SINGAPORE: The chief of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has accused the People’s Action Party (PAP) of “gutter politics” and of being guilty of the very charges made against him, such as racism and hypocrisy.
Speaking at the SDP’s second rally of the Bukit Batok by-election on Sunday (May 1), candidate Dr Chee Soon Juan said: “They don’t tell you how they can be better than opponents, they tell you how bad the opposition is by running smear campaigns so that you will vote for the PAP by default.”
“They don’t consider their own hypocrisy,” he added, noting that this sort of behaviour seemed “baked into the PAP’s DNA”.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had questioned Dr Chee’s character and aptitude to be MP for Bukit Batok. This was after Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Friday doubted Dr Chee’s ability to run a town council as he had not held a steady job in many years.
PM Lee took issue with how Dr Chee had appealed at his Friday rally for people to refrain from personal attacks on ex-Bukit Batok MP David Ong. This, Mr Lee said, was “completely hypocritical”.
"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," Mr Lee had added.
Dr Chee said he stood by what he had said. “We will not engage in below-the-belt politics. The David Ong affair is off the table.”
The SDP leader added that one speaker “may have cracked a joke about it at our last rally”. But “I’ve told our colleagues in no uncertain terms, cut it out”, he said, pledging that no more would be mentioned of it “for the rest of the campaign”.
“Let me turn the question to Mr Lee Hsien Loong. Will he and his colleagues honour (PAP second assistant secretary-general) Mr Tharman (Shanmugaratnam’s) promise and stop the gutter politics, and focus on issues that really matter to voters here in Bukit Batok?” said Dr Chee.
‘FIND ANYTHING SDP HAS SAID THAT IS REMOTELY RACIST’
On the issue of race, Mr Lee had earlier pointed to comments posted on Dr Chee’s webpage that “have not been refuted or taken down”. The Prime Minister said he had no doubt that when the pressure built, some people would feel “maybe this is one way you can use race to your advantage”.
In response, Dr Chee challenged at his rally to “find me anywhere (that) the SDP said anything remotely racist”.
He then pointed to past and present PAP MPs, such as Mr Choo Wee Khiang’s "description of Little India", and Ms Denise Phua’s recent “disparaging remarks” about foreign workers. “And yet, Grace Fu can stand there with a straight face and insinuate that SDP is racist,” said Dr Chee.
The crowd at the SDP Bukit Batok by-election rally at Bukit Gombak Stadium on May 1, 2016. (Photo: Tim de Souza)
WHY I DIDN’T BRING UP LEE WEI LING: CHEE
Saying that “character goes to the heart of the fitness of a candidate”, Prime Minister Lee had said on Saturday he would be concerned if Dr Chee won in Bukit Batok.
“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,” said Mr Lee.
On Sunday, Dr Chee replied: “Up until tonight I have never, never brought up the issue of what (Mr Lee’s) sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, said about him.”
“I had ample opportunity to attack on this but I did not. And it would have been a very potent attack, because this is not your political opponent saying it, it is your own flesh and blood,” said Dr Chee, referring to allegations that Dr Lee had made online last month.
“Now I want you all to imagine, if it had been my sister saying these things about me, what do you think would have happened? Do you think that the PAP would have gone to town with this?”
Added Dr Chee: “I bring up this incident because I want to show you that even though I had the perfect opportunity, I refrained from using Dr Lee Wei Ling's dispute with the brother. Because that's not the kind of the politics I want to engage in.
“And even though I did not attack Mr Lee, he has no hesitation in continuing to disparage me.”
‘I’VE NOT BEEN WORKING? THAT’S NOT TRUE’
As for PAP leaders’ comments about his not holding a full-time job, Dr Chee said that after he was sacked by the National University of Singapore in 1993, he had received offers from American universities and could have continued his profession as a neuropsychologist.
But he chose to stay and continue his political work, he said. His research on various aspects of the Singapore system led to several published books and ideas contained in the SDP’s current policy papers.
Dr Chee said he and his wife “made the choice” to live simply, off proceeds from the book sales, and had “absolutely no regrets”. “Do we always have to measure success by how much money we make?” he said.
He also noted how the SDP had grown since 1990s, when it could not even afford an office and they had to sell newsletters to rent an attic in Balestier Road. Today, the party apparatus has “first-class” teams doing logistics, IT and policy, for instance.
“I’ve not been working? That’s not true,” said Dr Chee, who has promised to be a full-time MP if elected. “The truth is, I have been working every single day to not just keep the SDP together but to also build it up … I just have not asked to be paid or paid a lot.”
Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Paul Tambyah at a rally on Sunday (May 1). (Photo: Timothy De Souza)
‘THEY FEAR DR CHEE IN PARLIAMENT’
Other SDP central executive committee members also sprang to Dr Chee’s defence at the Sunday night rally.
Ms Jaslyn Go said she found Ms Fu’s comments about Dr Chee not having a full-time job “disparaging to full time mothers and grandparents who stay at home to raise the future generations”.
Dr Paul Tambyah had, on Saturday, made a video statement saying that “a person is not defined by his or her actions or words" and the attack on Dr Chee's character was "uncalled for”. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat responded on Facebook, saying that he found this statement “astounding” as it meant a person could “lie, cheat or betray someone with impunity”.
On Sunday, Dr Tambyah countered, saying: “A person is not solely defined by his or her actions or words although they might reflect his or her values. We are not one-dimensional people as Mr Heng seems to think we are.”
He added that “anybody who has met Dr Chee” and spent time with him “will know that he’s someone of good character”.
Mr Damanhuri Abas said: “I had those wrong impressions of Dr Chee myself, but since joining SDP, I see that he is not what they say. The reason why PAP keeps demonising Dr Chee is because they truly fear him in Parliament. They know if Dr Chee is in Parliament, no one can sleep.”
OF JOBS AND LAND COSTS
Among the issues that Dr Chee said he would raise in Parliament, were opportunities for tertiary education and the Government’s land sales policies.
He cited a reported proposal made by Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, for a scheme which would "help our companies recruit graduates from Indonesia", also saying that Ms Indranee Rajah, when she was at the Ministry of Education, "discouraged poly and ITE graduates from pursuing a university education".
"The question I have is why is our Foreign Minister going to another country and helping to come up with a scheme to help the graduates of that country?" said Dr Chee. "Why can’t our government spend its energy on our companies, in our own country, to create jobs for our own graduates, instead of discouraging our young people from pursuing university education?"
“And what happens when the world changes, which is what is happening all the time, and the economy demands university graduates with the necessary skills? Then what?”
Dr Chee added: “It is not the place of the Government to tell the people what kind of degree they should pursue. Worse, it should not be doing this because it fears there will be too many graduates without jobs. Rather, the Government’s responsibility is to ensure that it facilitates an economy that will provide maximum number of jobs for the talent our schools and universities produce.”
The current bleak economic outlook, said Dr Chee, was also being made worse by the high cost of land sold by the Government to the HDB and private developers.
It has also “set up giant companies like CapitalLand and MapleTree to further make money from real estate”, he alleged. “The higher the rentals and commercial property prices, the higher the overheads for businesses” and consumers bear the costs.
And when land gets too expensive, “even international businesses cannot survive here”, said Dr Chee. He pointed to retail giants and even oil companies that have relocated to Kuala Lumpur citing high real estate costs as the reason.
Dr Chee said if elected to Parliament, he would “press the Government to reexamine its land pricing policy and ensure it helps both the business owner and the consumers".