Singapore Democratic Party
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|Singapore Democratic Party
Parti Demokratik Singapura
|Leader||Chee Soon Juan|
|International affiliation||Liberal International, Alliance of Democrats|
The Singapore Democratic Party (abbrev: SDP; simplified Chinese: 新加坡民主党; traditional Chinese: 新加坡民主黨; Tamil: சிங்கப்பூர் மக்களாட்சி; Malay: Parti Demokratik Singapura) is an opposition political party in Singapore.
The party was founded in 1980 by Chiam See Tong, who as Secretary-General became the party's first Member of Parliament (MP) in 1984 when he was elected as MP for Potong Pasir. At the 1991 general election, the party's best ever performance ever, two further SDP members were elected to Parliament - (Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen), giving the party a total of three MPs. However, Chiam fell out with the party's Central Executive Committee in 1993 and subsequently left the party in 1997. He was succeeded by Dr Chee Soon Juan, who has remained the Secretary-General since the SDP's Ordinary Party Conference in 1995. The party has since focused more on a liberal human rights agenda but has yet to secure parliamentary representation since 1997.
The SDP was founded on 6 August 1980 by lawyer Chiam See Tong, who had previously contested several elections as an independent candidate in the 1970s, together with consultant engineer Fok Tai Loy and businessman Ernest Chew Tian Ern. Chiam was the party's founding Secretary-General, Fok Tai Loy its founding Chairman and Ernest Chew as its Assistant Secretary-General. The main objectives of the party were declared to be the "elimination of colonialism and feudalism, the safeguarding of parliamentary democracy and upholding of the principles of democracy, socialism and the constitution." Two months later, on 19 October 1980, the party unveiled its emblem: a circle (which symbolises unity amongst Singapore's ethnic groups), behind an arrow (representing political progress in Singapore) in the colour red (signifying courage and determination). The party was officially inaugurated on 21 September 1981, a full year after being registered as a political party.
Leadership under Chiam See Tong (1980-1993)
1984 General Elections
The Singapore Democratic Party entered the election campaign of that year with the slogan of "Singaporeans for Singapore", raising the need for elected Opposition in parliament to bring democracy to Singapore. The party also raised other prominent issues of the time such as the need to reform the education and CPF system, as well as its opposition to the Elected Presidency. It noticeably fielded only 4 candidates in that GE: Secretary-General Chiam See Tong, Chairman Ling How Doong (who was elected Chairman after the death of Fok Tai Loy), Vice-Chairman Soon Kia Seng and treasurer Peter Lim Ah Yong.
Once the hustings got under way, the party came under sustained attack from the PAP, with Ling and Chiam bearing the brunt of the attacks. The PAP chose to highlight Ling's dismissal from the police force and the record of his election agent, but these were quickly rebutted by the SDP leadership. Chiam saw his secondary school record being brought up by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who compared Chiam's intelligence with that of PAP's Mah Bow Tan who was standing against the SDP leader. Nevertheless, Chiam successfully won the single seat of Potong Pasir, defeating Mah with 60% of the votes. Chiam was only the second opposition politician ever to be elected to the Republic's Parliament after J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party. The SDP also did well as a whole, with the entire party garnering 45.2% of total votes cast in the constituencies they had contested in.
After Jeyaretnam was expelled from Parliament in 1986, Chiam was Singapore's sole opposition MP. A moderate, Chiam claimed that he was not opposing for the sake of opposition. He also said: "But if they (the government) do the wrong things which are not good for Singapore, then we will oppose fearlessly".
1988 General Elections
The 1988 General Elections saw the opposition's strongest challenge since 1963, with 71 candidates in total and only 11 walkovers. This election also saw the PAP engage the SDP's Chiam and WP's Jeyaretnam in a television debate. Besides Chiam and Ling, the SDP also fielded Ashleigh Seow (the son of former Solicitor-General Francis Seow), businessmen Jufrie Mahmood, Cheo Chai Chen and Ng Teck Siong, sales manager Kwan Yue Keng, bank clerical assistant Mohd Shariff Yahya, teacher George Sita, financial futures trader Jimmy Tan, former PAP MP Low Yong Nguan, businesswoman Toh Kim Kiat, construction supervisor Francis Yong Chu Leong and shipping manager Chia Ah Soon. The party chose to target the government on the plan to amend the constitution, and that the economic prosperity indicators it used were untrue When the results were declared, it emerged that the SDP was the only opposition party to win a seat, with Chiam re-elected as Potong Pasir MP for a second term. The SDP scored 39.5% of the total votes cast in all the constituencies it had contested in.
1991 General Elections
The PAP's announcement of a General Election in 1991 came when the ruling party was barely in office for three years. The SDP chose to highlight its objections to some controversial government policies such as the sharp increase of ministers' salaries, the cost of healthcare, university education, transport and the GST. Most significantly, the SDP engineered an agreement with the other opposition parties to contest just under half the seats in Parliament, thus creating a "by-election effect" (reassuring voters that there would not be a change in government and encouraging them to elect more opposition voices).
