Freed of bankruptcy, Chee eyes the next GE

Having missed out on the past two general elections, Dr Chee is now mulling over which constituency to campaign in, come the next GE. The SDP has done walkabouts in Tanjong Pagar in recent years.

SINGAPORE - More than a year after his bankruptcy was annulled in November 2012, Chee Soon Juan is setting his sights on contesting in the next general election.

Having missed out on the past two general elections, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader is now mulling over which constituency to campaign in.

One option is Tanjong Pagar - stronghold of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, where the SDP has done walkabouts in recent years.

"When the time is closer, I'll have a better idea," Dr Chee said.

But questions remain about the party's fortunes.

The SDP has lost some key people, including treasurer Vincent Wijeysingha, who is now a civil society activist.

The party also suffered an abortive attempt to run in last year's Punggol East by-election, where its proposal to share a seat with the Workers' Party was met with incredulity by most voters.

Dr Wijeysingha's departure last year has raised questions on succession in the party. Dr Chee has been the party's secretary-general since 1995.

Asked about this, Dr Chee said he would continue to lead the party "as long as my colleagues feel that I am able to contribute in that capacity. How long that will be is for the members to decide".

Contrary to online speculation, Dr Wijeysingha left purely because he wanted to focus on gay rights and human rights activism, and not due to any falling-out, said Dr Chee.

"We would have been happy if he stayed, but our loss is civil society's gain," he said.

As for Punggol East, one thing the party has learnt is just how much opposition supporters hate the prospect of a multi-cornered fight.

"Anything that comes close to the PAP (People's Action Party) squeezing through because of the opposition split in votes - (it's) 'No please, stay away from that'," he said.

The SDP had pulled out at the last minute and, in the end, the Workers' Party won the ward by a clear margin over the PAP. The other opposition contenders received a small fraction of the votes.

Would this sentiment inevitably affect SDP's fortunes in the long run, as more opposition supporters gravitate towards one dominant opposition party?

It would be hard to predict the outcome, given that society and population demographics are changing, with younger Singaporeans more open to different views, replied Dr Chee.

On a personal note, the 51-year-old is enjoying the feeling of not being a bankrupt any more.

One of the first things he did when the bankruptcy ended was to drive his family across the Causeway for a meal in Johor. It was the first time all three of his children had been able to join him overseas.

When they got to the Singapore Customs and Dr Chee handed over his passport, "the immigration officer did a double-take", he said with a wry smile.

Of late, his children have started joining him at SDP events.

What if they eventually want to support the PAP?

Dr Chee replied: "By which time, one would hope the PAP has evolved to the extent that they begin to accept that an open, democratic society is the best way forward for Singapore...(If) people begin to get attracted to that ideology, including my children, then I say, good for them."

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