Former Singapore leadership candidate plans new opposition party

Move by former ruling party stalwart Tan Cheng Bock could boost opposition amid talk of election as soon as this year.

    Tan Cheng Bock, who almost won Singapore's presidency in 2011, has announced he is returning to politics. [FILE/Tim Chong/Reuters]
    Tan Cheng Bock, who almost won Singapore's presidency in 2011, has announced he is returning to politics. [FILE/Tim Chong/Reuters]

    A former presidential candidate and member of Singapore's ruling party says he has applied to set up a new party, in a bid to return to politics ahead of an election that is expected to take place as soon as this year.

    Tan Cheng Bock said on Friday he had applied to register a new party called the Progress Singapore Party.

    "I have decided to return to politics after a long absence," Tan wrote in a Facebook post.

    "Though we are setting up a new party, we still look forward to working with others in the opposition who are passionate about putting country first - before either party or self."

    Tan's re-entry into politics could provide a boost to Singapore's weak opposition, as the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) prepares for the retirement of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong within the next three years.

    The PAP has ruled the city-state since independence more than half a century ago, and has never seen its share of the vote fall below 60 percent. It currently holds all but six of 89 elected seats in parliament.

    Opposition boost?

    Lee Morgenbesser, a Southeast Asia expert from Griffith University in Australia, told AFP news agency the move was "significant, mainly because Tan Cheng Bock has been such an influential PAP figure".

    "It could provide a legitimate alternative to the PAP," he said, adding that this was unlikely to happen immediately.

    Tan held office for the PAP for over two decades until 2006, and shot to prominence by nearly defeating a candidate backed by Lee in the 2011 presidential race.

    Last year, Tan was invited by a group of parties to lead an opposition coalition in the next election, due to be held by early 2021 but which Lee has hinted could come as soon as this year.

    The prime minister, who is the son of Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, is nearly 67 and has said he would step down by the time he is 70.

    Singapore has prospered under the PAP, becoming one of the world's wealthiest societies.

    But critics accuse the party of tactics such as gerrymandering and seeking to bankrupt opponents through civil lawsuits to maintain their hold on power.

    The leader of Singapore's only opposition party with members in parliament, the Workers' Party, told a members' forum on Sunday there was a real risk it could lose all its seats.

    Singapore: The House That Lee Built

    People & Power

    Singapore: The House That Lee Built

    SOURCE: News agencies