SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Apr 30) questioned Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan's character and aptitude as the latter campaigns to be elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency.
Speaking to reporters after his early-morning walkabout at Bukit Batok with People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Murali Pillai, Mr Lee, who is the PAP Secretary-General, noted that Dr Chee has not been working, yet said he will become a full-time MP if elected.
"I mean, it's easy to say but what do you bring which you would be able to contribute and show you can do for the voters," he said. "It's partly your record, it's partly your ability but it is also your character."
He also took issue with Dr Chee's appeal during his rally speech on Friday night for people to refrain from personal attacks on ex-Bukit Batok MP David Ong who had stepped down following an extramarital affair.
"At the SDP rally, all the speakers fired away at Mr David Ong. And then came Chee Soon Juan at the end, and he said: 'You must not hit somebody who is down, that is very bad.' But that is completely hypocritical," Mr Lee said.
"You get your guys to say all the bad things, then you come along and look magisterial and benign and say you must not hit somebody, having caused all your lieutenants to hit him as hard as they can. But, unfortunately, it's in character," he added.
The transcript of the Q&A with Mr Lee is as follows:
Q: Prime Minister, you’re here to shore up support for Mr Murali. Can you share with us what’s your sense on the ground?
PM Lee: A very warm welcome. We took a lot of selfies, hugged a lot of babies, talked to a lot of makciks and kakaks and neneks. I think the mood is good.
PM Lee carrying a toddler during his walkabout at Bukit Batok. (Photo: Justin Ong)
PM Lee: I’m glad Murali’s our candidate. When there was the need for a by-election here, he was the first name that came to my mind because he’s been here a long time, people know him well, and I think that he would fit in, seamless.
So I discussed it with my colleagues and activists here, and they told me that actually the activists in Bukit Batok were asking for Murali to come back. So I said, well I’d try and persuade him, you try and persuade him too. And I’m glad we were able to persuade him, and he was able to explain to people who had worked with him in Paya Lebar these last three years that he was needed here, and the party needed him here, and so he’s here.
In fact, when I caught hold of Murali, he was about to start on a holiday overseas, and I told him, you enjoy your holiday first, there is time to come back. I’m not calling the by-election just yet. So I don’t know how your holiday went, but I hope you had fun.
Q: What’s your sense on the ground this morning?
PM Lee: I think it’s very good, and I’m very happy. I have not been around, but just from the reports from my activists and from what I can see and what the residents show, I think they know Murali, they recognise him, they know Ah Mu, which is important. They remember him because he’s gone house-visiting, and he’s done things for them from the last time he was here, as the branch secretary. And not just as a branch secretary but really holding the fort after Dr Ong Chit Chung passed away.
Q: What do you think about Mr Murali's chances here?
PM Lee: I think he has a good chance, otherwise I would not field him.
Q: Mr Murali’s rival, Dr Chee Soon Juan, has talked about being a full-time MP. What is your party’s stance on that? Do you have a comeback on that?
PM Lee: I think you have to look at the thing in total. As Grace Fu said yesterday at the rally, and I think she made a very good point, you have to look at the person – what has he got, what experience has he got, what does he bring in terms of abilities, in terms of experience, in terms of proven track record, and in terms of character and commitment.
As Grace said, Murali’s commitment is beyond doubt. His performance … the residents know, and I know him for a long time also.
Chee Soon Juan – actually I know him for a long time also. He has not been working full-time, now he says I am going to work full-time for you. It’s easy to say, but what do you bring, which you would be able to contribute and show that you can do for the voters? And it’s partly your record, it’s partly your ability, but it’s also your character.
Last night, I was watching the rallies on live streaming, and at the SDP rally, all the speakers fired away at Mr David Ong, and then came Chee Soon Juan at the end, and Chee Soon Juan says: ‘No, you must not hit somebody who is down – that is very bad.’ That is completely hypocritical. You get your guys to say all the bad things, you come along and you look magisterial, and benign and say, no you must not hit somebody, having called all your lieutenants to hit him as hard as they can. But unfortunately, it’s in character.
So when I read the Wanbao interview with Dr Chee the day before yesterday, I was saddened but not surprised. He says he is not sorry for anything he did; he’s proud of his record, he’s proud of his crazy history, and yet when he comes today he presents himself as a changed man. And he says last night at the rally, even good people make mistakes, you must give them a second chance. But before you can turn around and make good, you must first recognise that something has gone wrong, and that you have to put it right.
