Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong did not contest the Singapore People’s Party’s (SPP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) election that took place at the party’s Ordinary Party Conference yesterday evening (16 Oct).
Although Mr Chiam, the SPP’s longtime secretary-general remains a party member, his absence from the election marks an end to a 40-year political career. His wife, Lina Chiam who had served as the party’s chairman and was re-elected into the CEC yesterday, told reporters:
“Mr Chiam has given to politics for 40 years already. It’s time for him to have a rest. I think he has given all what he can for Singaporeans, what he can do to his ability.”
In a Facebook post published today (17 Oct), the SPP said: “The Party would like to send its best wishes to Mr Chiam See Tong for his decades of service to the party and to Singapore.”
It added: “We are confident that the renewed party leadership will uphold the Party motto of ‘Service Before Self’, and always have the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart.”
A veteran politician, Mr Chiam first entered politics in 1976 and founded the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on 6 August 1980, becoming the party’s Secretary-General. Mr Chiam won the Potong Pasir ward in 1984 and became Singapore’s second opposition politician ever to be elected to Parliament after J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party.
After Mr Jeyaretnam was expelled from Parliament in 1986, Mr Chiam was Singapore’s sole elected opposition MP until 1991. In 1991, the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang and the SDP’s Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen were elected into Parliament and Mr Chiam effectively became the leader of the opposition.
In 1992, Mr Chiam recruited Chee Soon Juan, a psychology lecturer at NUS, to join the SDP. Conflicts soon arose between Mr Chiam and Dr Chee and the SDP Central Executive Committee’s (CEC) decision to back Dr Chee caused Mr Chiam to resign as SDP chief.
The SDP CEC, after convening a disciplinary hearing, voted to expel Mr Chiam from the party (which would have caused himself to lose his Parliamentary seat) after he publicly criticised them, but Mr Chiam won a court case to prevent them from doing so on procedural grounds.
Mr Chiam left the SDP in December 1996 and accepted an invitation to join the SPP – a party that was formed by pro-Chiam ex-SDP members who had left the party earlier – and became its leader.
Standing for his new party, Mr Chiam was re-elected as MP for Potong Pasir at the 1997 general election. The negative publicity generated by the disputes with Mr Chiam affected the SDP’s electoral prospects, and both Ling and Cheo lost their seats, leaving Chiam and Mr Low Thia Khiang as the only two elected opposition MPs.
Mr Chiam and Low remained the only two opposition MPs elected at all the subsequent general elections until 2011.
In the 2011 General Election, after 27 years of serving the Potong Pasir ward, Mr Chiam led a team to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC while his wife, Lina Chiam, contested Potong Pasir. The SPP lost both wards and was not able to win either ward in the 2015 General Election – the first election since 1976 that Mr Chiam did not personally contest.