A Singaporean man’s thoughts on the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Chee Soon Juan and Paul Tambyah

Source: ST

Author’s Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herewith are strictly mine as a private citizen and has nothing to do with my employer, Singapore Press Holdings.

We have just passed the halfway mark in the GE2020 campaign and I want to share some notable points about the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

Smear Campaigns on Chee Soon Juan’s past

In this year’s General Elections campaigns, I see that the incumbent, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has not brought up much of SDP’s Chee Soon Juan’s past demeanours. This is unlike in 2015 where Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned it at a national debate, throwing netizens into a frenzy of sorts, making comments like “Oh he is a changed man, give him a chance, etc”.

In 2020, this year’s smear campaign’s main star award would probably be given to Ivan Lim. At least at this point of writing. While I do not know him personally, I note the stark contrast in how we treat PAP candidates and opposition candidates. If today, PAP were to field a candidate with as colourful a history as Chee’s, I’m sure the internet noise will be 100 times more.

Singapore Democratic Party’s Placement Strategy

Chee Soon Juan has chosen to remain in Bukit Batok SMC. In a surprising move, Paul Tambyah switched to Bukit Panjang SMC. Plus, SDP has seemingly arbitrarily fielded some “B team” against a very strong PAP team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC .

On top of that, throughout the campaigning we’ve seen so far,  much attention has been focused on Chee and Paul, while the candidates at the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC have largely been neglected. Can you name them?  

Well, the candidates are Alfred Tan, James Gomez, Min Cheong, Tan Jee Say (who literally joined SDP just before the election).

(A) The quality of SDP’s 4Y1N Campaign

Honestly, it isn’t very polished this time. Sure, there’re some impactful marketing videos of Chee here and there. But the lack of quality in their proposals fail to win the support of those who are looking for a credible and capable opposition. Substance should be over form. There is no or little attempt to work a comprehensive plan to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Yes, the crisis of a generation. And Minister Chan Chun Sing was right, the SDP was completely silent in their COVID-19 economic recovery plan in their GE2020 manifesto.

1. Remove GST. Give Retrenchment and Retirement benefits: Give people more money to spend.

It’s easy to make superficial promises. Talk is, after all, cheap. But this time round, it does not work as well as people have come to appreciate the country’s thriftiness in accumulating our reserves for rainy days.

So the ultimate question that SDP could have answered to win votes would be: How do we fund this?

Before this election, Chee did not give any straight-up reply to this. When you see reporters querying the SDP candidates at every turn, you know that this is a hot question that people want an answer to.

I find it  interesting that it was Tambyah, instead of Chee, who tried to provide a sensible-sounding answer in his walkabouts. Use the interests from our reserves.

Disappointment No 1: Paul did not explain how the interests from the country’s reserves is currently being used. And even if it wasn’t used for anything, interest is used to combat inflation at the very least.

In short, SDP’s plan is still to raid the reserves.

Chee said during the GE2020 Political Debate that the PAP is a tax-and-spend party (which is completely normal and how everyone does it, btw). Then what about SDP? Are they the spend-and-spend party? But how to fund the spending??

In case you want to read about how our reserves are used, here.

(B) Smear campaigns on Bukit Batok PAP Candidate Murali

Wow, these really came fast in furious. For Chee, who has such a colourful history himself (Google it if you do not know) I am surprised his supporters went all out to smear Murali.

I saw a video of different scenes layered in with Murali saying that Bukit Batok is his home. Old video of rats at a commonplace, a Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) car raid, and of course how will anyone let Murali off without again mentioning the fire incident

Again the double standards are stark, but unknowingly, the video creators have sent a strong message to the people that PAP candidates are held to a higher standard than SDP’s. Murali’s personal and professional life has to be whiter than white, but not Chee’s.

(C) Is Paul Tambyah really ready? Both as a politician and an MP?

Before GE started, I really believed that Paul was a good candidate fielded by SDP. In fact, I already thought quite highly of him in 2015.

