What the Chan Chun Sing – Chee Soon Juan Showdown Teaches us About Politics
It is certainly amusing how much excessive air-time has been given to some political figures.
Take the recent Chan Chun Sing – Chee Soon Juan (CCS-CSJ) showdown as an example. Chee has been known to never been seen as significant in the Singapore political arena, except the number of lawsuits he has chalked up and his overseas accolades1.
In fact, CSJ has had a bizarre local track record when it comes to oppositional politics. One might want to pay attention to how the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has been perceived since CSJ became Secretary-General. We can discount history since CSJ himself disputes the accounts of events on his party’s page, but other issues that has been plaguing his party should not be ignored.
The fielding of capable candidates in the 2011 General Election (Tan Jee Say, Ang Yong Guan, Vincent Wijeysingha), and the departure of said people. Tan Jee Say and Ang Yong Guan eventually went on to found the Singapore First Party (SFP), while Vincent went onto non-partisan activism2.
Punggol by-election and how there existed an intention to cooperate with the Workers’ Party on fighting the by-election3. Astutely, the Workers’ Party declined the offer and eventually won the by-election on their own merit.
Some inferences can be made from these political events that have happened to the SDP, which he leads. If anything, he is probably someone who is a problem even within the opposition camp. Even when the opposition looks out for “oppositional unity” when they can, the cooperation at most becomes one of “avoiding three-cornered fights” rather than a true demonstration of cooperation, i.e. a marriage of convenience.
Fast-forward to the pre-2016 General Election (GE) announcement, where the SDP announced its intentions to contest in the same places as it did in 2011, and maybe one more4. However, with Singapore First Party’s Tan Jee Say and Ang Yong Guan having led the previous team in 2011’s GE against the PAP team led by Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, which eventually won, an alarm bell should set off in one’s head: who will back off in the “opposition coalition” this time? Surely this announcement is all but too premature and ambitious?
Clearly, at least in local politics, CSJ seems to be hindered by the numerous disputes he has, some of which were self-deserving. Logically, he would be seen as “written off”, where, even in oppositional politics, the Workers’ Party is perceived to be a more reliable bet as seen in the 2011 GE results. CSJ then tries to get attention on various Western media channels. If the US’s Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal are not enough, he has contributed on the UK’s Guardian5. The logical question to ask is: who is he trying to impress or con? Surely the average man on the street in Singapore will not open The Guardian to read, probably preferring to read political satire on some of our local politician comedians.
Being such a questionable politician certainly does not bode well for CSJ. Why did CCS then respond, and should it have happened? As a citizen, everyone has the right to the freedom of speech. As an individual, CCS is certainly free to say what he thinks about CSJ or call out his bluff in public. If what CCS mentioned was libel, a lawsuit should have turned up his way (but so far, no news of that has been heard). However, there may be political implications that may not bode well with the original intention.
The fact that CCS is a minister means that public perception will almost always wind up looking like a “David versus Goliath” battle. In this case, David clearly cannot win because he’s unheard of, but the exposure CSJ now gets on mainstream media thanks to CCS’s rebuttal means a whole flock of people suddenly become interested in what CSJ said. In fact CSJ’s best bet, in this case, is to rebut as much as possible for more eyeballs on what he says — even if incorrect, he stands to win sympathy votes.
This stance of calling out a bluff will gain support among a group of swing voters who would hope for the PAP to be more assertive in values, but may lose support among a group who is easily influenced by the winds and tides of rhetoric.
Since day 1, the PAP is not known for being a “rhetorical” party. Combative, yes. Technocracy, definitely. Stubborn, perhaps. But seldom for rhetoric. This presents difficulties in future polls where the political knowledge a new generation of voters will know comes from highly polarised and rhetorical social media outlets.
Distinguishing fact, myth, propaganda and outright nonsense will become difficult — even calling out untruths will not be enough to win an election. Deciding on the choice of words or points to use in a political contest becomes much more of a matter of who one is trying to speak to than what one is trying to talk about.
Perhaps there was little need to call out a bluff by a politician who would not even be treated seriously in Singapore.
1 A search on his 2011 prize from Liberal International reveals that the Singapore Democratic Party has been an observer member, not a full member, of said organisation. As much as it is one thing to claim that the SDP has indeed been world-famous, the non-inclusion of the SDP as a “full member” even among liberal parties might hint at something the author has little time to investigate. http://www.liberal-international.org/editorial.asp?ia_id=1894