SINGAPORE - Former Reform Party (RP) chairman Andy Zhu, along with seven other former RP members, including ex-treasurer Noraini Yunus, has formed a new political party.
The Singapore United Party (SUP), which now has 11 members, was registered as a society on Dec 24, according to a notice in the Government Gazette.
The move revived talk of internal conflict within the party, which is led by Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam. In August last year, Mr Zhu and Ms Noraini were not re-appointed to the central executive committee (CEC) following unspecified allegations, including from Mr Jeyaretnam that Mr Zhu had made changes to the party's payment methods without official approval.
Mr Zhu said then that his dismissal before allegations made against him had been resolved was unfair. He also disputed Mr Jeyaretnam 's claim that the entire CEC had been unanimous in his and Ms Noraini's suspension.
However, Mr Zhu, 38, who had been party chairman for nine years before he was removed, told The Straits Times on Sunday (Jan 3) that all parties involved had moved on from the episode and the SUP is not a breakaway faction of RP.
"It is common for people to leave and join (political parties)... Since I've been in RP for so many years, the people that I know of are mostly from RP, so it is reasonable that many of the members in SUP have links to RP," said Mr Zhu, who will lead SUP as its secretary-general.
"We are not a party that has split from RP; we are just a group of like-minded people coming together."
An overwhelming majority of the party's members are former RP members, including two of Mr Zhu's running mates in Ang Mo Kio GRC, Mr Darren Soh and Ms Noraini. The RP team won 28.09 per cent of the vote against the People's Action Party team led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The only three members with no former ties to the RP are Ms Joyce Tan, a former Singapore Democratic Party member; Mr Choo Zin Chye, who is Mr Zhu's father; and Mr Kenneth Zhang.
Mr Zhu, who owns a food and beverage business, said the party hopes to address bread-and-butter issues, among other things, though it is still in the process of developing its manifesto.
"Some of our focus areas would include the Central Provident Fund system, housing, education, and healthcare benefits... From my past experiences walking the ground in Ang Mo Kio and West Coast, residents there are much more concerned about such bread-and-butter issues, and I hope to better understand residents' needs, represent them, and make their voices ahead," said Mr Zhu, who contested West Coast GRC in 2011 and 2015 as an RP candidate, as well as in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the 2020 general election.
Ms Tan, who is SUP's chairman, said SUP hopes to offer alternative policy proposals. "My utmost concern is for SUP to be (seen as) credible in the public's eyes," said the 35-year-old, who works in communications.
Criminal defence lawyer Charles Yeo, who contested Ang Mo Kio GRC alongside Mr Zhu and replaced him as party chairman in August, declined comment when contacted, saying that the party will put up a statement on the matter soon.
On Monday, Mr Jeyaretnam told ST that Mr Zhu had led a faction of RP members who were "determined" to take RP into a three-cornered fight in West Coast GRC during the 2020 General Election, where a Progress Singapore Party (PSP) team led by Dr Tan Cheng Bock eventually faced off against a PAP team helmed by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.
"Some of those disgruntled members revealed deep-seated animosity against Dr Tan personally which I found difficult to understand. We were all sad to lose West Coast after all the effort and sacrifices made to contest two elections there. But party policy was to cede in favour of opposition unity," said Mr Jeyaretnam, adding that this faction - including Mr Zhu - had also misjudged the importance of digital campaigning and failed to transition to the online medium during the general election.
He said: "I don't feel it is any loss to us nor any gain to the opposition ranks that these disgruntled former members are unable to put their egos aside and move on.
"We have a marvellous team in our new CEC, ably chaired by Charles Yeo, and we are looking forward to contesting in Ang Mo Kio, Radin Mas and elsewhere at the next election."
In response, Mr Zhu said that these remarks by Mr Jeyaretnam were "baseless allegations". Before the PSP indicated that they were contesting in West Coast GRC in the lead-up to the election, the RP CEC had made a decision to defend their turf in West Coast GRC, he said.
And later, when RP decided to pull out of West Coast GRC to avoid a three-cornered fight following a CEC discussion, he had also agreed to contest in Ang Mo Kio GRC with Mr Jeyaretnam.
"I didn't create a faction - I was just committed to serving residents, and doing my part. If I was creating a faction, I could have just led a team and gone on to contest West Coast GRC... instead, I followed my secretary-general to Ang Mo Kio GRC," he said.