PSP communications chief steps down, seeks 'leave of absence' from opposition party

Mr Kumaran Pillai said he was not leaving politics and that he hoped to remain involved with the PSP in an advisory role. PHOTO: PROGRESS SINGAPORE PARTY

SINGAPORE - A key figure in the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) - who heads its communications team and contested the last election - is heading for the exit door.

The departure is the second in recent times from the top decision-making body of an opposition bloc founded just under three years ago by former People's Action Party MP Tan Cheng Bock.

Mr Kumaran Pillai, 51, told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Feb 16) that he informed party chief Francis Yuen on Monday of his decision to step down as communications chief and party spokesman.

Mr Pillai, who ran as a candidate for the Kebun Baru single seat at the 2020 General Election, said he is also "negotiating an exit" from the central executive committee (CEC) he was co-opted into early last year, and asking for a "leave of absence" from the party for an unspecified period of time.

When contacted, Mr Yuen told ST that Mr Pillai would remain in the CEC.

A PSP statement issued on Thursday (Feb 17) merely referred to Mr Pillai as "stepping aside".

His party membership expired in January and he has yet to pay the $10 annual renewal fee. Mr Pillai has up to six months to do so.

He told ST that he was not leaving politics and hoped to remain involved with the PSP in an advisory role.

Mr Pillai stressed that he had "no quarrel" with the party and that his decision had to do with business-related "greener pastures" and new projects that he is taking on.

He runs a consultancy that develops and manages start-ups, and is also publisher of socio-political website The Independent News.

Mr Pillai also attributed his decision to "some health concerns" stemming from a frozen shoulder sustained during the 2020 hustings.

When contacted, Mr Yuen told ST that these health issues were the primary reason for Mr Pillai taking a leave of absence.

"Nothing of serious concern, but requires him to take things easy," said the party secretary-general.

Mr Yuen added that Mr Pillai would stay on in the CEC to assist the new communications head, announced as Mr Jonathan Tee in the PSP's Thursday statement.

Mr Tee previously led communications operations during the early days of the party.

Meanwhile, an internal message sent to PSP members said Mr Pillai had "to attend to urgent personal matters", although it also reiterated that he would remain as a CEC member.

Mr Pillai is due to meet Dr Tan on Friday (Feb 18) to confirm his next steps.

The PSP's first electoral showing in 2020 yielded two Non-Constituency MP seats, filled by Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa, though it has since weathered a spate of controversies, infighting rumours and high-ranking departures.

In November last year, it was revealed that the party was being sued by former member and election candidate Kala Manickam, who wants it to declare that the termination of her membership in December 2020 was wrongful and invalid.

Last October, treasurer Kayla Low stepped down, citing new job requirements of long business trips. In August, another former election candidate, Mr Brad Bowyer, resigned in the wake of backlash to his views comparing vaccination-differentiated measures to the Holocaust. He had also feuded publicly with Ms Kala over pandemic restrictions.

In April, youth wing head Terence Soon quit to take up employment opportunities overseas.

Reports of internal strife also surfaced in July last year, with some PSP members perceiving a nativist and racist slant to the party's position on Singapore's free trade agreement with India.

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