Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s Speech for Press Conference
26 July 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, we have invited you here today to mark the inauguration of the Progress Singapore Party.

It has taken a while to get here and yet – we are only at the beginning.

Making the decision to set up a new political party in Singapore was not easy. In my many walkabouts, I spoke to many different Singaporeans.

They expressed a desire to have a credible alternative to the current ruling party. They feel that the current system is imbalanced.

Many are concerned that a government with an overwhelming majority in Parliament is going to fail to take in different perspectives, different ideas and just push through their policies without due consideration of sentiments from the people and the longer-term consequences.

I’m not a young man anymore, I am 79 years old this year. After the last Presidential Election, I thought to retire from politics and rest.

Furthermore, I’ve already served in Parliament for 26 years as a Member of Parliament. I have spent a great deal of my life in public office.

But as I sat back and watched what has been going on in Parliament, and in our political system – I am concerned.

I believe the processes of good governance have gone astray. I worry because I see the foundations of good governance eroding. Specifically, there is an erosion of transparency, independence and accountability. Yet these are the three foundations for creating trust between the government and the people.

We all want a good political system. Singapore needs a good political system. This means a robust system of checks and balances.

This is what the people of Singapore want and this is what they should have – so that we can continue to hold our heads high and be proud of our system of government.

So many came forward to talk to me, to encourage me. They urged me not to go quietly into the night. They asked me to step up again to rally those who want to serve Singapore. For the country and for the people.

When I was first recruited into the PAP in 1979, Lee Kuan Yew said to me, “I am not looking for Yes Men.

I need people like you to help me.” So I put my country first and I put the people at the front of everything I did. I did my job, keeping close to the ground always, close to the people.

I feel it is my duty, and I hope others of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations also feel this way, to want to do something for the Singapore we leave to the next generation.

Progress Singapore Party puts Singapore and Singaporeans at its core. The people are the source of strength and legitimacy for a party and any government.

We want to offer the people of Singapore – a unifying alternative – an alternative party they can put their confidence in, a party that brings positive politics to the political landscape in Singapore. What do I mean by positive politics? I mean a space where people can come forward to share and debate policies, opinions and ideas with respect for each other despite a difference of views, without fear of being judged or shamed or other consequences that come from speaking a different point of view.

This takes courage and it is not easy to do. As an MP, there have been several times when I needed to take a stand which was unpopular …

In 1999, when they wanted to bring in more foreign talent, I said, “We are in a recession, we must make sure our Singaporeans come first during this time.” They were very upset with me – George Yeo and Lee Kuan Yew.

In Parliament, I once voted against all of them, despite the party whip, on the issue of Nominated MPs.

I believed then, and I still believe now, that Members of Parliament, who vote on bills in the House, MUST have the mandate of the people. They should not be chosen by a committee. So I took a stand. It seemed to me that party interest was put above national interest. But I was the lone voice. And it isn’t enough to be the lone voice inside the PAP.

My party and I are working hard to bring change to the political landscape. But we cannot bring about change without the support of many others.

Since opening up our party membership, I have been so happy and encouraged to see many come forward to join us and support us – brave men and women like these beside me.

As you will be able to see on our website, many of our CEC members come from the grassroots. We value a good mix of people, a wide variety.

I can tell you, the people who will run as our candidates will be a very mixed bag – what is most important is that their heart is in the right place. It won’t be just scholars.
We need people from many backgrounds, many vocations – businessmen, academics, social workers, ordinary people … As more and more come forward, I really hope the fear factor will diminish, and they will be encouraged by those coming before them.

I set up Progress Singapore Party also to mentor and guide a team of younger members. There is much we can share with them.

We have seen firsthand the values and ethos of our first generation PAP leaders. These were what convinced us to join PAP in the first place.

Country before self, always!

I want to encourage and nurture that same spirit of selflessness and public service which I see in our younger members, and guide them to approach public service in a practical and pragmatic manner, with a longer-term view. We will not choose immediate economic gains, but aim instead for longer term sustainability.

I will share with my team, what I have learnt in my 26 years in Parliament. And also, everything I learned including the running of town councils, a community development council and the Feedback unit …

…the things I was involved in, that built up trust between government and people.

But while my team and I have many years of experience, we will remain open to new ideas and welcome new contributions, because that is the way of progress.

Over the years, inequality has grown, and we have become more polarised. We need to bridge that divide. I want PSP to serve as a unifying catalyst, to bring people together, from all corners of society, working towards a better system for Singapore, united by a common cause – the love of our country and our fellow country men and women.

It is going to be difficult and take much time and effort, and many patriotic people to make this happen. We need to build up our strength and capabilities. We need to expand our reach and support base. We need more Singaporeans to come help us.

So we are holding a Party Launch on 3rd August to tell more Singaporeans about our Progress Singapore Party, and to appeal to them to join us in our quest for a better and stronger Singapore. It was encouraging to us that all the tickets to our launch were snapped up within hours of our announcement.

It demonstrates the level of interest and hunger Singaporeans have – for change, and for progress. Together, we will press for progress with you … progress of the many, not the few.

We would like to extend our invitation, for you to join us at the afternoon session of our launch. Please do let our press liaison officers know if you would like to attend.

Thank you for your attention.