Former Democratic People’s Party (DPP) secretary-general Benjamin Pwee said today that he has applied to join the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The 51-year-old wrote on Facebook:
“After much internal discussion and consideration within my team, we have decided to submit our membership application forms to SDP.
“We share and believe in the values and ideals that SDP stands for, and they have many other like-minded credible people. We also believe in their organisational resources and capabilities as a long-standing political party in Singapore.”
In his youth, Pwee was the chairman of the youth wing of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the Thomson area. In 2011, however, he joined the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) – an opposition party led by veteran parliamentarian Chiam See Tong.
In that year’s General Election, Pwee was part of the SPP’s five-member team contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. The SPP team, led by Chiam himself, lost to the incumbent PAP team.
Not only was Chiam ousted from Parliament, his party also lost his former ward (Potong Pasir SMC) to the PAP in the same election.
The party was not able to win Potong Pasir SMC back from the ruling party in the 2015 General Election.
Shortly after the 2011 General Election, Pwee became the SPP’s Second Assistant Secretary-General. He, however, left the SPP months later, in January 2012.
A year later, in January 2013, Pwee joined the DPP and was appointed as the party’s Acting Secretary-General. He was confirmed as the party’s Secretary-General on 31 March 2013.
Despite joining a different party, Pwee and his DPP team joined forces with the SPP and sent a joint team to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in the 2015 General Election but lost the ward to the PAP.
Two weeks ago, Pwee revealed that he has left the DPP to “join a bigger, more effective one”. Although he declined to name the new party he joined then, he had confirmed that he would not be returning to the SPP.
On why he is moving to a bigger party, Pwee had said: “The opposition scene is a big ‘pasar malam’ of small political parties, ineffective in resources, effort and size. I am taking the lead to step out of a small political party, to join a bigger, more effective one.”
Urging other opposition members in smaller parties to do the same, Pwee expressed his hope that they would “urgently consolidate behind a few key established credible leaders” so that there will be greater opposition representation in Parliament.
Pwee’s decision to not return to the SPP and to join the SDP instead may be notable to some Singaporeans due to the tensions between the two opposition parties.
The SDP was founded in 1980 by Chiam See Tong, who served as the party’s Secretary-General for 13 years, until 1993.
In 1984, Chiam contested Potong Pasir and won the seat and became the second opposition politician ever to be elected to Singapore’s Parliament after J. B. Jeyaretnam.
In 1992, Chiam recruited Chee Soon Juan, a psychology lecturer at the National University of Singapore, into the SDP.
Tensions between Chiam and Chee are said to have arisen thereafter and Chiam resigned as secretary-general of the SDP after the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Chee.
When Chiam publicly criticised the party, the SDP convened a disciplinary hearing and voted to expel Chiam from the party, which would have caused him to lose his Parliamentary seat. Chiam, however, won a court case to prevent them from doing so on procedural grounds.
Chiam left the SDP in December 1996 and accepted an invitation to join the SPP, which was formed by a breakaway faction of the SDP in 1994, and became its leader. Standing for his new party, he was re-elected as MP for Potong Pasir at the 1997 general election and remained an MP until 2011.
Although the differences between Chiam and Chee are decades old, it appears that the tensions are not entirely over.
In 2016, Chiam See Tong refused to endorse Chee Soon Juan for the Bukit Batok by-election even though he was the only opposition candidate to contest the ward.
Taking issue with the SDP for including a picture of Chiam and Chee in the SDP’s publication as the SDP was preparing for the by-election, Chiam’s wife Lina Chiam said:
“My fellow citizens, Mr. Chiam and I understand that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has been circulating an image of Mr. Chiam See Tong and Dr. Chee Soon Juan in SDP’s newsletter, The New Democrat.
“We would like to clarify that Dr. Chee did not seek nor receive permission to include Mr. Chiam’s image in this newsletter. Mr. Chiam has not given his endorsement to any candidate for the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election.”