Chiam, Chee and the ultimate usurper

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By Howard Lee

Most Singaporeans would by now be suffering from an overdose of the controversy between Chiam See Tong and Chee Soon Juan.

In the latest series of barbs thrown during the Bukit Batok by-election and the subsequent public reveals by Chee – secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, founded by his once-mentor Chiam – we are once again dragged into the long story of how Chee supposedly stole the SDP leadership from Chiam, how Chiam supposedly left on his own accord, and how the case was aired in the ugly side of court.

All this, without doubt, done to the glee of the ruling People’s Action Party, which is definitely more than happy that the decades-old tussle continues to tear up Chee’s public image and put doubt into his character and by extension, suitability for public office.

The drama, possibly exciting when it first started, would likely have lost its intrigue, yet continues to be played up in media. Singaporeans seem to be really hungry for a good story of betrayal.

But what if I told you another story that is a lot more controversial and vindictive, where lives were destroyed and the perpetrator continues to be, not vilified as a traitor, but worshipped as a hero?

A story of a usurper who, rather than being the protégé of the victim, was a friend and party colleague. A man known for his political ambition, who saw the potential in his colleague to one day take over him as leader of his party.

Yet in the cruel twist of local and regional politics, the usurper decides to remove his colleague from power. Much like that which Chee was accused of, but instead of a vote by the CEC, the usurper laid criminal charges against his victim, accusing him for what amounts to treason, arresting and detaining him without trial under the Internal Security Act.

This effectively paves the way for the usurper to take control, first of the party that he co-founded with the victim – not unlike what Chee was accused of doing with Chiam – and eventually the entire direction in which the nation was to take.

In prison, the victim attempts suicide out of depression, and when he was finally released, seeks refuge and peace overseas and swears never to be involved in politics.

Unsatisfied, the usurper would then continue to apply the Act to many followers and supporters of the victim, in an attempt to completely demolish his rival’s legacy. Years later, he would continue to use the Act to incarcerate those he deem his political enemies, leaving behind a burning trail of broken hearts and families.

Incidentally, this would be the Internal Security Act that both Chiam and Chee have spoken up vehemently against in their political lifetimes.

To this day, even after the death of the usurper, his party would continue to justify the use of the Act, with even his protégé pointing to hand-written records –  vaguely reminiscent of what Chee has done more recently – in a desperate attempt to prove that the victim was the traitor justly punished, and the usurper has done right by the nation.
1Beyond this attempt, the Act would not see any justification for the atrocities it witnessed. While even Chee could have referred to a court verdict to defend himself, the usurper keeps his executions of the Act behind the shroud of “national security”, whereby the detained never saw their cases tried in open court.

Beyond these few, the usurper continues to hold power and control the entire nation, his troubled past casting a long shadow over what was to become his “tough love” policies that to this day continues to drive his party followers and by consequence, affect our very lives.

In retrospect, we can see the tussle between Chiam and Chee as little more than the internal bickering between two men with diverse views, and at its very worse, a struggle for political power driven by ambition that tore a party apart.

Who exactly did Chiam and Chee hurt? If anyone, only each other, if not each other’s pride.

Not so for the usurper in the other story, who would have left an indelible and painful mark on the lives of his one-time friend and all those who shared his political ideals. Acts of brutality that leave deep scars on those they touch, yet shrouded in complete secrecy and protected by political power. Acts that would continue to affect each and every one of us.

By comparison, the story of Chiam and Chee seem nonsensically trivial compared to this tale of political intrigue and betrayal. But for some reason, politicians and the media would rather wallow endlessly in the mud-slinging of the first, completely ignoring the second as if doing so proves exactly how untrue it is.

Such is Singapore’s tolerance and desire for fiction.