The political arena in Singapore is abuzz these days, with several events that may or may not point to the possibility of the next General Election (GE) called earlier than expected, possibly even this year.
Only time will tell if this is so, but recent happenings have added fuel to the fire of early GE rumors, the latest involving the re-entry into politics by Dr. Tan Cheng Bock on Friday, January 18, when he announced that he and eleven other colleagues, including some former PAP members, are forming Progress Singapore Party, one aimed to be “an alternative voice” in Parliament.
Tan is no ordinary re-entrant into governance and public service. He was a Member of Parliament for 26 years, from 1980 to 2006, under ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Moreover, he was one of the few, and in fact, the very first non-Cabinet minister who was elected into PAP’s Central Executive Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body.
He also worked as a medical doctor for 50 years, serving in villages and communities. He also ran for President of Singapore in 2011 and lost by only 7,382 votes or 0.34 percentage point. Tan attempted another presidential bid in 2016, but this was thwarted by a change in the electoral process, which provided for candidates from another racial group.
Tan was present in a meeting of seven opposition parties in July 2018 discussing the formation of a new coalition, which had been announced by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the SDP, put forward a proposal for Tan to be head of the coalition, which was not objected to by the other opposition leaders present.
Tan seems to enjoy much popular support, and could possibly be the catalyst the opposition needs for a stronger coalition to be formed. Indeed, his announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by a number of opposition leaders, including the SDP, Reform Party, the Democratic Progressive Party-Singapore, among others. Many indeed, have expressed eagerness to work with him.
Meredith Weiss, a professor of political science at the State University of New York, told the Nikkei Asian Review, “Tan Cheng Bock’s entry will surely galvanize enthusiasm for his and other opposition parties.”
Another indicator that the political arena in the country is heating up is that the PAP frontrunner to be the next Prime Minister seems to be taking Tan seriously. Last November, Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Finance Minister was appointed to be the first assistant secretary-general of the PAP, a tacit indicator that he is in line to lead the party, and then eventually, step into the role of Prime Minister.
Over the weekend Heng said, concerning Tan’s Progress Singapore Party, “Singaporeans will have to decide on who can serve them better, and I will leave Singaporeans to make that judgment,” the assumption being that the judgment in question will be made at the polls.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also hinted at early elections, telling the annual PAP convention last November, “This may be the last party conference before the next general election. The new CEC (Central Executive Committee) will be leading the party into the final stretch, gearing up to put our record before the voters.”
Also, at the New Economy Convention, also last November, PM Lee said in an interview that holding a GE in 2019 is “always possible.”
However, in his New Year’s message for 2019, the Prime Minister made no mention of an early GE.