Tan Jee Say — a political nomad and his “third force” ambitions

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By Kumaran Pillai

After being in the wilderness for the last three years, Singapore’s political nomad, Tan Jee Say, has finally found a place to pitch his tent and hopefully become the third force in the political arena.

Since his debut in national politics in the May 2011 General Elections, Tan has made a bid to become the president, join an opposition party and form an opposition coalition.

However, the people he was talking to or collaborating with didn’t want to walk his talk. And neither could they offer a platform that was able to accommodate all the different stripes and colours in our political spectrum.  Either, they were strong enough to ignore him or too weak to negotiate with him.

His new party, to be registered as Singaporeans First Party, was announced yesterday and it has opened its doors to political activists off all shades and colour — from the ruling party to the opposition ranks. Tan is confident of creating a “black swan event” at the next hustings, which has to be held before January 2017.

It seems that his ability to garner support from both sides of the political spectrum is an early sign of what he can achieve.

Some political observers see this as a positive development in opposition politics. “Jee Say has both the political clout and standing to rejuvenate the non-WP opposition movement” said one observer.

Starting a new party may seem counter-intuitive for it may dilute voter share in the event of a three-corner fight. But the Punggol East by-election has shown that Singaporeans can vote tactically to select the candidate with the best chance.

Others feel that the Singapore Democratic Party, from which many of Tan’s party’s members originate, will be dead in the waters by the time the next GE comes around.

Joining SDP would be the likes of the Reform Party, Singapore Democratic Alliance and Singapore People’s Party; that is if they fail to capture the imagination of the voter quickly.

The demise of these fringe parties may be a good thing – it will surely make space for the newly formed SFP to thrive – a necessary pivot in our political evolution.

However, the question in the minds of many is this: Has Tan left it a little too late?

Will he have enough time to register a party, form a new protem committee, walk the ground and run an election campaign?

Or is he riding the current wave of anti-foreigner and anti-government sentiment? Is this sufficient to culminate in electoral success?

Tan says he is not leaving it to chance. He has put in place a team with a good mix of scholars and activists who are capable of forming the next executive team. The 11  that he introduced during the press conference are Dr. Ang Yong Guan, psychiatrist and former grassroots leader, who along with Tan ran under the SDP banner at the 2011 elections; Michael Chia, retired engineer and volunteer social worker; Fahmi Rais, communications professional and former Young PAP member; Fatimah Akhtar, architect; Dr David Foo Ming Jin, chemist and former Young PAP member; Jamie Lee Swee Yan, IT professional; Winston Lim, architect; Loke Pak Hoe, company director; and Tan Peng Ann, retired army colonel and former PAP grassroots leader.

Displaying a new party manifesto, Tan said that his party thinks with their heart while PAP thinks with its brain, reducing the people to mere economic digits. He promised to restore the indignity faced by Singaporeans in the last couple of years.

Tan said that the new proposal for LTA to own the buses is an admission that PAP’s policies have failed. And the government’s patchwork of a response is merely a reaction to the increased political competition faced by PAP after GE 2011.

SFP said that it has set its sight on Tanjong Pagar; but it did not reveal the number of candidates it will field or the full list of constituencies that it will contest in.

With the centre ground being fought by heavyweights PAP and WP, the space left for the likes of SFP is limited. How Tan will take advantage of that space and how well he can sell his ideas will decide his political fate and that of his third force ambitions.