Rumours abound: PSP’s Leong Mun Wai ousted as Secretary-General by his own party

Earlier, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) announced that Leong Mun Wai has stepped down as party secretary-general, and will be replaced by fellow NCMP Hazel Poa. This is an unexpected development, given that Leong had only been PSP’s party chief for less than a year – he took over the position in April 2023.

What Possibly Happened – Internal Turmoil

According to ‘in the know’ comments on online forums, as well as a couple of sources affiliated with the party (who wished to remain anonymous), a PSP Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting was convened recently to talk about Mr Leong’s conduct and behaviour in Parliament. Apparently, some party members had been unhappy with Mr Leong for some time – in particular, over his highhandedness in conducting internal party affairs, and how his controversial comments had cast the party in a negative light. The unease of some party members towards Mr Leong had started as early as 2021, when the mainstream media reported that some within the PSP had reservations over Mr Leong’s racist and divisive approach towards CECA.

Supposedly, the recent POFMA action against Mr Leong Mun Wai – when he fabricated falsehoods about the financial situation of a couple residing in West Coast – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. A faction within the PSP believed that Mr Leong had to go before the next General Election that is widely speculated to be held sometime this year. They were reportedly going to call for a vote of no confidence against Mr Leong if he refused to step aside.

Chequered History – Singapore’s Trump?

Mr Leong Mun Wai himself is no stranger to controversy. During his time in Parliament as a NCMP, Mr Leong has engaged in a pattern of divisive, polarising politics – aimed at making people angry and rile up negative sentiments for political mileage. In other words, Mr Leong is probably the closest that Singapore has to former US President Donald Trump in terms of their shared political style.

Apart from his recent POFMA case where Mr Leong embellished stories about financial aid for lower-income Singaporeans, he had also engaged in race-baiting tactics by taking a stance with strong racist and xenophobic undertones in his campaign against CECA. To the disquiet of his own party members, as elaborated previously.

He had also been rebuked on multiple occasions in Parliament for his poor conduct and making mispresentations, which he subsequently apologised for. Examples include making claims about students being differentiated in schools based on their vaccination status, as well as misleading comments on SERS. In a comment that is reflective of his real attitude towards the masses, he described Singaporeans who live in HDB flats as being “condemned.”

The Tan Cheng Bock Factor

Yet ultimately, Dr Tan Cheng Bock himself is the one who is responsible for the current mess within the party that he founded in 2019.

The PSP’s troubles run deep, with key leaders and candidates leaving and changing all the time, sometimes on acrimonious terms. Notable examples include the exit of Brad Bowyer, Kala Manickam – who sued the PSP for wrongful termination of her membership, former Youth Chief Terence Soon who left in 2021, as well as the departure of his own successor as youth chief – Jess Chua, who left a few months ago. The top position of Secretary-General has been changed several times during the PSP’s short history: Tan Cheng Bock (2019-2021) -> Francis Yuen (2021-2023) -> Leong Mun Wai (2023-2024) and now Hazel Poa.

Mr Leong’s antics in Parliament were also probably endorsed and supported by Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who Mr Leong has affectionately referred to as “Doc” in the past. In 2020, when deciding whether to take up the NCMP position, Mr Leong had said that he would “refer to Dr Tan’s judgement and because he’s our mentor, everything we refer to Dr Tan.” Mr Leong’s own personal website describes Dr Tan as his “political mentor.” In a media interview in 2020, Dr Tan himself described his role to his party leaders as “I can be the guide, I can be the mentor.” So surely, Dr Tan has to take the blame for the approach adopted by Mr Leong.

It remains to be seen which path the PSP will embark on following Hazel Poa’s appointment as party leader. Would they adopt a more ‘moderate’ and less confrontational style? Yet, Dr Tan Cheng Bock has shown himself to be very eager in getting into bed with strange bedfellows for political expediency. From asking Lee Hsien Yang to join the party, fielding firebrands like Leong Mun Wai as candidates, to endorsing Tan Kian Lian for the elected presidency despite the latter’s lack of suitability for the job and misogynist views.

Under Dr Tan Cheng Bock, politics is indeed the art of the possible.

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