Which in this case, if there’s nothing (that) has gone wrong, there’s nothing to put right – then how can we have change? Which is why last year in the General Election, (in) one of my speeches I talked about Dr Chee, and said he’s absolutely right, that character never changes, and of all people, he should know that best.
Q: Can you give us some comments on (Dr Chee’s) comments as well, regarding the managing agents for town councils, and investments made?
PM Lee: All that is just by the by. The key thing is who has the character, who has the track record, who can you trust. And the PAP town councils will manage it to the best of our ability, we have our reputation at stake.
I don’t say we never make mistakes, but when we do make mistakes, we put them right, and I think overall our track record of managing town councils is good. And if you ask the residents here, I think the residents are happy with the work the town councils have done, and which the MPs have done, working with them to improve the neighbourhood.
I was last here in 2009, after Ong Chit Chung passed away I came and took a look around, just to make sure everything is alright, and to show our support for people. And between 2009 and now, there have been improvements made to this place. We have the amphitheatre and multi-purpose hall that was not here the last time, the upgradings are in progress, the residents talked to me about wanting some more benches, they want some extra facilities – these are things which we can do.
But for somebody who comes along with no record, no basis, but says: ‘I will do a better job’, talk is easy, performance is what counts.
Q: Do you think Mr Murali will be disadvantaged, as minority candidate?
PM Lee: There are several parts – one is the question of race. I said, well, in a multi-racial society, the race is always something which people have in their minds. But I think when they vote for somebody, they should not be voting on the basis of race, but they should be voting on the basis of his ability to contribute, his sincerity, the heart – the colour of his heart and his commitment, which is red – regardless of the race or religion which he may belong to.
But it is not unknown for racial sentiments to emerge and to be exploited during election campaigns. I remember when I was first fielded – 1984, in Teck Ghee – next door to me in Chong Boon was Chandra Das, and he was already a sitting MP contesting against a Chinese candidate. And the opposition was going from door to door, and the message was simple: They didn’t say ‘vote for me’, they didn’t say ‘the other chap is no good’. They just asked, has that Indian man come yet? And everybody knew what it meant – there was a special UHF signal there, so you say one thing (but) what you mean is another thing.
And I think when Murali is here, I see online some comments making this point about race in a quite open way. I hear some rumours going around within the constituency that people say, ‘Just vote for the Chinese, that’s good’. I think that is completely wrong and bad.
I see also on Chee Soon Juan’s webpage, his postings and then there are comments, and there are some comments which are along this vein too, and they have not been refuted or taken down.
So I have no doubt that somewhere along the way, when pressures heat up, people will feel that well, maybe this is one way you can use race to your advantage. I think it is wrong, and I think given Mr Murali has shown in Paya Lebar that even despite his being Indian and not Chinese, he’s able to connect, he’s able to serve voters, he’s able to win their confidence and win their votes. But in Paya Lebar, he had three years, he got to know them, they got to know him, and in the end, in the General Election, if Paya Lebar had been a Single (Member) Constituency, Murali would be the MP now. But it was a GRC, so overall, we missed winning by a very narrow bit.
Here in Bukit Batok, Murali has been (serving) 16 years, I think the people should know him, and those who had benefited from his help will know what he has done. I think there will be no problem at all, and he has been working very hard, and I think he will be able to overcome this.
Q: On what you said about how Dr Chee has changed his image, but inside he hasn’t changed, would you be concerned if he were to be elected?
PM Lee: Yes, I would be concerned. Because it will mean that there is somebody that’s being elected who is able to just gloss over bad things which have been done, and which he has not come to terms with or acknowledged, and he’s now presenting himself as a new man – reinvented – and yet, unchanged, and unregretful and unrepentant.
And I think it’s not possible, if you are a changed person, well then there must be a basis on which you say: ‘What I did previously, I regret, I’m sorry, I now resolve to go in a different direction, I resolve to be a different sort of leader.' But here he told the Wanbao: ‘I don’t regret anything which I did, all my crazy history, I’m proud of what I had done, and I am what I am’.
But actually, he is not what he is, because what he says is one thing, but the reality is quite different, and what he did yesterday at the rally, allowing his colleagues to hit at David Ong in a most unbecoming manner, and then he comes along in benign, almost beatific way, and say: ‘We must not hit people who are down, that’s very bad, anyone can make mistakes – even good people,’ I think it shows that his character has not changed.