Why rehash the past over the split with Chiam See Tong? Aren't there more important issues to discuss?
Many of you are sick of this matter and you don't want to hear any more of it. I agree. There is nothing that I would love more than to leave this episode behind and get on with the issues that really matter to our nation. This is exactly what we did during the general elections (GE) in 2015 and again at the by-election (BE) in Bukit Batok – campaigning on the issues that voters care about.
It is the PAP that keeps dredging up the issue to attack me and the SDP. Take a look at the following:
- Mr Chan Chun Sing: “Dr Chee then proceeded to betray Mr Chiam, isolate him and force him out of the SDP.” (January 2015)
- Vivian Balakrishnan: "I have just one message to send to the SDP: In the PAP, we do not have a tradition of backstabbing our mentors." (GE 2015)
- Sim Ann: “Singaporeans of a certain age will know...how he ousted his mentor Mr Chiam See Tong from the party Mr Chiam had built.” (GE 2015)
- The Straits Times: “[Grace Fu] added that it would 'be very interesting' to see if there would b referral letter from Mr Chiam See Tong, who had recruited Dr Chee into SDP years ago. Last week, Mrs Lina Chiam had said in a Facebook post that her husband had not given his endorsement to any candidate in the by-election.” (BE 2016)
- Mr Heng Swee Keat: “This means a person can lie, cheat or betray someone with impunity...How are voters to believe what such politicians say or hold them accountable for their actions if they were running a town council?” (BE 2016)
Any fair-minded person will conclude that it is not SDP who is rehashing the saga. The PAP will not let the matter rest because it is to its advantage if it can continue to use this falsehood to attack me.
But as long as the PAP continues to resurrect the matter, the SDP will rebut the lies. We hope opposition supporters will help us disseminate this information and, in so doing, make it counter-productive for the PAP to rehash the issue.
But didn't the episode take place nearly 25 years ago? Is it still relevant to voters?
A few residents in Bukit Batok raised the subject with me and my party colleagues during our recent campaign. A couple of them indicated that they would not have voted for me had I not personally explained the situation to them. How many more voters are out there who still don't know the truth?
As much as some people think that the SDP-Chiam episode is no longer an issue, there are many who – with the help of the PAP and the media – still think it is.
As a political party fighting for every vote, clearing up the issue to ensure that we don't allow our opponent to capitalise on a falsehood to sabotage our effort is the smart and right thing to do.
But why now?
As I mentioned, we did not counter the PAP when it raised the Chiam issue in GE 2015 and BE 2016 because we did not want the PAP to distract the voters from the real issues. But not doing so may have hurt our campaigns because there are voters who still believe that I had betrayed Mr Chiam and, because of this, would not vote for the SDP.
This must change. We cannot wait until elections to counter the lies, we must start now. To prevent these untruths from being reinforced and spread further in future elections, the SDP will counter them whenever they are raised.
Why not just bury the hatchet with Mr Chaim?
We tried – repeatedly. The SDP has invited Mr Chiam on numerous occasions to our functions in the hopes that we can bury the past and move on (see here).
A recent example was our invitation to him to attend our 35th anniversary dinner in August last year. We even approached him to be our guest at our rally during the BE in Bukit Batok. The Chiams turned down our invitations.
We also published an article in our party newspaper written by Dr Wong Wee Nam about how Mr Chiam and the SDP nearly came together in 2015. But Mrs Lina Chiam interpreted that as the SDP trying to use the piece as an endorsement by Mr Chiam of me. We had no such intention, we only wanted to bury the proverbial hatchet and to move on.
For the record, Dr Wong's article was published in The New Democrat in June 2015. An online version of the piece was published on 2 April 2015 (see here). Why did Mrs Chiam raise it only nine months later during the BE – and on two occasions, one of which was published in the Straits Times during the cooling-off period?
Are you attacking Mr Chiam?
No, not at all. In fact, it has been quite the reverse. Mr Chiam declared in 1993: “He has not been thrust into my position. He has usurped my position!” More recently, the Straits Times reported that “Mrs Lina Chiam accused Dr Chee of ousting her husband from the party he founded in 1980.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. When Mr Chiam resigned as the party's secretary-general, I, together with other CEC members, tried to persuade him to remain. Even when he went to the Singapore Press Club to criticise us and left us little choice but to expel him, we still tried – right up till the very end – to see if we could effect some form of reconciliation.
But rather than go on a he-said-she-said type of argument, it is best to cite what High Court Judge Warren Khoo wrote in his decision when he presided over the lawsuit which Mr Chiam took against the SDP:
“There were allegations in the pleadings of bad faith and of the defendants (SDP) acting maliciously in order to injure the plaintiff (Chiam See Tong). There were suggestions in plaintiff’s counsel’s questions put to the witnesses for the defendants that the object of the disciplinary proceedings was to make the plaintiff lose his seat in Parliament, that being the consequence of the plaintiff being expelled from the party. I do not think there is very much in these suggestions, having regard to the fact that the CEC even when they had decided to expel him were making efforts to seek a reconciliation with him.”
The truth is that I have always tried to effect a reconciliation with Mr Chiam. I tried it more than 20 years ago and I have tried it in recent times.
The falsehood that I ousted Mr Chiam and usurped his position in the SDP has gone on for too long. It must stop. Remember, a lie, if repeated often enough, becomes truth.