Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chee Soon Juan: "I occasionally receive foreign funding"

The following is extracted from Lianhe Zaobao. Its reporter conducted an interview with Singapore Democratic Party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan. In the interview, Chee mentioned that he occasionally receives foreign funding.

Chee Soon Juan: This is the peak of Singapore Democratic Party's peak in 30 years

游润恬 (2010-02-28) Reported by: Ms Yew Lun Tian

Referring to the claim that Temasek Review is being operated by the Singapore Democratic Party, with the aim of discrediting the other opposition parties to strengthen SDP, Chee Soon Juan denied it. Chee: "We do not criticise the affairs of other opposition parties."

Singapore Democratic Party is 30 years old. When's the peak? When's the trough?

Dr Chee Soon Juan's (48 years old) answer was surprising. He said the SDP is at its peak now.

"I believe Singapore Democratic Party has not reached its actual peak, but as of now, we are at our highest point."

Chee says that SDP has attracted many new members over the past 5 years. The quality of the members is higher than before. The newcomers not only provide new political perspectives, they are also savvy with new media, empowering the party in ways it has never done before.

No resources to organise anniversary dinners 5 years ago

For instance, 5 years ago, Chee Soon Juan wanted to organise a 25th anniversary dinner. However, due to scarce resources, he called off the idea. Today, SDP not only organised its dinner at a hotel in Orchard Road, it also published its first 80-page full colour commemorative magazine.

Chee believes that of upmost importance is the unity among the Central Executive Committee Members.

"For them, fighting in unity precedes personal ambitions."

In the 1991 General Election, then Singapore Democratic Party's Secretary-General Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir SMC), Chairman Ling How Doong (Bukit Gombak SMC) and Cheo Chai Chen (Nee Soon Central SMC) won their seats in Parliament. Since Chiam's departure from the party in 1996, there had been no representatives from SDP in the parliament. As such, SDP under Chiam See Tong should be considered as the peak period of the party. However, Chee Soon Juan thinks that was the lowest point instead.

"A few weeks after I joined the SDP, I could already feel the strong tension in the ties between the party leaders. The SDP back then wasn't a party. It was never led by a team with a common ideology. It was just a group of individuals with different beliefs. When incidents occur, everyone has their own views and wants to pursue their own paths, resulting in disunity."

Chiam See Tong single-handedly brought then NUS Psychology Lecturer Chee Soon Juan into the party in 1992 and fielded him in the Marine Parade GRC by-election. Then PM Goh Chok Tong wanted to Teo Chee Hean to be in Parliament and arranged for Marine Parade GRC MPs to resign so that a by-election could be held.

Chee Soon Juan lost in the election. The following year, he got fired by NUS after he was found to be overstating his taxi claims. Chiam See Tong initially supported him, but subsequently passed a motion to the CEC to punish him. Other CEC members didn't agree with Chiam's actions, leading to a stalemate within the party. Chiam then resigned as Secretary-General.

Chee Soon Juan continued: "The meeting when Chiam tendered his resignation, was held at my place. The following month, I repeatedly went to Chiam's office to request him to keep his resignation letter, and expressed my loyalty to him."

Despite Chee Soon Juan's explanation, the fact is that SDP CEC went on to vote to expel Chiam See Tong from the party. If Chiam were expelled, he would lose his parliamentary seat and the opposition would lose a voice in parliament. Singapore's Constitution prohibits MPs from switching party membership. Chiam See Tong fought hard to retain his party membership. In 1997, Chiam left the party and set up the Singapore People Party where he became the Secretary-General and retained his Potong Pasir seat.

Chiam See Tong procliamed that he was ousted by Chee Soon Juan.

Chee Soon Juan claims that Chiam got ousted because of his dictatorship style.

"Even in the eyes of Ling How Doong and other members, Chiam See Tong's leadership was undeniable. However, we hoped he could be more democratic in the way he carried out the tasks."

Chee: "Until today, I don't bear any grudges against Chiam See Tong. I even attended his 25th Anniversary Dinner. Even when I meet him in the streets, I would greet him."

Chiam introduced Chee Soon Juan into the party in 1992. Chee was seen as the hope of the Opposition and a rising star in the political realm. Until today, Chiam is still in parliament, but Chee had never made it in.

When asked if he has ever regretted joining politics, Chee said: "Never. I'm not saying this because I want to be a hero. I really love teaching and research work. Those were my first love. However, fighting for democracy in Singapore is an even greater and urgent mission. I have no regrets."

