Tan Cheng Bock: 'I didn't change. The PAP has changed'

He said he doesn't expect revolution at the polls, but to deny PAP the two-thirds majority.

Matthias Ang | July 26, 2019, 07:57 PM

"I didn't change. The PAP has changed."

Former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP and 2011 Presidential runner-up Tan Cheng Bock said these words at a press conference on July 26.

The press con was for the inauguration of his new Progress Singapore Party (PSP).

Tan's assertion was in response to a question about what made his new party different from the PAP, given that many of its members were formerly PAP cadres.

Two moments made him realise PAP has changed

Tan provided two specific moments that made him realise the impact of the change in PAP on Singapore politics.

The first instance was the constitutional change to the presidential election in 2016, which brought in the race factor, Tan said.

At that time, Tan had also launched a legal challenge against the Presidential Election, in which he contended that the reserved election should start only in 2023 at the earliest, and not in 2017.

The second instance was the issue of 38 Oxley Road.

Tan, who spoke at length about the issue, said the dispute had demonstrated the use of Parliament in a wrongful manner -- namely, as a means of debating personal family issues, rather than setting laws and constitutional changes for the country.

Tan also voiced his disagreement with what he saw as a refusal to answer questions from the opposition.

He said it was necessary for Parliament to answer all questions from members of Parliament.

He added: "You cannot push it to the courts for a decision, for an answer. To me, when I saw this happening, I sensed that something is wrong. We are not doing things correctly."

Transparency in appointments

Tan also brought up the issue of transparency in appointments.

He said one of PSP's aims was to ensure that appointments into important positions in the government were transparent and that people were in the know about how such appointments were made.

Tan then highlighted Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in her role as the CEO of Temasek Holdings, and that of Auditor-General Goh Soon Poh, wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, as examples.

He said that given that Temasek was part of Singapore's reserves, people wanted to know how the process of selecting its CEO was done.

Tan further clarified that PSP was not questioning the credibility of these people, but it was the process that the party was concerned about.

Explaining the underlying rationale for such concerns, Tan said: "Because if your process is not transparent, there's not much of accountability. How can we talk about trust between the people and the government?"

"So, if all these things are made very clear to us, I think we'll be very comfortable. But if they are not, we have every reason to question why."

Deprive PAP a majority in Parliament

Working with other opposition parties is not out of the question as Tan said it was necessary to respect the other parties, as well as work with them, given the amount of time that they had spent in the political arena.

The aim, Tan said, was to collectively deprive the PAP of a two-thirds majority, given that no constitutional changes could be passed without the support of two-thirds of Parliament.

Tan said he doesn't see "much change can happen" if "we still fail to win one-third of the seats".

He added: "So, that is a very important thing for us to do. All of us have to work together to deprive the PAP of a two-third majority."

Acknowledging comparisons with Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Tan said he did not think regime change would happen in the election.

He clarified that he was seeking to start an "evolution of change", rather than a "revolution".

He further said: "Whether I can take over this General Election, as a regime change, I'll be honest, I don't think we can."

"Our intention now is to get a few Singaporeans into Parliament and let Singaporeans judge how they perform."

"We must make sure that there is some representation from my party, together with the other political parties in the opposition in Parliament."

PSP does not intend to remain a opposition party forever

Tan further explained that he did not envision PSP perpetually being an opposition party and that the PAP did not have the prerogative to rule all the time.

In having members of PSP enter Parliament, Tan said that Singaporeans should judge them to see whether they will be capable of forming the next government.

If they were less than satisfactory, Tan said Singaporeans should "throw them out again and then find another party".

It was also because of such a scenario that Tan expressed hope that the team he established would consist of capable Singaporeans who can show what they are made of.

Pressed on the recruitment numbers for his party, Tan said: "We’ve got a couple of hundred people and it’s growing."

Top photo by Andrew Koay