The proposed alliance comprising four of Singapore’s opposition parties is “only an idea at this stage”, said Singaporeans First (SingFirst) chief Tan Jee Say.
Mr Tan’s comments surfaced in light of a report published by The Straits Times earlier this month, in which it was stated that four opposition parties — SingFirst, alongside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), People’s Power Party (PPP) and Reform Party — were seeking to contest under a new alliance, and that they were looking into registering the alliance at the end of this month.
“I don’t know how ST got this story. ST did not speak to me. But the idea has been known to several parties after it was proposed to TCB at the 2 Nov 2019 meeting called by TCB. So anybody could have told ST about it,” Mr Tan told TOC on Wed (8 Jan).
According to the ST report on 3 Jan, Mr Tan — SingFirst, alongside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) previously led by current SDP member Benjamin Pwee, People’s Power Party (PPP) and Reform Party (RP) — is poised to lead the new alliance, with plans to field approximately 30 candidates in the upcoming election.
In response to queries from Lianhe Zaobao regarding the decision-making process behind the proposed formation of the alliance and reportedly selecting him as the leader of the alliance, Mr Tan said: “The proposed alliance is only an idea at this stage and there is no formal leader. I represented it in approaching other parties to join us.”
He also cited a meeting — convened by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in Jul 2018 — with several other parties that was attended by Progress Singapore Party (PSP) founding chief Tan Cheng Bock.
“You will recall that in July 2018, SDP called for a meeting with several other parties and attended by TCB when the idea of a coalition of opposition parties was discussed and TCB was invited to lead it.
“We waited more than a year for TCB’s response and when he did not call for a meeting, a few of us discussed forming an alliance.
“When TCB finally called for the meeting on 2 Nov 2019, we asked him to form a formal alliance and lead it. Whilst waiting for his response, we put our alliance idea on hold.
“We are now discussing the issue again after TCB has still not given us an answer after more than 2 months,” said Mr Tan, adding that the four parties’ decision to proceed with registering the proposed alliance was made due to the proximity of the upcoming general election.
He also noted that the parties in the alliance will invite Dr Tan “to lead this formal alliance” after it has been registered.
When asked about the number of candidates the proposed alliance plans to field in the next general election, Mr Tan said that while the parties “have not yet decided on the number of candidates to field”, he pointed out that the four founding component parties in the proposed alliance had “contested in 6 GRCs and 1 SMC in the last GE”.
In the 2015 general election, SingFirst contested in Jurong GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, PPP in Choa Chu Kang GRC, and RP in West Coast GRC and Ang Mo Kio GRC as well as Radin Mas SMC. DPP had temporarily merged with PPP to contest in the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
A PPP insider reportedly told ST last week that the party, along with SingFirst and RP, had discussed the prospect of forming an alliance following the last GE in 2015.
“Coming together, we will have more shared resources and more importantly, we can bring all our talents together, and form a stronger team,” a senior member of the PPP told ST, adding: “We (opposition parties) have indicated time and again that we will form a true alliance, now we are fulfilling that.”
He added that the next step for the alliance is to “deliberate our differences in policies, views and approach, and create a common policy platform”.
Proposed alliance agreed line to take, says PPP chief
PPP chief Goh Meng Seng similarly told TOC that the proposed alliance is their “agreed line to take”, and that it is their “desire to regroup and consolidate our resources and talents”.
“We were hopeful when SDP and TCB organized meeting in 2018. But after waiting for more than 1.5 year[s], nothing happens so we decided to kick start [the formal process of forming an alliance,” according to Mr Goh.
When queried by TOC as to why the parties have not opted to join the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), seeing that there will be two political alliances in Singapore should the new one materialises, Mr Goh said that his party had already written in to “ask for a meeting with SDA as we are exploring the possibility of joining SDA”.
However, he said that SDA had “dragged for 4 months but didn’t get back” to PPP.
“We have exhausted all options,” Mr Goh lamented.
A DPP insider told ST that officials from the four parties had also reached out to other opposition parties such as the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), People’s Voice Party (PV) and Singapore’s youngest political party, Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
SPP’s assistant secretary-general Ariffin Sha told ST that the party leadership was “unanimous” in declining the proposal to become a part of the new alliance, while PV’s chief Lim Tean said that he was not aware of such an alliance.
NSP secretary-general Spencer Ng told ST that the party will not be joining the new alliance for now, and will be keeping its options open in the meantime — a view similarly espoused by a PSP insider, who told ST that the party will not be part of the alliance’s founding constituent parties.
PSP’s founding chief Tan Cheng Bock — a former People’s Action Party (PAP) cadre and Member of Parliament — himself has previously rejected the idea of an opposition party alliance, stating that “it is not nice” to “push your way in and take over control of all these parties” at a party press conference in Jul last year.
Dr Tan publicly indicated that he and PSP are not ready to commit to the proposed alliance at this point.
Alex Tan Tiong Hee, a member of PSP’s Central Executive Committee, however told TOC earlier on Thu (9 Jan) that the leaders of the four parties intending to form the alliance are “like four captains from their respective sinking boats — not even a ship! — clasping one another’s hands to save themselves from drowning”.
The proposed alliance raises questions regarding its potential effectiveness, such as what the component parties are able to bring to the table, and how the parties being invited to join the alliance will benefit from a such a merge.
While the possibility of a three- or four-corner fight may be a plausible reason for the creation of the alliance, several questions remain — do the relevant parties have electable candidates or candidates that enjoy public support? Do they have resources, whether financial or manpower, that can be distributed among the parties? Or are the parties in the proposed alliance just trying to hang onto the stronger parties to stay relevant in Singapore’s ever-changing political landscape?
If it is just to prevent a three- or four-corner fight, is it worth the baggage — unelectable candidates and messy political history — that come along with the political parties?
After all, Reform Party — which contested against Workers’ Party, the strongest opposition party — in a four-corner contest for the Punggol East SMC in 2016, lost by a mere 1.2 percent of the total votes along with the election deposit and gained just a small margin of votes over SDA’s 0.57 percent.