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Singapore GE2020: Set up just a year ago, PSP fields biggest opposition slate

The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) emerged on Nomination Day as one of the most prominent opposition parties here – fielding the most candidates among any opposition party and having its A-team in West Coast prompt the People’s Action Party to reinforce its own slate.

Despite being set up just a year ago, the party is contesting nine constituencies, or 24 of the 93 seats up for grabs this time. It has also not been shy about its ambitions.

Asked about its large slate of candidates at a press conference last Friday, assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai said: “Dr Tan (Cheng Bock) always mentioned that he wanted to mentor the next generation of politicians for Singapore… He said one day, PSP will become the government, so we have to work hard towards that.”

The party has also repeatedly urged voters to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority in Parliament in the general election on July 10, taking a line firmer than that of the Workers’ Party, which says denying the PAP a super majority is a medium-term goal.

The PAP’s decision to move Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee from Jurong GRC was also a sign of the seriousness with which the PAP considers the threat of PSP.

Mr Lee, 43, will join Minister for Communications and Information S. Iwaran, 58, in West Coast GRC to lead a PAP team against what has been dubbed the PSP’s A-team, helmed by Dr Tan himself.

Dr Tan, 80, the PSP secretary-general, was the PAP MP for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006 before the ward was merged with the five-member constituency.

When asked at the Nan Hua High School nomination centre yesterday if he felt Mr Lee’s move was due to the perceived threat posed by the PSP, Dr Tan said: “I’m not going to question why they did that.

“But if they say I (am) somebody quite good, quite strong, so they are trying to put all their heavyweights to come to West Coast, well, that’s good.”

The PSP had also drawn some attention heading into Nomination Day as it dangled the possibility of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the estranged brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, contesting the election. The 62-year-old was ultimately not fielded.

Political observers told The Straits Times that the battle for West Coast will be key for the PSP as Dr Tan stands a chance of winning.

The PAP’s move to bring in Mr Desmond Lee only raises the stakes.

Political analyst Loke Hoe Yeong said the move is a certain sign that the ruling party sees Dr Tan as a formidable candidate, though he was unsure about the extent of the veteran’s influence.

“While Tan Cheng Bock can depend on a strong showing for him in his old Ayer Rajah ward, it is less clear how enthusiastically voters from the rest of West Coast GRC will respond,” Mr Loke said.

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh similarly said the outcome in West Coast could determine the future of the PSP.

“The PSP’s best chance is to win West Coast but I know the PAP is also ready to go all out to win. We can expect PM Lee spending time campaigning (there).”

“In other areas the PSP is contesting, they may be able to erode the PAP’s majority but they will be uphill battles because the PAP has the incumbency advantage and the PSP teams are generally novices,” he added.

Mr Singh said he believes Dr Tan wants the PSP to become a serious alternative to the PAP in the future.

While the 2011 presidential election candidate is still expected to be the main pull, the fact that the PSP has been able to attract a mix of professionals, entrepreneurs and former military men helps project an image that it is not just a one-man party, he added.

Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian from the National University of Singapore’s political science department, said the PSP is different from other new parties as it appears to be better resourced in terms of personnel and finances, and has individuals with experience engaging in grassroots, campaigning, and parliamentary work.

“If they have the ability to contest multiple seats, I do not see why they would want or need to hold back. Doing so can also establish the PSP as a serious political party that may have staying power beyond one election cycle,” he said.

But Mr Singh stressed that the future of the PSP will depend heavily on how it performs in this election. “If the PSP fails to secure any seats in Parliament, I am not sure if Tan Cheng Bock can keep everyone together. If the PSP wins some seats, I think the PSP can grow into a serious contender in the future and may attract more good people to join them,” he said.

  • Additional reporting by Fabian Koh and Lim Minzhang

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