Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), speaks to his supporters at Chua Chu Kang stadium during an election rally in 2015. Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

Will elections come early in Singapore? Singaporeans have wondered ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that the wealthy city-state might go to the polls earlier than they must be held by April 2021.

The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), for one, isn’t wasting any time waiting for an official announcement. At a campaign launch event on February 23, party leader Chee Soon Juan made his case for political change in the form of a “freer and more democratic” Singapore.

He said his party aims to deny the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament at the next election.

If they succeed, the PAP – the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia – would lose its ability to make constitutional amendments and be put in check by a parliamentary opposition in a way that’s never before been seen in the island-nation’s history.

Realizing this electoral goal will be a herculean task, Chee openly admits. The PAP has maintained overwhelming parliamentary supermajorities since achieving independence in 1965, making Singapore one of Asia’s most asymmetrical democracies.

Critics point to various institutional hurdles that opposition politicians have in the past faced in their attempts to win elected office, as well as legal proceedings brought against them by PAP leaders.

Chee Soon Juan (C) of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on the campaign trail in 2015. Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

Chee, a former lecturer at the National University of Singapore with a doctorate in neuropsychology, was bankrupted after being sued for defamation in 2001 by former prime ministers Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew for remarks he made on the hustings. He was barred from standing at two general elections as a result.

“There’s losing in an open democratic fair fight and then there’s losing in a system that you know has been stacked against you,” Chee told Asia Times in an exclusive interview.

“The whole state machinery is working against you, and when you are able to see it and discern it, then that really galvanizes me and makes me even more resolute.”

The SDP has contested every parliamentary general election since its founding in 1980 but has not had any of its members elected to Parliament since 1997. Despite not winning seats, the party has sustained momentum over the last two elections, while Chee achieved his best electoral showing in a 2016 by-election contest, clinching 38.8% of the vote.

As the PAP moves to secure its 15th consecutive term in office, some believe Singapore is headed toward a more competitive election cycle as opposition parties eye closer cooperation. The ruling party, meanwhile, spent much of the last year on the defensive following a series of political and administrative lapses.

“I think Lee Hsien Loong is feeling very insecure,” Chee said, when asked about the tightening civic space in Singapore and the uptick in charges brought against those voicing political opinions on social media.

“He really doesn’t know how to handle the situation except to revert to what’s been tried, in the sense of clamping down on dissent. I won’t even say this is dissent, this is a diversity in views. I think that backfires.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: AFP/Brendan Smialowski

The next general election is likely to be 66-year-old Lee’s last as prime minister, who has said he plans to retire before turning 70. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was named as Lee’s successor last November, which helped to calm nerves and reduce previously rife speculation about the hierarchy of the party’s fourth generation (4G) leaders.

Trouble has been brewing on another front: the reemergence of a family feud pitting the prime minister against his siblings. That dispute took on deeper political significance recently when the premier’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang, endorsed Tan Cheng Bock, a charismatic former PAP parliamentarian who has joined opposition ranks under the banner of the soon-to-be-registered Progress Singapore Party (PSP).

The SDP initiated a meeting between several opposition parties last year to discuss the formation of an opposition coalition headed by Tan. Chee has long called for greater cooperation among Singapore’s fragmented field of opposition parties, saying last year that such a move would signify a “historic advancement” for the city-state’s politics.

“It is drummed into us that without the PAP, Singapore will go to the dogs,” said Chee. “It’s been shown time and time again in surveys that [Singaporeans] want to see more opposition representation in parliament. If we don’t ever come together and remain disparate parties, there’s very little that we can achieve,” he told Asia Times.

At the launch event, Chee reiterated his call for opposition parties to put differences aside and join forces, saying the SDP would facilitate any initiative to do so. He added that his party will be contesting the same 11 seats that it did during the last election in 2015, where a total of 89 seats were contested, 82 of which were won by the PAP in an electoral landslide.

“Without a united front, it’s hard to see how the parties can make electoral gains mathematically and deny the PAP two-thirds majority,” said Haseenah Koyakutty, a Singaporean media entrepreneur and political commentator. “To win, the SDP has to first address the blocks in people’s minds [and] better tackle the fear factor,” she believes.

“The SDP faces a trust and authenticity deficit as well as an experience deficit. This is generally true of our opposition parties where many of our opposition politicians are seen to be rookies or unknowns,” she said, adding that some voters harbor doubts about Chee owing to years of negative media coverage and having been “demonized” by PAP leaders.

