Why can’t Singapore’s opposition parties remain united?

Instead of slugging it out with the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Parliament and arguing about government’s policies in the public sphere, opposition parties in Singapore are fighting amongst themselves.

1st match: Chiam See Tong vs Dr Chee Soon Juan

The feud between both of them can be traced back to the 1993 election. According to the Singapore Democratic Party website. the feud started when Dr Chee was sacked by NUS and went on a hunger strike:

Dr Chee was sacked by the National University of Singapore where he was a Lecturer. Dr Chee went on a hunger strike as a mark of protest. He was subsequently sued by his department head, Dr S Vasoo, faculty dean, Dr Ernest Chew, and secretary, Ms Janice Chen, when he disputed his sacking.

Mr Chiam first supported Dr Chee’s action but later changed his mind and called for the Party to censure the assistant secretary-general (Dr Chee was elected to the post in February 1993). None of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) members supported Mr Chiam’s motion whereupon the Party leader tended his resignation, citing that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues.

A few of the CEC members, including Dr Chee, tried to persuade Mr Chiam to remain as secretary-general. However, Mr Chiam stated that he would do so only if he could be granted the power to appoint and dismiss the Party’s cadre members. He also wanted the removal of Mr Wong Hong Toy as vice-chairman.

Under the Party’s constitution a simple majority of the CEC was needed to appoint cadre members, not any one individual leader. The CEC did not have the constitutional power to accede to Mr Chiam’s demands. A few weeks later, Mr Chiam gave a speech at the Singapore Press Club attacking the Party’s leadership. It was only then that the CEC voted to expel him.

The Press Club had extended a similar invitation to Dr Chee to counter Mr Chiam. Knowing that the PAP-controlled media had every intention to fan the flames, Dr Chee declined the invitation. But when he subsequently informed the organizers that he would speak but on the Party’s alternative policy ideas instead of the altercation with Mr Chiam, the Press Club withdrew the invitation.

Mr Chiam sued the CEC for wrongful dismissal and won. He remained with the Party until the 1997 general elections when he resigned to form another party.

Mr Chiam went on to form the Singapore People’s Party and together with the Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS) and the Singapore Justice Party (SJP), they formed the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

Fast forward seven years later.

In a 28 February 2010 interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Dr Chee claimed that in the 1993 dispute, he had pleaded with Mr Chiam to stay on in the SDP.

A few days later, after reading the interview, Mr Chiam’s wife, Ms Lina Loh contacted Lianhe Zaobao herself to rebuff Dr Chee’s claims that he wanted Mr Chiam to stay. She said:

If he really wanted to keep Mr Chiam, he coulld well reject the position of the Secretary-General or object to his expulsion when the CEC moved a motion to do so.

She went on to explain her decision in coming out to defend Mr Chiam:

I am only saying the truth for my husband to let the younger generation to understand Uncle Chiam, I need to step forward to clarify that he did not abandon SDP, when we were forced to leave, we were in so much pain in our hearts.

Dr Chee felt that the response from Ms Loh was a ‘personal attack’ on him as she was accusing him of ousting Dr Chiam. He responded in kind by writing ‘An open letter to all opposition supporters’.

He wrote that he bear no grudge against Mr Chiam and that he was misunderstood:

At the Reform Party dinner in 2009, I approached Mr Chiam to wish him well.

I attended his 25th anniversary dinner as an MP because I bore him no grudge and I was hoping the same from him.

The Singapore Democrats had even organised two public forums in 2008 and 2009 where we invited all the opposition party leaders, including Mr Chiam, to see how we could cooperate. We also invited him to our 30th anniversary dinner.

I did all this in the hope of burying the hatchet with Mr Chiam.

Unfortunately today’s outburst published in the Straits TimesLianhe Zaobao and My Paper where Mrs Lina Chiam made a host of personal attacks against me were untrue. It has poisoned the well again.

This must stop. I have been demonised by the PAP and its media for long enough. I have been accused of ousting Mr Chiam which is a blatant lie. Records will show this.

I have refrained from answering my critics on this matter because I was hoping that the past would remain where it belongs, and that we can look ahead and focus on our fight for a democratic Singapore.

Depending on the developments over the next day or so, it may be necessary to set the record straight over the episode of Mr Chiam’s departure from the SDP.

I say “may be” because even at this late stage I am hoping that something can still be done to avert any open clash with Mrs Chiam. Suffice it to say that the ball is in her court.

I want to put a stop to the lies propagated by the PAP and the media that I had entered the SDP and ungratefully usurped Mr Chiam’s position as leader. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many details that hitherto Singaporeans do not know because they have been obscured or covered by the SPH in the past.

Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away from a fight. But there comes a time when one has to turn around and face one’s accusers and say “No more.”

2nd match: Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS) vs..itself

Since 2006, PKMS has been split into two groups which have been at loggerheads with each other.

The police have been called in several times in the past over previous bust-ups involving PKMS leaders. The party’s leadership dispute was also brought before the Subordinate Courts.

Things came to a head in 2009.

The two factions got into a brawl outside its office building in Eunos. Four men had to be taken to hospital with head and arm injuries, with one of them warded in intensive care with a fractured skull.

Police arrested a total of 21 people, two of them women, for rioting with dangerous weapons in relation to the incident, which happened around noon.

Those arrested, who include the four taken to hospital, are aged between 27 and 69 and were all PKMS members. Weapons such as hammers and screwdrivers were said to have been used in the fight.

This is the sorry state of the opposition parties in Singapore.

Amidst trading barbs in the mainstream media and declaring war on each other, one wonders if they realised that the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) is still in power and laughing at all the drama.

But that is some light at the end of the tunnel. Opposition parties like The Workers’ Party of Singapore and the newly-formed, Reform Party are quietly going about with their activities and working the ground.

We need to have opposition parties to keep the PAP on their toes and make sure that PAP does not forget its responsibility to serve Singaporeans.

In order to do that, opposition parties must remain united and take the fight to the PAP instead of fighting among each other. But judging from the two episodes highlighted above, they still have a long way to go.

It is also important to note that the mainstream media chooses what it wants to report. Putting opposition parties in a bad light is part of the ruling party’s propaganda.



Filed under Opposition parties, Politics

4 responses to “Why can’t Singapore’s opposition parties remain united?

  1. DK

    I’m sure even the ruling party has some internal conflict. Just that they managed to cover it up and not let it spill to the public limelight.

  2. You’re young yet, so I have just one question for you.

    When these things are trumpeted and publicised, who benefits?

    And I guess I still owe you a post on political “communication”.

  3. mulan

    Because Opposition are run by a bunch of hateful, resentful, angry , grumpy people whose only job is to oppose the ruling government. They are simply not good enough to run the country. They are only good at whining and complaining.

  4. lee FS

    The WP said that they want a first world goverment, tell me which country has a first world government that the people feel happy. In the TV debate held recently, WP urge singaporean don’t just let PAP goverment to steer the ship. I am a old man, I heard “shit”. Is this the way WP tell the people of singapore.

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