While Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh “likes” the social media pages of over 30 individuals on Facebook, the only non-WP local politician whose page he has liked is that of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) leader, Tan Cheng Bock.
Dr Tan is the very first ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian to start his own opposition party in Singapore’s history. He was MP for Ayer Rajah Single Member SMC from 1980 to 2006.
A beloved politician, Dr Tan gained the highest margin of victory for the PAP in his last election as a PAP candidate in 2001, with 88 per cent of votes.
During his time with the PAP, he also mentored younger politicians like Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
In the coming election, Dr Tan will clash with his former party as the leader of the PSP – an opposition party that is making waves in Singapore, although it is the newest political party in Singapore. The PSP was founded in January this year.
Dr Tan and Mr Singh appear to share a mutual appreciation of one another. Dr Tan had invited Mr Singh and his WP colleagues to his home during Chinese New Year, in February:
The pair were also spotted engaging in a friendly conversation at a fundraising event for a local publication, that took place in July:
Dr Tan also supported Mr Singh’s party by buying a table at the WP’s National Day Dinner, that took place on Aug 31. Revealing that he spoke with Dr Tan about the looming election, Mr Singh wrote on Instagram:
“Enjoyed chatting with Aljunied-Hougang Town residents and supporters of all stripes at the Workers’ Party National Day Dinner just now. Thanked Dr Tan Cheng Bock for buying a table and discussed that “September election” over a Blue Hammer cocktail!”
Sharing photos of himself with Mr Singh and WP veteran leader Low Thia Khiang, Dr Tan wrote on Facebook: “PSP members were very pleased to attend the Worker’s Party National Day dinner. We spent a good time chatting with WP members and their leaders. Pritam Singh also shared a special “Blue Hammer” cocktail drink with me.
“Congratulations to WP for organising such a successful event. And thank you also for the warm reception we received.”
Dr Tan has expressed his openness in working with other opposition parties in the past. When he announced the formation of the PSP in January, Dr Tan said that he looks forward to “working with others in the opposition who are passionate about putting country first – before either party or self.”
In September, Dr Tan declined to rule out the possibility of an opposition coalition and said the opposition parties should first maintain a relationship of understanding.
Advising opposition politicians to “keep it open and never close all your options,” Dr Tan called on party leaders to be “flexible” in their relations with their counterparts from other opposition parties.
While Mr Singh is friendly with Dr Tan and other members of the opposition, he said last month that he believes that opposition unity remains a challenge.
While acknowledging that many Singaporeans hope for a united and coordinated opposition that could present a more relevant political force, Mr Singh said this desire may not be suitable for reality since different parties have different ideologies and approaches.
Referring to his predecessor Low Thia Khiang’s words in 2013 that opposition unity in Singapore is difficult, if not impossible, Mr Singh said in a Facebook post published on Nov 13, “…not every opposition party believes the same thing. As a small political player in our landscape, the WP must get its political purpose right.
“To a large extent, this explains why opposition unity – notwithstanding friendly discussions and relationships amongst opposition members – remains a real challenge.”