Charles Yeo becomes Reform Party chairman, party to conduct GE2020 post-mortem

Criminal defence lawyer Charles Yeo (left) will be replacing outgoing chairman Andy Zhu. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Criminal defence lawyer Charles Yeo has been appointed chairman of the Reform Party (RP), while oil and gas company director Mahaboob Batcha is the new party treasurer.

The party announced the appointments in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Aug 5), which it said were part of party renewal following the recent general election.

But the move has been criticised by outgoing RP chairman Andy Zhu, who told The Straits Times he was unfairly dismissed by the party before allegations made against him by secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam have been resolved.

RP had said in its post that Mr Zhu, 37, and outgoing treasurer Noraini Yunus, 52, will both be stepping down from its central executive committee (CEC).

The internal conflict spilled into the open when Mr Zhu made a subsequent post on Wednesday using the party's Facebook account that said: "This is an undemocratic stance by the SG Kenneth Jeyaretnam to make this announcement of new appointments while the matters and allegations against the Party Chair and Treasurer are not finalised."

The post, which was taken down, also said the party should not make any new appointments till the CEC finishes deliberating the issues and makes a decision.

Mr Zhu told ST: "This is something like an unfair dismissal... I have refuted all the allegations against me."

He said the Mr Jeyaretnam, 61, had levelled various allegations against him after the election, chief of which was that he had made changes to RP's payment methods without official party approval.

The party's rules require all cheques for payments to be signed by the treasurer and one other CEC member.

Mr Zhu said he had applied for Paynow and reactivated the party's online banking account, because of the need to quickly make full payment to contractors for services such as printing posters and distributing fliers.

"I conveyed this to the group chat and everyone agreed that we should get Paynow and online banking. So I made an appointment with Noraini to go down to the bank, and we had the agreement of all members, including Kenneth. But he is now claiming ignorance," he added.

Mr Zhu said Mr Jeyaretnam then accused him of making payments to contractors using the wrong channels, instead of cheque.

"Kenneth said that large amounts of funds can be transferred out as there are no dual signatories. I told him I did not misuse the funds, and we couldn't wait for the cheques to clear before paying the contractors. The treasurer was aware of any money going in and out," he said.

He added that Mr Jeyaretnam suspended him and Ms Noraini after the general election, and claimed the entire CEC had agreed to it - a point that he disputed.

Mr Zhu also said he is not challenging Mr Yeo's appointment as chairman, but the manner in which Mr Jeyaretnam is forcing him out.

Mr Jeyaretnam told ST that RP had held an inquiry, in which Mr Zhu and Ms Noraini presented their case. The CEC then decided at a meeting on Monday to remove them from their posts, after considering the evidence.

He added that the duo still have the opportunity to appeal the decision.

"We made it clear on our part that we are having a review of the 2020 GE, and as part of that we are identifying opportunities and also looking at weaknesses. Their removals have come in light of the review, as we've decided to replace the leadership based on initial findings on where we have had shortcomings. You can read into it what you will," he said.

"They still have the chance to appeal and until the process is completed, I don't think I can make any further comments, except to deny any justifications that Mr Zhu has put forward."

Mr Jeyaretnam also said the party had selected Mr Yeo, 30, as its new chairman because "we are renewing our ranks and identifying new leaders and Charles clearly is an outstanding candidate".

Mr Yeo had drawn attention during the election campaign after clips of him struggling to deliver the Mandarin constituency political broadcast speech for his party went viral online.

Meanwhile, Mr Mahaboob was formerly the deputy treasurer, and has been on the party's CEC since 2017. He was unveiled as a candidate ahead of the election, but did not run eventually.

Mr Zhu, Mr Yeo and Ms Noraini were part of the five-man team that contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC, and lost to the People's Action Party team led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with 28.09 per cent of the votes.

Mr Yeo, who has been on RP's CEC since June last year, declined to comment when contacted.

In the RP Facebook announcement, he said he pledged to do his best and looks forward to "energising the membership" as well as encouraging more youth participation.

The party also said that as a businessman, Mr Mahaboob will "competently manage the party's finances in line with both external and internal regulation".

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