The Singapore People’s Party (SPP) has indicated that its secretary-general, 84-year-old Chiam See Tong, may step down after 23 years at the party’s helm to make way for new blood. According to the national broadsheet, the party decided that Mr Chiam would step down as SPP chief during a CEC meeting yesterday evening (3 Sept).

In a press statement released today (4 Sept), the SPP confirmed that it will initiate leadership renewal in its upcoming internal elections, that will take place in mid-October.

The party said that its upcoming Ordinary Party Conference on 16 Oct 2019 will “provide an opportunity to rejuvenate and elect its new leadership team and inject a set of passionate leaders who will help us take the party forward.”

Mrs Chiam – Mr Chiam’s wife who also serves as the party’s chairman – added that it heartens the party to “see so many compassionate, competent and caring young leaders who are coming forward to serve the country” as the party approaches its 25th anniversary in November.

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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.

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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.

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