The election results saw the SDP winning three seats, its best performance so far. Party leader Chiam succeeded in retaining his Potong Pasir seat, while Party Chairman Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen won by slim margins in Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central respectively. Most of its losing candidates had put up extremely strong fights against the PAP during this election. The Worker's Party leader Low Thia Khiang was also elected in Hougang, giving the opposition a total of four parliamentary seats (still considerably less than the PAP's 77 seats). It was the best opposition electoral performance in Singapore since independence (and the most seats won by the opposition since 1963, when the Barisan Sosialis Party won 13 out of 51 seats in the pre-independence Legislative Assembly). At the time, the result was viewed as being a notable setback to the ruling party and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
In 1992, Chiam recruited Dr Chee Soon Juan, a psychology lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to be an SDP candidate for a by-election in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency. Although the SDP was unsuccessful in the by-election (the PAP won 72.9% of the votes, the SDP 24.5%, and other smaller parties 2.5%), the recruitment of Chee as a candidate generated considerable public interest. However differences between Chiam, Chee and the rest of the party's Central Executive Committee were soon to emerge.
Internal party disputes in 1993
In 1993, three months after joining the SDP, Chee was dismissed by the National University of Singapore (NUS) for allegedly using research funds to pay the courier fees (under $200) to send his wife's PhD dissertation to the United States. Chee claimed that this was not the case as his wife was an employee in the same department at NUS at that time and was working with him, sharing and collaborating in their research, and that the funds were properly used. He claimed that there was a political motive behind his dismissal. The PAP denied the accusation. Chiam wanted to censure Chee for his comments, but the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Chee. Chiam then resigned as Secretary-General of the party, and was replaced by Chee.
After Chiam publicly criticised the CEC, they attempted to expel him from the party (which would have forced him to vacate his seat in Parliament), but Chiam won a court case to prevent them from doing so on procedural grounds. However the CEC appointed Ling to replace Chiam as the party's parliamentary leader.
Supporters of Chiam left the SDP and formed the Singapore People's Party (SPP) in 1994, with former SDP member Sin Kek Tong as its leader. After Parliament was dissolved ahead of the 1997 general election, Chiam left the SDP to join the SPP and became the new party's leader.
Leadership under Chee Soon Juan (1993 to present)
After being placed as the acting SDP leader in 1993, Chee began expressing his views on the lack of democracy in Singapore to the media. He published his second political book, Dare To Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore, in 1996.
At the 1997 general election, the SDP suffered significant electoral setbacks. Both Ling and Cheo were defeated in their bids for re-election, leaving the party with no MPs. Chee was defeated by the PAP's Matthias Yao (who he had publicly challenged to stand against him) in a high-profile contest in the MacPherson constituency. Only two opposition MPs were elected – with Chiam retaining his Potong Pasir seat as a Singapore People's Party candidate, and Hougang also being retained by Low Thia Khiang of the Worker's Party. The collective vote for opposition parties dropped from 40% to 35%. No SDP member has been elected to Parliament since then (and Chiam and Low were also the only opposition MPs returned to Parliament at the 2001 and 2006 general elections).
In 1999, Chee came to national attention when he gave a public speech in the financial district despite being denied a permit to speak publicly.
In the 2001 general election, the SDP failed to win any seats but captured the public's imagination during the campaign when Chee he ran into Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong while campaigning and, along with his followers, lifted up their fists and chanted slogans. Later, from his campaign vehicle, Chee used a megaphone to ask Goh: "Where is the S$18 billion that you have lent to (Indonesian President) Suharto?" The PAP took Chee to task, claiming his accusation was untrue and demanding that he either apologise or face a defamation lawsuit. Under pressure from the governing party, Chee and his fellow party members apologised a day later. The SDP went on to criticise the PAP's economic policies and urged for the minimum wage of S$5 per hour for the rest of the 2001 campaign. The SDP's economic alternatives were dismissed by the PAP which claimed that the SDP policies would lead Singapore to bankruptcy and inflation.
On August 2005, the SDP launched a political podcast named RadioSDP, a first in Singapore, which was seen as a by-pass to the state-controlled mass media. Speeches of the SDP's leaders, analysis, interviews of dissidents in exile and call-in programmes were being podcast, in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
2006 General Elections
In March 2006, just before the 2006 general election, the party appeared to be cracking from within after Dr Chee Soon Juan was jailed after failing to pay a fine for contempt of court. SDP's chairman at that time, Mr Ling How Doong, was quoted as saying that the party "would be run even better" without Chee, meaning that the SDP was not just a one-man show and could survive and even thrive without its leader. Chee's sister Chee Siok Chin. also a party member, confirmed that the party remained united.
Nevertheless, the Party continued its preparations for the 2006 General Election, choosing to target Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan in Sembawang GRC over the National Kidney Foundation Scandal and to ride on the public backlash at the time. The party subsequently published an editorial in the New Democrat questioning the PAP's credibility over the issue. As a result, the SDP found itself sued for defamation on the 22nd of April 2006, just two days after the successful nomination of its candidates to stand in Sembawang GRC and Bukit Panjang SMC, and was told to pay damages and publish an apology by the 26th April 2006. With the exception of Dr Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin, virtually all of the members in the party's CEC at that time chose to apologize.
