SINGAPORE - Former Republic of Singapore Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Francis Yuen has been appointed secretary-general of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), taking over from party founder Tan Cheng Bock.
Dr Tan, 80, has become party chairman. This was announced by the PSP on Thursday (April 1), after its central executive committee (CEC) met on Wednesday.
Mr Yuen, 71, was assistant secretary-general of PSP, and had run as a candidate in Chua Chu Kang GRC during the general election last year.
PSP spokesman Kumaran Pillai said Dr Tan will remain as party leader of PSP for now and mentor Mr Yuen, who will be taking care of executive functions including strengthening the PSP's core team and carrying out grassroots work.
The distinctions between their posts should not matter so much, he added. "We are not a party in power, it doesn't matter who is the secretary-general at the moment - it is just a decoration at this stage."
In a Facebook post, PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai said Mr Yuen was the committee's unanimous choice to "lead PSP to the next level".
"Francis will lead and galvanise the party while (Dr Tan) concentrates on strengthening external support for PSP," he wrote.
Asked about this, Mr Pillai said that Dr Tan wants to continue to reach out to other political parties as well as civil society groups, clans and other associations.
The change comes amid reports of a rift in the party. An online news site, the RedWire Times, said in March that some party cadres have demanded for Dr Tan to step down as secretary-general, and allow for "more talented rising stars" to take over.
Commenting on the Redwire Times report, Mr Pillai said the new CEC line-up is in no way a reflection of any disagreement over the leadership of the party. Rather, Mr Yuen assuming the secretary-general role is part of a planned transition, he added.
"When Dr Tan started the party, he said he will mentor someone younger, and he hasn't deviated from his original mission. People shouldn't be reading too much into it."
Mr Pillai added that he had a long dialogue with the party cadre who was quoted anonymously by Redwire Times as saying that some cadres are mustering support to demand for Dr Tan to step down from his post.
"His intention is not to stage a coup within the party. I think people have misinterpreted it and misunderstood what he said, sometimes it's like playing broken telephone, you say one thing and by the time you get to the last person, the whole story gets distorted along the way... there's no infighting, there's no malice," he said.
Meanwhile, two new faces in the 14-member CEC have become office holders.
Chartered accountant Kayla Low, a candidate for the single-member constituency (SMC) of Yio Chu Kang during last year's election, is the new treasurer, while businessman Phang Yew Huat will be assistant treasurer.
Former PSP chairman Wang Swee Chuang will be vice-chairman.
Two more people were also co-opted into the new CEC on Wednesday, following a CEC election at the PSP party conference on Sunday: Mr Pillai, who runs a consultancy to develop start-ups, and IT project manager Taufik Supan.
They had contested Kebun Baru SMC and Nee Soon GRC respectively in last year's election.
Six new faces and more women were voted into the PSP's CEC on Sunday. Besides Ms Low and Mr Phang, they included three who had contested last year's election: psychiatrist Ang Yong Guan, lawyer Wendy Low and technologist Harish Pillay.
Dr Ang had contested Marymount SMC, while Ms Wendy Low and Mr Pillay had contested Tanjong Pagar GRC.
Another new face, Ms Jess Chua, also joined the CEC.
Other CEC members who were re-elected are Ms Peggie Chua, as well as Non-Constituency MPs Hazel Poa and Mr Leong.
The committee will serve for two years till March 2023.