Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chee Soon Juan

Derek da Cunha's book "The Price of Victory: The 1997 Singapore General Election and Beyond" lets us understand more about Chee Soon Juan, the Secretary-General of Singapore Democratic Party.

The following are some excerpts from the book.

On 24 July 1994, Deputy Prime Minister Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong described Chee's Dare to Change as "no more than a rehash of some fashionable Western liberal ideas, welfare programmes." He also said: "The foreign media and human rights groups have been talking about it, they tried to press us to do it. They are ideas which have already failed in Western societies, and Chee Soon Juan them together, calls it a book." (Quoted in "Don't be as gullible as the SDP", Straits Times a few days later. In his words: "Points made in Dare to Change backed up the points I made in the book with research findings, observations and analyses and historical data". (Straits Times, 28 July 1994, p.30) On the basis of the statement, the government could have responded by pointing out the factual inaccuracies in Dr Chee's book. The fact that it chose not to do so might suggest that it decided to wait for a more opportune moment.
Page 9:
"and MacPherson, which would be carved out of Marine Parade GRC so as to allow a contest between the PAP's Matthias Yao and the SDP's Chee Soon Juan - contest which the latter had requested."
Page 37:
Chia Shi Teck (NMP): "Had the SDP and Mr Chiam [See Tong] continued to progress and attract talented, credible and honest people, I would not be here. There would be no need for this independent idea. But having seen the recent direction of the party, I think it is not good for the country..." --> "Shi Teck's slate as alternative to opposition," Straits Times, 7 November 1996
Page 36:
"... false submission he made to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health Care Subsidy, which among other things, included what Chee later tried to explain away as a "typo"; his misuse of research funds of the National University of Singapore (NUS) to send his wife's thesis to the United States when he was a neuro-psychology lecturer at the university; and his inflated taxi fare claims to the NUS (where the amount was said to have been jacked up a few dollars each time he took a cab).
The people of MacPherson has passed a "solid" verdict on Chee's integrity. Chee, Wong Hong Toy, S. Kunalen and Kwan Yue Keng fined by Parliament's Committee of Priveleges over their conduct during testimony to the Select Committee on Health Care Subisidy.
Page 42:
"The despair among the SDP chief's supporters and members of his family had clearly to do with the size of his defeat, and the fact that the PAP had turned the contest in MacPherson into a referendum on Chee's character. Being defeated almost 2:1 in a bitterly-fought contest meant that the Chee camp could not take even a slither of comfort or consolation from the result. It was a conclusive defeat."
Page 49:
"But it is the speeches of the politicians, rather than just the rally atmosphere, that either animate a crowd or turn it off. For emotionally-charged speeches in the 1997 general election, few could match those delivered by SDP chief Dr Chee Soon Juan . (The emotional element aside, he was clearly also one of the better rally speakers, holding his audience in thrall.) In his last rally at MacPherson, on 31 December, Dr Chee tried to focus the minds of his audience on the fact that after 2 January, his life would not be the same again. As he began to wind up his speech, Dr Chee asked his audience whether they would vote for him. "Yes", came the answer from a section of the crowd. "I still can't hear you", Chee retorted. "Yes," came the louder answer. "I still can't hear you," he said. Louder still was the affirmative reply. As I was about to leave this scene of crowd-speaker interaction, I happened to hear a young man who was nearby make a perceptive observationto his lady companion. "Less than half say yes". This was at once prophetic and a salutary example of the silent majority, no less."
Page 60:
If one looks back, historially, over the previous three elections, with minor exceptions, leaders of major Opposition parties (and, here, I am excluding Mr Harbans Singh's United People's Front) usually took at least 40% of the vote in two-candidate single-seat contests. This should be the basis for comparison. If the leader of a major Opposition political party secures less than 40% of the vote, that does not constitute a good result.
Dr Chee, Secretary-General of the SDP, a party which between 1991 and 1996 had been the principal standard bearer of the Opposition cause in Singapore, secured 34.9% of the vote. And his vote appears a shade worse when one looks at the percentage of spoilt and blank votes in each of the constituencies in relation to total votes cast.

When an Opposition candidate has a real chance of getting elected or when the competition is keener, the percentage of spoilt and blank votes shrinks in proportion to the total votes cast. Thus, in Hougang and Potong Pasir, where the Opposition was elected, the percentage of spoilt and blank votes were the smallest amongst the 15 contested constituencies. MacPherson, where Dr Chee contested, ranks fourth highest in terms of the percentage of spoilt and blank votes.
Page 63: It was a clear rejection of the SDP which, under Dr Chee, was perceived to champion Western-style liberal democracy.

PAge 78: What precipated the event was Chee's dismissal from the NUS in March 1993, with the university accusing him of using S$226 of university research funds to despatch his wife's doctoral thesis to Pennsylvania State University the previous September. In protest at his expulsion, Chee went on a hunger strike. It was this that caused a schism within the SDP. Mr Chiam had disagreed with the way Chee was protesting his dismissal. Indeed, many other people criticised Dr Chee's hungry strike, seeing in it an exercise in self-publicity. --> Forum letters: "If Dr Chee believes he is innocent, what is stopping him from seeking legal redress?"

But what probably topped it all, in almost a chronicle of self-inflicted wounds, was Dr Chee and his SDP colleagues' appearance before, and submissions to, the Cost Review Committee and the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health Care Subsidy less than a year later. After many hours of questioning by those committees, it was concluded that the SDP team's research was flawed and that it had made glaring errors. The most significant of the errors was one suggesting that in 1990, the government's share of total health spending was 5%, instead of 25.4%, with Chee later telling Parliament's Committee of Privileges that this had been a "typo", or typographical error.

And when faced with such outcomes, Dr Chee would provide variations of a standard statement, such as the one issued in November 1995: "In the face of the PAP onslaught, the SDP assures Singaporeans that it will stand its ground. We have set our objective, which is to speak up for Singaporeans who might not otherwise get a chance to air their views, and we will be disciplined to fous on what we have to do." This might have seemed like a gutsy statement, but it would have rung hollow to those who had just witnessed the exchange. Also, whatever sympathy members of the public might have had for Dr Chee in a perceived unequal fight, might have been dissipated following the release of his statement.

Clearly, Dr Chee might have done better if he had been more selective in the battles he chose to wage with the government. Instead, he locked horns on a variety of issues. This, of course, leads one to ask why he did so? There were probably several reasons. I will offer two. One, was that he might have been bent on changing Singapore's political culture, from one which was circumscribed with out-of-bound markers, to one where limits were less apparent, trying to be the example to others to speak up. Two, he might well have felt that publicity, even bad publicity, would be good for the SDP and would translate into votes for the party at the polls.

As to the first of these reasons, Dr Chee obviously misread the ground. Most Singaporeans would seem generally satisfied with the status quo and how politics are conducted. If they want changes, these are of style, or a fine-tuning of the context within which political debate and activity takes place, not significant modifications to the system. On the second reason, he may have over-stated the significance of a high profile as against an image of sincerity.

On the day he stepped into the political spotlight, at an SDP press conference to announce the party's candidates for the by-election in Marine Parade GRC, Dr Chee was asked why he decided to align himself with the Opposition. He answered: "Mr Goh Chok Tong has called on younger Singaporeans who are capable, competent and of ministerial quality to serve Singapore in politics. I have decided to heed his call". People might well have read this as too self-regarding an answer and it was probably Dr Chee's first mistake.

Not My SDP calls for Chee Soon Juan to vacate his position as Secretary-General for his doubtful integrity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please note that we will adopt SDP-style of allowing no-reply-to-comments-and-no-allowing-of-anonymous-comments approach