Bankrupted in 2006, he stays in a 3-room flat in Toa Payoh. His wife Huang Chih Mei (48 years old) stays at home to look after 3 children aged 10, 7 and 5 years old.

So how does the couple derive an income without a job?

The couple is not employed. When asked about income, Chee expressed that he derives the majority of his income via the sale of his books. Occasionally, he also receives financial help from relatives.

"We lead a simple life. I contribute my excess resources to the party cause."

There are rumours that Chee Soon Juan is financially supported by foreign agencies, and that's why he could continue protesting without any worries. After asking him several times, Chee said: "I'm a scholar, I occasionally receive foreign funding for my research. My works have bagged awards, and I participate in foreign research programmes."

What kind of research? Is it related to democracy? Chee dodgingly replied: "Hmmm, it's about human behaviour."

"The question of whether I want to leave poverty shouldn't be answered by me"

Similar to the late Opposition leader Jeyaratnam, Chee Soon Juan was also sued for slander by government leaders, failed to pay the damage and finally was declared a bankrupt in February 2006, losing the chance to contest in the 2006 General Election. The difference is that Jeyaratnam strives hard to recover from his bankruptcy and finally succeeded before his death. Jeyaratam even set up a new political party and prepared for the GE. However, Chee Soon Juan had no plans to recover from his bankruptcy.

Chee: "Whether to recover from poverty is not a decision I make. You should ask Lee Kuan Yew. If he's not afraid of me, he could call off the debt. If he doesn't stop me from contesting in the GE, gives me the green light, I will immediately apply to be delisted as a bankrupt."

In 2006, SDP performed the worst compared to other political parties. Chee Soon Juan blamed this on the mainstream media.

He feels that the mainstream media portrayed a very negative image of him, causing SDP to perform badly at the poll.

"Because SDP proposes alternative economic plans, we also encourage major changes to the current political system, therefore the government sees us as a threat and wants to get rid of us. The mainstream media also points their guns at us."

New media as the main site for political battle in the next GE

To break free from the constraints of mainstream media, he claims that SDP would use new media as the main platform for the party in the coming GE.

Despite this, he believes the party needs the mainstream media if it wants to win in the GE.

"I'm very confident that if the mainstream media reports fairly about our beliefs and messages, the SDP would definitely enter parliament."

  民主党的作风比较强硬,工人党的作风比较中庸。几年前一个对政党政治提出尖锐批评的“大戏党”(Wayang Party)网站出现,不客气地指工人党根本是在作戏,不是真正在搞反对党政治。
SDP is radical. Workers' Party's style is moderate. A few years ago, the Wayang Party website was set up to condemn WP, stating that it is a wayang.

  大戏党后来改名为淡马锡评论(Temasek Review),对其他反对党的批评也有所收敛,不过网主的身份依然神秘。针对大戏党网站是由民主党幕后操纵,目的是打击其他反对党并提升民主党地位的传言,徐顺全矢口否认。
The Wayang Party then changed its name to Temasek Review, and also lambasted other opposition parties. TR's owner is anonymous. Referring to accusations that Wayang Party is operated by SDP so as to alleviate SDP's standing among the opposition parties, Chee denied them.

Chee: "We don't belittle other opposition."

So how is his relationship with other political party leaders? He said that they are not as close as brothers, but they stay in contact and avoid 3-cornered fights in GEs.

An extraordinary anniversary celebration

Fashion shows, Buffet dinner, no toasting on stage. SDP's 30th anniversary dinner differs much from other opposition parties'.

SDP's senior and young members became fashion show models, parading on stage with the various party uniforms. The red shirt and kaki pants is the latest uniform.

Many key opposition leaders were absent

About 170 people attended the SDP's dinner. However, many key opposition leaders were absent, including SDP's founder Chiam See Tong, WP's Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaratnam and National Solidarity Party's Sebastian Teo.

In the anniversary dinners organised by other opposition parties, the various opposition leaders were usually invited on stage to toast. It didn't occur at SDP's.

Chee's eldest daughter sings the National anthem

Chee's eldest daughter Chee An Lin (10 years old) sang the national anthem and recited the pledge. Singapore has long stopped the practice of singing the national anthem before the commencement of activities. The singing stunned many of the participants.

Chee Soon Juan frequently exposes his children into the limelight. For instance, they accompany him to court and wait for him outside the prison as he gets released. Is he doing this to win over compassion from the public? Chee: "Without family support, I find it hard to carry on. Looking at the kids, will remind me that I have to strive to give them a better Singapore."

Lianhe Zaobao

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