Singaporean pedestrians cross a road in the rich city-state, January 16, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Calvin Wong

Koyakutty says the SDP is, however, in a stronger position to win seats compared to other opposition parties due to its “clear ideology and brand recognition” which distinguishes it from both the PAP and the Workers’ Party (WP), the only opposition party with a presence in Parliament with six seats.

During its campaign kick-off, which was attended by national media and some 250 members of the public, speakers from the party raised a variety of issues ranging from the failings of trickle-down economics, inflation and income inequality, as well as varied mortality and health between Singapore’s ethnic communities.

“Singaporeans will have a real choice when they go to the polls either this year or next year,” SDP chairman Paul Tambyah said in his speech. “Singapore will thrive even better with proper accountability and transparency that comes from an empowered electorate with a sizable opposition cohort to act as a check on the excesses of the ruling party.”

Chee pointed to last year’s political transition in neighboring Malaysia as a catalyst for thinking about political change in Singapore.

“Whether we agree with what Mahathir is doing in terms of policies vis-à-vis Singapore, that is another matter. But it has made Singaporeans sit up and pay a little more attention,” Chee told Asia Times. “If that can happen there, why not over here?

“As we grow, the perception of the opposition will change, in terms of our competence and in terms of being constructive. This is where I think the whole grassroots build-up needs to happen,” he said. “Singapore will not disintegrate. We’ve got people who can come to the fore. I think the first step of responsibility is to convince people of our credibility.”

Join the Conversation

463 Comments

  1. Simply want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness to your submit is simply excellent and i could assume you are a professional on this subject. Well together with your permission allow me to take hold of your feed to stay up to date with impending post. Thank you one million and please keep up the rewarding work.|

  2. My friend is a raincoat, even if I ca n’t think of it on a sunny day, the rainy season will accompany you; my lover is a thick cloth, even if it is not beautiful, it can cover the wind and cold; my parents are old jackets, although they are not fashionable, even stupid, but they are the warmest and warmest .

  3. It is appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I may I want to suggest you few attention-grabbing things or advice. Maybe you could write subsequent articles referring to this article. I want to read even more issues about it!|

  4. Hello there, I found your site via Google while looking for a comparable subject, your website got here up, it looks good. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  5. High EQ is mainly to make others happy; high IQ is mainly to make yourself happy; IQ is not high and EQ is not high, mainly because you are not happy or not to make others happy.

  6. Hello! I just would like to give you a big thumbs up for your great information you’ve got right here on this post. I am coming back to your site for more soon.|

  7. Life is playing chess with God. You take one step, God takes one step. It is impossible for you to take every step, so you must take every step of your own. The final destiny is either you will have God’s army, or God will be your army.

  8. Hey! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!|

  9. Does happiness hurt? Let her go, but not herself. Some things turn around for a lifetime. I didn’t know each other at first, but finally I didn’t know each other. If love is just passing by, why bother here. Some love, had to settle each other, suddenly looking back, I can no longer tell.

  10. Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Great blog and terrific design.|

  11. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any recommendations? Appreciate it!|

  12. Time will always give you the answer, who is the one who really hurts you and who really cares about you; who is who you care about but who cares nothing about you. Some people are not worth cherishing too much, while others are worth cherishing

  13. There is a kind of love that obviously wants to give up, but can’t give up; there is a kind of love, knowing that it is suffering, but can’t hold back; Can’t take it back already.

  14. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100 sure. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks

  15. Some things turn around for a lifetime. I didn’t know each other at first, but finally I didn’t know each other. If love is just passing by, why bother here. Some love, had to settle each other, suddenly looking back, I can no longer tell.

  16. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly. I’m quite sure I’ll learn a lot of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!|

  17. I¡¦ve been exploring for a little for any high quality articles or weblog posts in this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this website. Reading this information So i¡¦m satisfied to convey that I have a very good uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I needed. I most undoubtedly will make certain to do not forget this site and provides it a glance regularly.

  18. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  19. Valuable information. Lucky me I discovered your web site by chance, and I’m stunned why this coincidence didn’t took place earlier! I bookmarked it.|

  20. Thanks for sharing excellent informations. Your web site is so cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this web site. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles. You, my pal, ROCK! I found just the info I already searched all over the place and just could not come across. What an ideal web-site.

  21. Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks|

  22. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who was conducting a little research on this. And he in fact bought me dinner because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this topic here on your blog.|

  23. You could definitely see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.|

  24. This design is wicked! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!|

  25. Hello there I am so glad I found your site, I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Digg for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a tremendous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic work.|

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *