Tan Cheng Bock 'changing gear' as PSP chairman, not stepping aside as leader

In relinquishing his post as secretary-general of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 80, said he was not stepping aside but "changing gear".

As chairman, he will focus on engaging different segments of society such as businesses and clan associations.

He will also work towards mobilising and strengthening the party's grassroots presence, and will help it scout for new talent, the opposition party founder and former People's Action Party MP said yesterday.

He remains PSP leader and will mentor his successor, former Republic of Singapore Air Force lieutenant-colonel Francis Yuen, 71.

"There was a time when my direct input was crucial, because the party was in its infancy, learning to walk," Dr Tan said at a press conference after the election of the party's new 14-member central executive committee (CEC).

"Now the party has grown and matured, and the new team must have the opportunity to use their strengths and skills to move forward."

Added Dr Tan, who chaired the press conference: "I will not lead the party from the front any more... The time is ripe for me to play a different role."

Mr Yuen, who was formerly assistant secretary-general, aims to consolidate the party's achievements over the past two years.

He told reporters that the goal is to make the PSP "a party of choice" for Singaporeans.

"We don't want, in future elections, to be elected because we are by default the party to vote for, because (voters) are angry with a particular party," said Mr Yuen, who contested Chua Chu Kang GRC during last year's general election.

Instead, he said, voters should support the PSP because they see it as representative of their interests and willing to fight for them.

The PSP plans to focus its future efforts on three areas: walking the ground, building up a strong team in its headquarters, and articulating the party's stance in Parliament.

The changes to its CEC line-up come amid reports of a rift in the party, with online news site RedWire Times claiming last month that some party cadres had demanded that Dr Tan step down as secretary-general to make room for "more talented rising stars".

But the party's founder replied that he was not concerned by the talk. Some party members had their own personal agendas, he said. "If you're not a team player, I don't take you."

He added that other party members who had contested the CEC elections "lost badly... they were rejected totally".

Mr Yuen stressed that Dr Tan was not coerced into stepping down as secretary-general, adding that it had been part of his predecessor's plan all along.

"We're done with all the teething problems we had over the recent months, all the rumours and all the unhealthy bickering. Every organisation would have that - it's nothing new," Mr Yuen said.

"It's how the organisation manages it, and how we can move on with confidence, with compassion and with credibility."

Dr Tan was also asked if he would have preferred staying on as party chief for a few more years.

"Of course, I am still the party chief. But I want to, as I said, reposition," he replied.

"And that is very important because, we must be clear, the party is not my party alone. The party is for Singaporeans who believe that this country can be made better if we make certain changes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 04, 2021, with the headline 'Tan Cheng Bock 'changing gear' as PSP chairman, not stepping aside as leader'. Subscribe