The team that stood in Sembawang GRC comprised Ms Chee Siok Chin, businessmen Christopher Neo, Isa Abdul Aziz and Yong Chu Leong, marketing manager Gerald Sng Choon Guan and administrator Narayanasamy Gogelavany. The SDP's Chairman, Mr Ling How Doong, was fielded in Bukit Panjang SMC. The SDP's final vote share for Sembawang and Bukit Panjang was 23.3% and 22.8% respectively, marking a slight improvement in results as compared to 2001, but still far short of the national average of 33.3%.
2011 General Elections
In preparation for the impending elections in 2011, the Singapore Democratic Party organized two pre-election rallies at Hong Lim Park in September and November 2010. The Party also unveiled a Shadow Budget in February 2011, as well as its campaign strategy, "The SDP Promise" in April 2011. Between September 2010 and April 2011, the Singapore Democratic Party also continued its groundwork in the constituencies of Bukit Panjang, Holland-Bukit Timah, Yuhua and Whampoa.
The party unveiled its slate of 11 candidates just a few days prior to Nomination Day. The candidates were introduced during press conferences on the 21st and 22 April 2011. Former senior civil servant Mr Tan Jee Say, private school teacher Ms Michelle Lee Juen, psychiatrist Dr Ang Yong Guan and social activist Dr Vincent Wijeysingha made up the SDP's team for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. Also announced during this period of time was the party's intention to contest Sembawang GRC. The team fielded there consisted of academic Dr James Gomez, party Assistant-Secretary General John Tan, entrepreneur Jarrod Luo, former unionist Sadasivam Veriyah and businessman Mohd Isa. Former ISA detainee Ms Teo Soh Lung and party treasurer Mr Gerald Sng were also introduced to the media and were fielded in the constituencies of Yuhua and Bukit Panjang respectively. The party later recruited Mr Alec Tok, leaving Mr Gerald Sng to make way for Mr Tok in Bukit Panjang SMC.
Among the issues brought up by the party prior to nomination day were: the heavy influx of foreigners into Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's mismanagement of the Youth Olympic Games  and the loss of sinking funds in the PAP run town councils in Holland-Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang. However, these issues were quickly overshadowed by Dr Balakrishnan's attack on the SDP team over a video supposedly containing Dr Wijeysingha's "gay agenda". The SDP quickly refuted these allegations on Dr Wijeysingha, with the party's Secretary-General making his stance clear on a video released by the party on April 25. On nomination day, the Singapore Democratic Party team saw the successful nomination of all its candidates. In particular, the Holland-Bukit Timah team had also raised an objection to the nomination of the PAP's candidates. The PAP's Sim Ann had filed in her occupation as a former civil servant and this was disputed by the SDP team given the short time span between Ms Sim Ann's resignation from the civil service and nomination day.
On 7 May 2011 (polling day), the SDP failed to win in Sembawang GRC but managed to increase its vote share in that constituency by 13 percentage points to 36.1%. The party also failed to win in Bukit Panjang and Yuhua, gaining 33.9% and 33.1% respectively. However it was in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC where the SDP scored its best result since 1997, with that GRC team garnering 39.9% (slightly above the national average).. The party's combined vote share in the constituencies contested was 36.8%.
Former Members of Parliament
|1||Chiam See Tong||1935||Potong Pasir SMC (1984 - 1994)||Chiam left the SDP in 1994 but remained an MP for the constituency until 2011|
|2||Ling How Doong||1934||Bukit Gombak SMC (1991 - 1997)|
|3||Cheo Chai Chen||1951||Nee Soon Central SMC (1991 - 1997)|
The SDP is governed by a twelve-member Central Executive Committee (CEC), who are elected by the Party's cadre members at the Ordinary Party Conference held biennially. The present CEC was elected in August 2011 and comprises:
- Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General
- Mr. John L. Tan, Assistant Secretary-General
- Mr. Jufrie Mahmood, Chairman
- Mr. Vincent Cheng, Vice-Chairman
- Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha, Treasurer
- Mr. John Law Swee Keat, Assistant Treasurer
- Ms. Chee Siok Chin, Member
- Mr. Sadasivam Veriyah, Member
- Mr. Christopher Ang Siao Peng, Member
- Mr. Francis Yong Chu Leong, Member
- Mr. Mohd Isa, Member
- Mr. Bryan Lim Boon Heng, Member
List of Secretary-Generals of the SDP
List of Chairmen of the SDP
The affiliates with which the SDP works in co-operation are:
- Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia
- World Movement for Democracy
- Sweden-Singapore Initiative for Democracy
- Community of Democracies NGO Process
The Young Democrats (the SDP's youth wing) is a member of:
- International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY)
- Young Liberals and Democrats of Asia (YLDA)
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