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‘Don’t push older people aside’: Tan Cheng Bock backs PSP’s pick of 71-year-old as next chief

SINGAPORE — Three days after the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) installed Mr Francis Yuen, 71, as its secretary-general, party founder Tan Cheng Bock stood firmly behind the man he is grooming as his successor, stressing that older people with more experience should not be pushed aside.

The 14 members of the Progress Singapore Party's central executive committee at a press conference on April 3, 2021. In the first row (from left to right) are Mr Leong Mun Wai, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Mr Francis Yuen and Ms Hazel Poa.

The 14 members of the Progress Singapore Party's central executive committee at a press conference on April 3, 2021. In the first row (from left to right) are Mr Leong Mun Wai, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Mr Francis Yuen and Ms Hazel Poa.

  • Dr Tan Cheng Bock said older party leaders should not be pushed aside
  • He added that the Progress Singapore Party’s new secretary-general Francis Yuen, 71, was a well-respected leader
  • Younger members who show themselves to be capable may step up as the party’s leader down the line
  • Dr Tan said rifts that have dogged the party lately were started by “one or two” members and those who stood on their side lost badly

 

SINGAPORE — Three days after the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) installed Mr Francis Yuen, 71, as its secretary-general, party founder Tan Cheng Bock stood firmly behind the man he is grooming as his successor, stressing that older people with more experience should not be pushed aside.

Dr Tan, 81, who relinquished the secretary-general post and is now PSP’s chairman, said that older party members brought with them a wealth of experience and wisdom. Mr Yuen, in particular, has the qualities of a strong and well-respected leader. 

Speaking at a press conference at PSP’s headquarters in Upper Bukit Timah on Saturday (April 3), Dr Tan said that younger members who show themselves to be capable may step up as the party’s leader in future.

Weighing in for the first time on rumours of infighting that have dogged the party in recent weeks, Dr Tan said that the rifts were started by “one or two” people who voiced their unhappiness and those who stood on their side “lost badly”. He did not name these members or elaborate, but said that he was not worried because “the whole team is together”. 

Last week, RedWire Times, a website, claimed that some party cadres were mustering support to demand that Dr Tan step down from the party — which he founded in 2019 — and hand over the leadership to “more talented rising stars”.

Dr Tan said that the recent leadership renewal was unrelated to that episode and he had been thinking about refreshing the party’s line-up for some time. 

PSP elected a fresh slate of 12 central executive committee (CEC) members, which included six new members, last Sunday. 

This was followed by the appointment of office-holders on Wednesday. Two more members were co-opted into the CEC. 

Responding to a question from TODAY on why the party had chosen a new secretary-general just 10 years his junior, Dr Tan said it was a “myth” that all leaders must be young. 

Given Mr Yuen’s age, some members of the public had raised questions about leadership succession at PSP after the party announced his appointment on Thursday. 

Dr Tan said that leaders must have experience and wisdom: “Of course, if they are young, it is a bit better. But look at our society, it is also ageing.” 

“It is a pity if we don’t use our retirees with so much experience and just push them aside to say that the young people must come out… We’re not looking for young people just to make everybody happy.” 

If the chosen leader happens to be young, then it is “very good, as they will complement what we want to do”, Dr Tan said. 

He did not rule out the possibility that Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) Leong Mun Wai, 61, and Hazel Poa, 50, could step up to become the party’s leaders in future. 

ALLEGATIONS OF INFIGHTING 

On the infighting, Dr Tan was asked if it had affected the results of the party’s CEC election. 

He said that while individuals are entitled to their opinions, all allegations must be backed up by good reasons, not just by “some personal agenda”. 

“Any political party without all these things happening, I think it is quite unusual, so we do expect all these things,” he said. “I don’t think it made any dent.” 

Mr Yuen, a former lieutenant-colonel with the air force, also waved aside claims that Dr Tan was coerced into handing over the secretary-general role, saying that “nothing is further from the truth” and it was Dr Tan’s plan all along to renew the party’s ranks. 

In his new role as chairman, Dr Tan said that he would put a bigger focus on reaching out to Singaporeans who are still not acquainted with the party. 

“I have this feeling that we have to do more. I cannot just depend on the last General Election to get the traction,” he said.

He said that he has approached many people, including businessmen and those in charge of temples, clans, associations and institutes of higher learning.

He also emphasised that he was not retiring from PSP and would continue serving for as long as he can. 

“Many have asked me if I will be standing for the upcoming (General) Election… If I am able, I will.” 

TAKING THE PARTY FORWARD 

Asked about his role in the immediate future, Mr Yuen said that he would lead the party at least up until the next General Election, which must be called by 2025. 

He said that PSP’s next CEC election, to be held in 2023, cannot result in radical leadership changes to the point where the party has to start all over. 

“The team commitment and conviction is that we will still play on the principle of continuity,” he said. 

PSP contested nine wards in the General Election last year.

Its strongest performance was at West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC), where it grabbed 48.3 per cent of the vote. This opened the way for Mr Leong and Ms Poa to take up their NCMP seats, which allow the “best-performing losers” to enter Parliament.

The party’s poorest showings were at Pioneer Single-Member Constituency, where it garnered 35.2 per cent of the vote, and at Tanjong Pagar GRC, where it received 36.9 per cent of the vote. 

Saturday’s press conference was attended by all 14 members of PSP’s new CEC, five of whom are women. 

CEC member Wendy Low, who heads the party’s women's wing, said that having more women leaders raises the visibility of the roles that women can play in the party. 

“Within the party, the number (of women) is still on the lower side, but it’s with increasing visibility that I think more women will be prepared to step forward.” 

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PSP Tan Cheng Bock Francis Yuen

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