SINGAPORE: The leadership change in the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) is a conscious attempt to let the public know that the party is “not Tan Cheng Bock’s party” but that it “belongs to Singaporeans who care for Singapore”, the party’s founder said on Saturday (Apr 3).
The PSP announced on Thursday that Mr Francis Yuen would replace Dr Tan Cheng Bock as secretary-general, while Dr Tan has been appointed chairman in the party’s new Central Executive Committee.
Dr Tan founded the PSP in 2019 before the General Election last year.
Speaking at a press conference at the party headquarters on Saturday, Dr Tan said: “This move will be better for Singaporeans, because they will realise that we are actually consciously making an attempt to let Singaporeans know that the party PSP is not Tan Cheng Bock’s party. PSP belongs to Singaporeans who care for Singapore.
“This is a very conscious move not only on my part but on the advice of all my party leaders here.”
He was responding to a question about whether the change would affect the appeal of the party.
The new PSP CEC contains eight new members, while keeping six of its previous members.
Dr Tan said: “In the last year, the party has also attracted so much new talent, and so it is transforming, it is like a metamorphosis. Things are changing, and as the party grows, we need to make space to enhance the leadership.
“There was a time when my direct input was crucial because the party was in infancy, learning to walk. But now the party has grown and matured, and the new team must have the opportunity to use their strengths and skills to move forward.”
When asked whether others tried to dissuade him from stepping down, he said: “Of course, I am still the party chief, but I want to … reposition. 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.”
Mr Yuen was formerly the assistant secretary-general. With Dr Tan taking over as chairman of the party, former chairman Wang Swee Chuang is now vice-chairman.
The party appointed its office holders at a Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting on Wednesday.
Dr Tan will now focus on reaching out to Singaporeans and walking the ground, he said.
“I want to concentrate on reaching Singaporeans we didn’t reach before, that is very important. I want them to know what PSP stands for, and that we are a party that they must consider in the future,” said Dr Tan.
“Secondly, I want to help to mobilise and strengthen our grassroots. I’ve always walked the ground and it’s something I enjoy doing … It’s part of me, it’s part of my political DNA,” he added.
He will also continue to scout for new talent and mentor leaders of the party, he said.
“Many have come to our party because they want to learn from me, and my role is to guide them. What I have learnt over many years as a politician, I will pass my knowledge to them,” he added.
When asked about his vision for the future of the party, Mr Yuen said they are “all aligned with the vision of Dr Tan” when he started the party.
“The vision therefore would be, we want to build a party of choice that people can relate to … We champion their interests and we champion the interests of Singapore,” he added.
“More than that, we have the ability, the people, the leadership to be able to carry on for a long time to come.”
Responding to questions about whether Non-Constituency Members of Parliament Ms Hazel Poa and Mr Leong Mun Wai were considered for the position of secretary-general, given their presence in Parliament, Dr Tan said: “I’m not going to follow what the normal political structure is like, because we are a progressive political party.”
Both Ms Poa and Mr Leong were re-elected as members of the party’s top decision making body.
Adding that they were both considered for the role of secretary-general, Dr Tan said both he and Mr Yuen are grooming people to take over.
“When it comes to leadership, I will leave it to the people to pick their leaders. And if they are in Parliament of course their posture is there, they have better traction, but at the end of the day the field must be open,” said Dr Tan.
Ms Kayla Low and Mr Phang Yew Huat were named treasurer and assistant treasurer of the party respectively. They are among six new members of the CEC who were elected after PSP held its second party conference on Sunday.
The other four new members are Dr Ang Yong Guan, Ms Wendy Low, Mr Harish Pillay and Ms Jess Chua. Dr Ang, Ms Kayla Low, Mr Pillay and Ms Wendy Low were PSP candidates at the 2020 General Election.
Mr Kumaran Pillai, who contested in Kebun Bahru SMC, and Mr Taufik Supan were both co-opted into the CEC on Wednesday.
Dr Tan and Mr Yuen also responded to rumours of conflict within the party, after a website claimed that some party members were “mustering support” to demand that Dr Tan step down from the party and hand over leadership to “more talented rising stars”.
“It’s been a great honour to take on this position, and I can add on to say that nothing is further from the truth that (Dr Tan) is coerced into making this decision,” said Mr Yuen.
“It is his plan all the while, he has closely consulted myself, Mun Wai, Hazel and a few other of the senior people … It’s very natural, the transition.”
Dr Tan’s biggest asset is his goodwill with the people, his reputation, his network and his political experience, said the new secretary-general.
“All these cannot be not leveraged upon,” Mr Yuen added.
“We don’t want in a future election to be elected because we are by default the party to go for because they are angry with a particular party in power,” he said, adding that his role is now to think about succession.
Mr Yuen said that for the PSP to be a “long, enduring party that is successful”, it needs continuity.
“We need good plans, we need good structure, and more importantly, we need good leadership,” he said.