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PSP wants to be a ‘credible alternative’ to PAP, but no regime change expected in next election: Tan Cheng Bock

SINGAPORE — Opposition leader Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he is building up his party to be a “credible alternative” to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), although he does not foresee a regime change in the next General Election (GE).

PSP wants to be a ‘credible alternative’ to PAP, but no regime change expected in next election: Tan Cheng Bock

In his opening speech, Dr Tan Cheng Bock (second from left) said he started his party, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), out of concern over the current state of governance.

SINGAPORE — Opposition leader Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he is building up his party to be a “credible alternative” to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), although he does not foresee a regime change in the next General Election (GE). 

He also declared that he does not want to be Prime Minister.

“We are not starting a revolution. We are starting an evolution of change,” he remarked at a press conference on Friday (July 26). “Whether there’s a regime change in the next election, I’d be honest, I don’t think we can.”

What the opposition can do instead, he said, is to ensure some candidates are voted into Parliament so that they can deprive the PAP of a two-thirds majority. 

“Because if there’s no two-third majority, all the constitutional changes cannot be passed,” he said.

In his opening speech, Dr Tan said he started his party, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which was formally approved by authorities in April, out of concern over the current state of governance, which he criticised as having “gone astray”.

“I worry because I see the foundations of good governance eroding. Specifically, there is an erosion of transparency, independence and accountability,” said Dr Tan, who was flanked by six members of the PSP’s central executive committee (CEC).

“Yet these are the three foundations for creating trust between the government and the people. We all want a good political system.” 

Pointing out that the PSP is an alternative party that Singaporeans can put their confidence in, he added that it is a party that could bring “positive politics” to the political landscape here and one that will “not choose immediate economic gains, but aim instead for longer term sustainability”.

The 79-year-old, who ran in the Presidential Election in 2011 but narrowly lost to former President Tony Tan, also dismissed suggestions that he formed his party out of bitterness over that defeat. He has put it behind him, he said.

When asked to elaborate on what he meant by the erosion of good governance in Singapore, he said that the Government has not been very transparent about how it appoints individuals,  especially those related to political office holders, to important positions.

As an example, he cited the appointment of Ms Ho Ching — the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — as chief executive of the sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings.

“We are not questioning the credibility of these people who are there. But we are worried… because if your process is not transparent, there isn’t much accountability.”

Dr Tan is a former PAP politician himself and was a Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah, at the time a single ward, from 1980 to 2006. Several others in his CEC and PSP members were also from the PAP.

But he rejected the notion that his party is another PAP. “My simple answer to that is I didn’t change, the PAP changed. So, I’m different,” he told local and foreign journalists gathered at a small ballroom at Swissotel Merchant Court.

Asked to elaborate, he cited the example of how the ruling party had introduced a debate in Parliament on former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s home.

This was a “wrong” use of Parliament, he said, which should be a platform to debate policy changes and laws, whereas the conflict over the house at 38 Oxley Road was a family squabble between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings. 

Throughout the press conference lasting just over an hour, Dr Tan repeatedly declined to answer questions about his party’s policy proposals, saying they would be revealed at his party’s launch on Aug 3.

He was also asked whether his party stood for a particular ideology, such as whether it was for a welfare state, for instance. But he replied: “Honestly, all these ideologies, to me, I am not captured by them. I just want to build a compassionate Singapore. Simple as that.”

Dr Tan also touched on his vision for PSP, saying that he does not want it to remain an opposition party forever. And while his goal is not to become the next Prime Minister, he said he hopes to build up a good team that can carry out his vision even when he is out of the picture.

There were questions raised, he said, as to whether the party could outlive him. “They (wonder) if the PSP is as good as Tan Cheng Bock. So, if I’m not around the PSP would collapse. That is what I was worried about, to be honest with you,” said Dr Tan.

He continued: "That’s why I got to gather a group of people to look at the big picture. It’s not (about) me. I don’t want to be Prime Minister… I have a very short timeframe and I have to do it quickly.”

WILL PSP POSE A THREAT TO THE PAP?

Asked if the PSP will pose a bigger threat to the PAP compared to other opposition parties, Dr Tan said: “We have just started, we are young. But I think we will be a little bit of a worry for the PAP, but I won’t say I am a big threat to them.”

He then said he will have a better answer closer to the election when his party has grown.

It became apparent that the formerly proposed coalition among seven opposition parties, with him taking the lead, is dead in the water, too. On Friday, Dr Tan said he has no interest in disrupting the organisational structure that is already entrenched in each political party.

“Let them run. Sometimes if you want to push your way in and take over control of all these parties, it is not nice…” he said.

“I have managed to win many of them around now. We have had discussions too, so I guess the picture will be clearer as we draw nearer to the GE.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY WONG PEI TING

Related topics

Tan Cheng Bock Progress Singapore Party Politics

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