Best showing but should Dr Chee be going?

Best showing but should Dr Chee be going?
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan is adamant he will stay on in politics despite garnering only 38.79 per cent of the votes in the recent Bukit Batok by-election.

After his thank you parade yesterday, he told reporters he intends to continue his work in Bukit Batok SMC.

But is his string of five losses in close to 25 years an indication that he should leave instead?

Political analyst Mustafa Izzuddin told The New Paper: "As much as I believe the Bukit Batok by-election was Dr Chee's swansong in his political career, I do not believe he will quit politics, because it has been in his DNA for more than 20 years."

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser agreed, adding that there are many examples of opposition leaders elsewhere whose tenacity eventually paid off.

"Moreover, he has already invested much time and energy in politics and it'd seem like a waste to his cause (to exit politics)," he said.

Dr Chee's performance in the recent polls is his best to date.

But Dr Mustafa, a fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, remains sceptical about Dr Chee's chances of being elected into Parliament.

"As much as one has to applaud the determination of Dr Chee to keep going despite losing every time he has contested, it is highly doubtful that he will strike parliamentary gold eventually.

"It will take an extraordinary turn of events, both politically and economically, for Dr Chee to make it into Parliament under the current circumstances of entrenched one-party dominance," he explained.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University, on the other hand, saw a possibility with a caveat: Dr Chee needs to make a "substantive change".

But he quickly added: "I don't think a leopard will ever change its spots."

He said: "This is someone who's trying to milk voters' sympathy. He was trying essentially to reinforce that he has been persecuted - not only him, but his entire family has had to suffer, and so that's why he's deserving of people's support."

POWER HUNGER

The law don said he also saw Dr Chee's hunger for power in the by-election.

When the People's Action Party (PAP) incumbent MP David Ong resigned, Dr Chee was the one who decided he would contest in the by-election.

"He made the decision on his own accord. Unless he did a CEC (central executive committee) meeting over the phone," he said.

Calling SDP Dr Chee's alter ego, he said: "The election was not about the party, or even the voters. It was all about him."

Political experts pointed to what they felt is a more pertinent question: Should Dr Chee continue to be the SDP's main man?

Said Dr Mustafa: "The decision SDP has to make is whether they would want to remain a Chee-centric party or look beyond Dr Chee, with others fronting the party, going forward.

"While one can foresee SDP contesting Bukit Batok SMC again in future, it is less certain at this point whether it will be Dr Chee who will stand there again in the next election."

Prof Tan said: "To put it bluntly, despite what is generally regarded as a good showing, Dr Chee should really examine if he's the best person to lead the SDP."

Law prof: Chee lacks staying power

His chances of winning would have been much higher if the media did not attack him, Dr Chee Soon Juan said on Saturday night after his concession speech.

The Bukit Batok by-election candidate told reporters in Mandarin: "We are not just competing with the PAP (People's Action Party), we are also competing with media. It's disappointing."

But looking at the poll results, a political analyst told The New Paper that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general would not have won anyway.

Discounting factors like the SG50 effect, the margin of the by-election ought to have been much closer, said political observer Eugene Tan.

On Saturday, Dr Chee had said that the results were encouraging and that it did not feel like a defeat.

But Associate Professor Tan thought otherwise, given that a by-election effect that was "as good as it can ever get".

First, the PAP was on the defensive, after incumbent PAP MP David Ong vacated the seat due to a personal indiscretion, Prof Tan said.

Second, Dr Chee, who has been a politician since 1992, was up against Mr Muralidharan Pillai, who was contesting in just his second election in eight months.

Added the law don: "The fact that he (Dr Chee) couldn't even touch 40 per cent shows that there are severe questions as to his electability.

"Next year will be his 25th year, counting from his first election. By all accounts, it is actually a very dismal track record for such a high-profile (candidate)."

He mentioned Dr Chee's lack of "staying power" as one of the reasons for his loss.

Compared with other opposition politicians like Mr Chiam See Tong, who contested and looked after Potong Pasir, Dr Chee moved to a different constituency with each election.

Prof Tan said: "To me, this reveals his political opportunism. There is no loyalty to a particular constituency. In the end, it's all about expediency - which constituency, in his view, is his best chance...

"I have never seen him sitting down to help people work through their issues.

"He has never really held a Meet-the-People Session. He's not interested in helping people. He's interested in getting elected into office."

He went further to suggest that SDP's central executive committee member Paul Tambyah would have polled better than Dr Chee.

"Dr Chee is a polarising figure. Paul Tambyah is not. He will not bring into the campaign all the baggage... People would have been more prepared for a candidate like Dr Tambyah."

The question now is whether Dr Chee will move on to a sixth constituency in the next general election, despite his promise to continue outreach work in Bukit Batok.

"He claims he understands what the heartlander issues are because he lives in a small flat.

"Let's see what he does, whether he will go into deep hibernation or churn out policy papers which are out of touch with reality."

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 9, 2016.
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