Tan Cheng Bock invited to lead opposition coalition

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan makes proposal at meeting attended by seven opposition parties

SDP Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan (right) proposed Dr Tan Cheng Bock lead the coalition, given his experience and leadership. PHOTO: YOURSDP.ORG

Seven opposition parties have come together to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition to contest the next general election, led by former People's Action Party (PAP) MP and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.

In a statement, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said six other parties were present at a meeting hosted at the SDP headquarters in Ang Mo Kio yesterday.

These were: the People's Power Party (PPP), the Democratic Progressive Party, the Reform Party, the National Solidarity Party (NSP), the Singaporeans First Party, and former NSP chief Lim Tean, who has applied to form a new party - the People's Voice Party.

At the meeting, SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan proposed that Dr Tan lead the coalition, given his experience and leadership. According to those present, there was no objection to this proposal.

Dr Tan, 78, who attended the meeting as an observer, said: "If you want me to lead, then we must think of (the) country first. If we go in, we must go in as a team." A PAP MP of 26 years, he lost the 2011 Presidential Election by 7,382 votes or 0.35 per cent. That four-cornered election was won by Dr Tony Tan.

The largest opposition party, the Workers' Party, was invited to the meeting but did not attend. When contacted, the WP did not comment on the proposed coalition.

The Singapore People's Party, led by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, was invited as well and also did not attend.

Asked if the move was inspired by Malaysia's Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister who had led a coalition of opposition parties to secure a shock election victory in May, Mr Lim said: "The Malaysian election is a continuation of the global trend of the last two years, which shows that people want change. I don't believe that phenomenon is confined only to the West or to Malaysia."

A spokesman for Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he is currently not a member of a political party.

When contacted, PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng said it is too early to comment on whether he needs to join one of the parties to run in the next General Election, due by April 2021.

Discussions for an opposition coalition have been going on since 2015 at least, he said.

Reform Party secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam said his party has contested West Coast GRC - which includes Dr Tan's former ward, Ayer Rajah - in two consecutive elections, adding: "Should Dr Tan decide to return to his old constituency, we would be delighted to stand under his leadership."

In the statement, Dr Chee said SDP has no intention to lead the coalition effort. "Rather, we see our role as a facilitator, of doing our part to contribute towards a common and greater good," he said.

Mr Lim said in a Facebook post: "Our alliance must strive to form the next government in the upcoming general election. We must offer real change to better the lives of Singaporeans."

The last opposition coalition to be formed here was the Singapore Democratic Alliance, in the lead-up to the 2001 General Election. It has since faded away, after NSP and Mr Chiam left the coalition.

Political observer Eugene Tan said a coalition led by Dr Tan, who has popular support from the ground, can be a catalyst for the opposition at the next general election, and can help reduce fragmentation within the opposition.

Whether this could be a game changer for the opposition remains to be seen, he added, pointing out that the minimum number of opposition MPs, including Non-constituency MPs, will go up from nine to 12 after the Constitution was amended in 2016.

"Candidates will be vying for seats in constituencies where they think the PAP is not as strong, and three-cornered fights may occur."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 29, 2018, with the headline Tan Cheng Bock invited to lead opposition coalition. Subscribe