How Chiam See Tong was ousted from the SDP

If you think that the PAP made it tough for the opposition, may I remind readers of very recent history. The following are facts from public domain, newspapers and published decisions of the Court.


On the 10th of December 1993, one Chiam See Tong took the Singapore Democratic Party to court for wrongful expulsion and to sue for consequential reliefs.

Chiam See Tong was once the Secretary General of the SDP.

On 17th of May 1993, Chiam had attended a regular meeting of the Party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). At this time, one of the CEC members, a young Dr. Chee Soon Juan, had gone on a hunger strike in protest against the termination of his employment with the National University of Singapore on account of some alleged misuse of the university’s research funds.

Chiam was concerned that the manner of protest that Dr. Chee had chosen would damage the reputation of the SDP.

chee soon juan1

At the Party’s CEC meeting, Chiam sought to table a motion of censure against Dr. Chee, however, no one supported him.

Disappointed, he took this as a vote of no confidence in him as the Sec-Gen and consequently resigned the position. He gave up the position to a Ling How Doong, whom was Party Chairman at that time.


(Ling How Dong, Member of Parliament for SDP, Bukit Gombak 1991)

Chiam then took to the press with his frustrations.

Soon, at another CEC meeting (of which was now run by Ling), the Committee decided that Chiam should be disciplined and on the 28th of July 1993, Chiam received a notice requiring him to appear before the Party’s CEC for a hearing.

Chiam raised an objection that the hearing should not proceed – because some of its members were the very persons he criticised. This would bring about an unfair hearing. The CEC disagreed and this was overruled.

During the hearing, Chiam was subjected to questions, challenges and refutes “in random fashion” by the members. At the end of it all, it was decided that Chiam should be expelled.

The Court ruled for allowing Chiam’s claim against the SDP. This was based on the decision that an important element of natural justice, that of fair hearing, was the person whose conduct was sought to be impugned should be told clearly what case he was to meet. In this case, Chiam was not told of the real grievance against him.

Moreover, the proceedings required the participation in an adversarial way between the CEC and himself – this was not satisfactory and did not comply with the norm of fairness of which a disciplinary tribunal must observe. There was prejudice by the adjudicators from the start.


Chiam spoke to the press at length about the reasons for his resignation. He revealed that some of the party leaders were not credible, whilst others were motivated by self-interest. In particular, he commented on one of the members, Mr. Wong Hong Toy’s criminal record and Dr. Chee’s dismissal from NUS for misappropriation of research funds. He spoke of how Mr. Ling and Mr. Cheo Chai Chen (who were then party Members of Parliament for Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central), were running town councils like their own “little kingdoms”.

The PAP did not deliver Chiam as much damage as the old SDP CEC did.

Chee eventually was released from his bankruptcy because of sympathy from his litigants. He is now a free man, free to campaign at the elections.

But what about the Singapore Democratic Party that Chiam fought so hard to build (and eventually did win seats in Parliament?) Who is going to return the party back to him?


(Chiam lost the Toa Payoh campaign against the PAP in 2011)


  1. So why did JB Jeyaratnam had to leave the Worker’s Party when he was the one who brought in Low Thia Kiang? Please la. It’s because the direction he wanted to take did not agree with the rest and thus he had to form the Reform Party. That’s just life and face it! SO DONT BLAME DR CHEE!

  2. You do realise your account of the sequence of events actually makes Chiam See Tong look terrible right? Who is supposed to discipline a party member if not the collective will of the party? He tried to get the party to censure Chee, failed and then thought he could bully his way through. Whatever my personal misgivings about CSJ, it is Chiam See Tong who destroyed his own party.

  3. “Moreover, the proceedings required the participation in an adversarial way between the CEC and himself – this was not satisfactory and did not comply with the norm of fairness of which a disciplinary tribunal must observe. There was prejudice by the adjudicators from the start.”

    This is wrong.

    The last line “There was prejudice by the adjudicators from the start” is not in the judgment. This was added in by the writers of the article.

    The article also neglects to mention the following finding of the court:

    Para 64 – “There were allegations in the pleadings of bad faith and of the defendants acting maliciously in order to injure the plaintiff (Chiam). 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 court had considered the evidence and found no malice, no intention to injure, and also an intention to reconcile.

  4. Para 75 – “75 The plaintiff when he made the press statements about his party and its leader must have been aware of the possibility of a disciplinary action being taken against him. It may be fairly said that he brought the disciplinary proceedings and the court action on himself. It was a stroke of luck for him that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted in such an inept manner, and he has succeeded in court on that account. In the proceedings here, he raised the issues of bias and bad faith which he was not able to make good. Much time was wasted on these issues. I think this is a fit case for a special order as to costs. In all the circumstances, I think he should have only one third of the costs. I so order.”

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