This morning, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) announced their candidate of choice to contest in the upcoming Bukit Batok single member constituency (SMC) by-election. It is none other than their secretary-general, Dr. Chee Soon Juan.
I think it is a rather smart move for the SDP to introduce Chee early. This is because the veteran politician had always been a controversial figure in Singapore politics; by coming out early, there is more time to counter any negative press and also for Singaporeans to get to know him better.
A lot of Singaporeans still think he is some raving lunatic, out to destroy Singapore. Do read this post I wrote during the last general election on “Humanising Dr. Chee Soon Juan”.
I believe in the yellow ribbon project and giving errant individuals a second chance. Chee may have engaged in some rather combative and confrontational ‘western’ style of campaigning previously that have severely damaged his image as a politician in conservative Singapore, but he appeared to have mellowed a lot since and cleaned up his acts.
No matter what you used to think of him, this is a man who stayed true to his political convictions for 25 years. Both Chee and his wife are PhD holders, and yet they live in a crammed 3-room HDB flat with three kids, leading a simple life. Chee could have abandoned Singapore long ago for a better life for himself and his family, yet he soldiered on.
While the odds are clearly stacked against Chee with Bukit Batok being a People’s Action Party (PAP)’s stronghold and with the popular Finance Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, leading the campaigning for the PAP camp, there are reasons for Bukit Batok residents to give Chee a chance.
Chee is a family man
The reason why there is a by-election is because of infidelity on the part of David Ong, the PAP MP who resigned and vacated his seat in parliament. This is the second PAP MP who resigned because of extra-marital affairs, with the first being Michael Palmer in Punggol East where PAP subsequently lost the seat to the Workers’ Party in a similar by-election.
If voters are sick of cheating MPs and prefer someone who is devoted to his other half like the late founding prime minister, Leek Kuan Yew and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, Chee may just be the family man to vote for. Watch this video for a glimpse into the lives of the Chee family:
Fearlessness to speak
While his combative brand of politics had made him very unpopular in his early years in politics, Chee has since adjusted and toned down a lot. Nonetheless, his fearlessness to speak remains. You will notice that while many other politicians and political parties will shy away from more controversial topics, Chee is never afraid to speak his mind and stand up for the downtrodden.
A recent saga that comes to mind is that of the unfortunate death of full-time national serviceman, Dominique Sarron Lee. Chee responded to Lee’s mother’s cry for help while most other politicians would just shy away from having to engaging with the secretive Singapore Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense.
Picture this. If you were ever wrongly accused of an evil crime in Singapore like say, being a member of ISIS, the only political party and politician who is likely to speak for you would be the SDP and Chee. In a functioning democracy, there is always the need for a far-left party.
Twenty-five years is a long time to be in politics, especially when Chee never really earned the popular support of Singaporean voters all the while. Worse, many still see him as some sort of clown, out to destroy Singapore and discredit the oppositions.
As mentioned earlier, whether you support Chee or not, you have to give it to him for not packing up and leaving Singapore after all that he had been through. He had been made bankrupted and went to jail several times for his beliefs. Many other opposition politicians who were as badly persecuted as Chee like Tang Liang Hong and Francis Seow just packed up and left. Yet Chee stayed on.
After the recent landslide victory by the PAP at the last general election, most opposition politicians and leaders were badly demoralised and some even turned bitter against the voters. Chee never gave up. He continued with his 140 km personal walk round Singapore to engage with Singaporeans and raise funds for his party. This is true dedication.
Getting the fundamentals right
This morning during the media interviews, Chee said his priority will be to ensure the efficient and productive management of the town council. “The SDP’s goal is to surpass current levels of performance of PAP-run town councils,” he said.
Chee got his fundamentals right this time round. Singaporean voters are self-centered and our first and foremost concern is always about our own estates. Given the recent brickbats thrown at the town councils for the opposition-held Aljunied GRC, the first thing to do to win votes is to reassure voters that their town council will be well managed.
Emergence of a second opposition party in parliament
Other than the Worker’s Party MPs in parliament, there used to be at least one other representative from the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), led by the charismatic veteran opposition warhorse, Chiam See Tong.
Following the results of the last general election, the PAP resounding trounced every other opposition parties with the exception of the WP who managed to keep 6 seats in parliament (the WP also lost one seat back to the PAP).
The SPP used to be the second strongest opposition party in Singapore after the WP. However, after Chiam suffered a stroke and with his wife stepping up to front the party more, the SPP is no longer the lion it used to be in Singapore’s political landscape.
Perhaps it is time for the SDP to step up and fill that role as a second opposition voice in parliament.
In my next post, I will be writing on five reasons why Bukit Batok residents may not give Chee Soon Juan a chance in the upcoming by-election. Stay tuned!