However, after watching him over the past few weeks, I have some reservations now.

1. I am not sure of his relationship with Chee. Are they supposed to be the same team? If the answer is ‘yes’, that baffles me as to why their views are not aligned, from when to wear masks, to how SDP proposals are to be funded.

Btw are you aware that Tambyah too said there’s no need to wear a mask unless you’re sick in the earlier days too? Yes, just like what the Singapore Government recommended before it was confirmed that infected patients might be asymptomatic. Is that U-turn, or just reacting to the situation when new, confirmed data comes in?

2. Paul is lashing out at the PAP over the handling of Covid. Last I remember, every single opposition was extremely quiet during the most difficult Covid moments. And suddenly now he says the PAP could have done better?

By the way, his claims have been refuted by Min Lawrence Wong.

It was recently announced that Tambyah has been elected to be the president of the US-based International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID). First Singaporean doctor to do so. Great work there, congratulations! Now this would mean that he has some substance in this area of work. 

So why did he not step forward to play a more active role when the COVID-19 situation was at its worst? And if he were sincere about contributing, why not publish his plans? Why wait till PSP’s Tan Cheng Bock asked him to challenge Minister Chan Chun Sing to a national debate to share his plans with Singaporeans?

3. Should Tambyah win Bukit Panjang SMC, I am unsure how things would work out in terms of running the town council.

The PAP candidates contesting in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Bukit Panjang SMC have confirmed that they will continue to take a team approach to town management if elected, with plans such as lift upgrading and improved connectivity in store.

In fact, the PAP candidate at Bukit Panjang, Liang Eng Hwa, has been vice-chairman at Holland-Bukit Timah GRC’s town council for 14 years prior to running in the Bukit Panjang SMC this GE. Dr Teo Ho Pin had been the chairman previously. With Teo’s retirement, the plan is for Liang to succeed him as chairman, if elected.

However, should Bukit Panjang fall to SDP’s Tambyah, then Bukit Panjang residents will obviously be served by SDP, since they’re a different political party from the PAP.

I cannot recall in the history of Singapore, that a town council was run by two parties and I doubt that it will happen. Quite confusing.

Would he be driving the agencies to investigate choked drains? Would he take charge of frequent lift breakdowns? Or blame the PAP if he’s expecting them to help him to look after the day-to-day running of the town council? 

We must remember that our elected candidate is not just in charge of representing us in parliament, but also to take care of the daily needs of the residents under his or her charge. That, in my opinion, is the toughest and most draining of an MP’s work. It’s the less “sexy” but very integral part of an MP’s work.

This reminds me of 2013 when Chee asked to field a candidate in the Punggol East by-election, together with Workers’ Party (WP). If they won, SDP would go into parliament and leave the day-to-day running of the town council to Workers’ Party. Does this mean SDP is more interested to just speaking out about issues they care about in Parliament?

I would suggest Tambyah to study this carefully. The last time an opposition party took over from PAP, their town council was plagued with financial and compliance issues. Whether or not it is intentional, it shows that running a town council is more than just making sure some numbers add up on a spreadsheet. Or worse, “outsourcing” to another political party.

(D) Summary

Overall, the SDP campaigns have not changed. They have always appealed to supporters by promising them heaps of sweets and candies, but with no groundbreaking, intelligent way of sustaining it. In 2015, it was to cut down on Defense spending, while in 2020, it is to use the interests earned from our reserves.

With regard to running a town council, Tambyah claims that he has a clear town council management plan, despite at the same time, requesting the assistance of PAP. I hope he really has a good team of supporters and volunteers to pull it through. 

All the best to the candidates. And if you have friends or family staying in the Bukit Batok or Bukit Panjang SMC, I strongly you suggest sharing this with them for their consideration before 10th July.

Thank you for reading.

This was first published by johnlowkysg here, and this version has been edited for clarity

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