By: Ravi Philemon
As Howard Lee pointed out in his commentary ‘Take heart SDP; and take heed PAP‘, “Bukit Batok was PAP’s to lose with the odds stacked firmly against Chee and SDP.” Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam was cognizant of this when he said in the PAP’s last rally at Bukit Batok:
“If he loses I will ask him to think and reflect and ask him how things can improve. This is his fifth constituency. What should change? It’s not about a newspaper headline or a system. What should change? So that would be my advise, if I may to Dr Chee. If he wins I will congratulate him, if he loses please reflect on this. Don’t keep blaming the system and try and change.”
The key words in the DPM’s parting shot were, “lose…fifth constituency…change”.
Without saying it in so many words, Tharman had reminded the chief of the SDP that his lose would be the fifth, and so he should consider relinquishing his leadership of the Party. Indeed several from the PAP as well as those that are more inclined towards the incumbent’s worldview. have repeated the same thing – that there is no future for SDP if Chee is at its helm.
Before last night’s results, several have pointed to the legendary opposition leader, J B Jeyaretnam’s win in the Anson by-election to highlight that Chee could possibly do the same. But consider this, before JBJ was finally elected in the 1981 by-election, he had contested 5 other elections and was only successful in his 6th try.
If that is any indication, there is absolutely no need for anything to change at SDP. Dr Chee may very well find success in his 6th try – at the next General Election or sooner.
Others like academic Devadas Krishnadas have suggested that Chee should go because he could not make use of a ‘by-election effect’ to win the election in Bukit Batok. He did not however elaborate how the 24 percent (a swing which was needed for Chee to win) could happen. SDP scored a little over 26 percent in the 2015 General Election.
“Then there is the backdrop. Punggol East by-election came after GE2011 when sentiments against the ruling party was still bad. Bt Batok by-election came just on the heel of a successful GE2015 when the PAP scored a victorious 69.9%. Also, Punggol East by-election was about 1.5 years after GE2011 whereas Bt Batok by-election came just 8 months after last GE, with things still fresh in the same group of people’s minds.
Another point to note is that Punggol East by-election was contested by WP, which has a much better branding than SDP at the moment. And the results?
GE2011 (33,281) – PAP 54.5%, WP 41.0%
BE2013 (31,649) – PAP 43.7%, WP 54.5%
PAP lost 10.8%
WP gained 13.5%
GE2015 (27,077) – PAP 73.0%, SDP 26.4%
BE2016 (25,727) – PAP 61.2%, SDP 38.8%
PAP lost 11.8%
SDP gained 12.4%”
Of course in the 1981 by-election, the PAP’s votes dropped from 84.1 percent to 47.1 percent in Anson within a year (from GE1980 to BE1981). But that was a time when there was very little gerrymandering, and a time when the role of a Member of Parliament was not tied to town council management and the carrots which come attached with it.
No, I don’t believe like Mano Sabnani that SDP lost the by-election because its chief, Chee Soon Juan, is lacking credibility and if he does not resign to make way for others to lead the party, SDP will “decline into relative insignificance in Singapore politics.”
JBJ was 55 years old when he was elected as an MP. At 53, Chee is still relatively young and has amassed over two decades of political experience. That will be very useful to his party to manoeuvre through Singapore’s political terrain where opposition politicians have to contend with not just the PAP, but also with the mainstream media, clans, merchants’ associations, religious organisations, charities, non-partisan grassroots organisations, etc.
In my opinion, nothing needs to change at SDP. I believe that Saturday’s result is the beginning of the new rise of the SDP. Unless something goes horribly wrong, the political party can only grow from strength-to-strength from here on.
I want to thank Dr Chee Soon Juan and his volunteers as well as his die-hard supporters for showing the opposition in Singapore that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Let the struggle continue!