SINGAPORE – A former stalwart of Singapore's long-ruling government and ex-presidential candidate said Friday, January 18, he is seeking to form a new party ahead of elections expected as early as this year.
Analysts said the move by Tan Cheng Bock, who almost beat the ruling party's de facto candidate in the 2011 presidential race, could represent a challenge to the government's dominance of the political system.
The People's Action Party (PAP) has ruled the affluent city-state since 1959 and has a tight grip on power. The forthcoming election, which they are widely expected to win, must be held by 2021 – but speculation is mounting it will be this year.
The move by former PAP lawmaker Tan will heap extra pressure on the government, however, with the poll coming at a sensitive time as the country's founding Lee family prepares to hand over the premiership to a new generation of leaders.
Announcing he had applied Wednesday, January 16, to register the new group, called the "Progress Singapore Party," Tan said the move was out of a "sense of duty" to address concerns of ordinary Singaporeans.
He said 12 people had filed the application, including other former ruling party members.
"Over the years a group of us have been walking the ground, meeting many Singaporeans from all walks of life," said the medical doctor, 78, in a statement.
"We held group discussions and conversations with many, listening to their concerns, hearing their fears and feeling their pain."
Lee Morgenbesser, a Southeast Asia expert from Griffith University in Australia, said 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, but cautioned this was unlikely to happen immediately.
If approved, the party will join a handful of other opposition groups who have made little headway against the PAP. The Workers' Party is the only to hold any seats in parliament – they have won 6, compared to the ruling party's 82.
Under the PAP, Singapore has become one of the world's wealthiest societies and the party still enjoys solid support.
But critics accuse them of tactics such as gerrymandering and seeking to bankrupt opponents through civil lawsuits to maintain their hold on power. – Rappler.com