng Bock – Secretary-General
  • Wang Swee Chuang – Chairman
  • K S Singam – Vice-Chairman
  • Lee Yung Hwee – Assistant Secretary-General
  • S. Nallakaruppan – Treasurer
  • Hazel Poa – Assistant Treasurer
  • Alex Tan – Member
  • Abdul Rahman – Member
  • Lee Chiu San – Member
  • Michelle Lee – Member
  • Wong Chow Seng – Member
  • Michael Chua – Member

To read more about the CEC members particulars, visit the party’s website here.

Party launch on 3 August

Previously, Dr Tan took to Facebook on 19 Jul to express gratitude for the “warm and enthusiastic response” from Singaporeans as he announced that all tickets to PSP’s launch next Sat (3 Aug) were taken up in “a few short hours”.

Dr Tan also apologised to those who had “missed the opportunity” to snap up tickets to the event, and added that there “will be more opportunities for engagement” with him and PSP in the future.

The launch will comprise two sessions, namely a morning one from 9am to 12pm and an evening one from 1.30pm to 4.30pm as a means to “accommodate more people”, with each session having a maximum capacity of 500 people.

He highlighted that the police has confirmed that no permit will be required for the launch, and that the party has received approval from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to screen a video during the launch at the Hotel Swissotel Merchant Court Ballroom.