7 opposition parties discuss forming a new coalition, invite former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock to be leader

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

SINGAPORE - Seven Singapore 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 MP and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.

In a news release, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said that six other opposition parties were present at a meeting hosted at the SDP headquarters on Saturday (July 28).

These were: the People's Power Party (PPP), the Democratic Progressive Party, the Reform Party, the National Solidarity Party, 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 Chee also called for a joint resolution to be signed by all opposition parties in the future, although it is not clear what the resolution would say.

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."

Dr Tan, a PAP MP of 26 years, lost the 2011 Presidential Election by 7,382 votes or 0.35 per cent. The four-corner election was won by Dr Tony Tan.

The largest opposition party, the Workers' Party, was not at the meeting. When contacted, WP did not comment on its plans for the proposed coalition, or whether it was invited to the meeting.

A spokesman for Dr Tan said that he is currently not a member of a political party. When contacted, PPP Secretary-General Goh Meng Seng said that it is too early to comment on whether he needs to join one of the parties in order to run in the next General Election, due by April 2021.

He added that discussions on an opposition coalition have been going on "for a long time" - since 2015 at least.

In the press statement, Dr Chee said that the 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.

In a Facebook post, Mr Lim said: "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."

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."

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore People's Party, led by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, was invited to the meeting on Saturday but did not send a representative.

The last opposition coalition 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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