Options for the Gang of Nine

Donaldson Tan

Mr Tony Tan Lay Thiam and Madam Hazel Poa

Mr Tony Tan Lay Thiam and Madam Hazel Poa

On 23 FEB 2011, the Straits Times reported that the Reform Party (RP) has been rocked by the mass resignation of at least nine members, including five in its top decision-making committee and a couple regarded as potential candidates for the upcoming general election. Dubbed the Gang of Nine (G9), the splinter group is led by former government scholars Mr Tony Tan Lay Thiam and his wife Madam Hazel Poa. So far, it is known that at least 30 members have already quit the Reform Party since the exodus of the G9 group.

While G9 has affirmed that it intends to participate in the coming General Election, Mr Tan and Madam Poa repeatedly stressed that they are considering all options. ‘We still want to participate in the coming election. If we are unable to stand as candidates, we would probably help out as volunteers in other parties,’ Madam Poa told the press. An insider had informed New Asia Republic last week that Mr & Mrs Tony Tan would make their decision to join the Singapore’s People’s Party (SPP) today. Should the couple joins the SPP, it is expected the entire G9 would be subsumed under the SPP banner which include key members such as former RP Organising Secretary Jeisilan Sivalingam, former RP Chairman Tan Tee Seng, former RP Treasurer James Teo and former RP Youth Chief Justin Ong and former CEC member Jeannette Aruldoss.

It is hardly surprising the SPP was an option for G9. The potential parties which the Mr & Mrs Tony Tan would join include the Worker’s Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and the Socialist Front (SF). Using the principle of elimination, the SPP and the NSP are the 2 likely parties that the G9 would join. Mr & Mrs Tony Tan were members of the Workers’ Party (WP) before they joined the Reform Party (RP). This eliminates WP as a choice. SF is eliminated as a possible choice because as a small party it lacks the organisational strength to mount an extensive election. campaign. In particular, the SF pledges to take control of key industries within Singapore’s economy by nationalising and running such industries and essential services. This is something particularly difficult to swallow. Last but not least, the SDP may not have the political capital to win the electorate due to its historical baggage.

The process of elimination leaves us with the SPP and NSP. The NSP, headed by Secretary-General Goh Meng Seng, describes itself as a moderate opposition. Mr Goh has a background in economics and he used to head an internal unit of the WP that evaluates public policy when he was a WP member. NSP has taken pains to shed its image as a party of Chinese towkays (businessmen in Hokkien). Perhaps its Minister-specific strategy was too successful that the Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan was not co-opted into the ruling party’s Central Executive Committee at the 2011 PAP AGM since housing was NSP’s key platform issue when it started its election campaigning. Today, it has a Malay Bureau that focuses on Malay issues. New Asia Republic estimates that the Malay Bureau has a total of 20 members which includes 3 women.

On the other hand, the SPP is led by the 75-year-old Opposition stalwart Chiam See Tong. The SPP enjoys a parliamentary presence who is represented by Mr Chiam in Parliament for more than 25 years. A familiar brand among the people, the SPP operates from its stronghold in Potong Pasir. Despite a stroke in 2009, Mr Chiam continues to hold the fort with support from his wife. He still carries out regular Meet-the-People Session (MPS) and walkabouts. The SPP was hit with leadership rifts when news broke out that Mr Chiam wanted to introduce the Reform Party into the Singapore Democratic Alliance as the Chairman of the alliance.

Key points to note between choosing the 2 parties are:

  • Tony Tan and Goh Meng Seng are of the same age – 41 years old.
  • Which party can provide a better route of political advancement for the G9 key members?
  • Which party has more room in its leadership to absorb key people such as Mr & Mrs Tony Tan, Jeannette Aruldoss and Jeisilan Sivalingam?
  • New Asia Republic estimates member strength of G9 to be between 20 and 30. Which party can absorb the entire G9 without affecting its internal team dynamics?

The relevance of Mr Chiam See Tong this General Election is also an important question. It is understood that Mr Chiam has intended for Jeisilan Sivalingam, Mr & Mrs Tony Tan to contest with him and Mohd Hamim at the Bishan-Toapayoh GRC. New Asia Republic understands that some G9 members deem that Mr Chiam is too old and too frail for General Election although he remains an extremely important anchor point for SPP’s campaigning effort at both Potong Pasir SMC and Bishan-Toapayoh GRC. Should Mr Chiam chooses not to stand for election while remains as a key campaigner, Ms Jeannette Aruldoss is a viable replacement candidate. Ms Aruldoss is a professional lawyer and she used to run the free legal clinic for the Reform Party.

New Asia Republic understands that some G9 members had indeed encouraged Ms Aruldoss to stand for election. Unfortunately, Chiam’s absence in a GRC team would be a very difficult pill to swallow for the SPP. An alternative configuration under the SPP banner would be some G9 key members contesting at SMCs instead of Bishan-Toapayoh GRC given the risk of putting all of one’s eggs in the same basket. It is possible that either Tony Tan or Hazel Poa would not be part of the Bishan-Toapayoh GRC Team and one of them would contest as a candidate at a SMC with another G9 member filling the void in the GRC team.

Possible team configurations for NSP with G9 members are unclear as the NSP has yet to reveal the full slate of possible candidates. So far, it is understood that NSP’s Steve Chia would be contesting at Pioneer SMC while Goh Meng Seng would be leading a GRC team at Tampines GRC. The composition of Mr Goh’s GRC team remains unknown.

Photo courtesy of the Straits Times.