12 days after the Bukit Batok by-election, Dr Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party reflects on the election in his personal blog. We republish his write-up in full.
Character in Bukit Batok
With a restful past week, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the eventful election at Bukit Batok. In the midst of the many developments during the campaign, a clear pattern emerged: While the SDP focused on running a positive and forward-looking campaign, for which we take much pride, our opponents came with a different game-plan.
The PAP’s strategy was clear: envenom the nine-day campaign with as much vitriol as possible with facts sent to the mortuary.
It started off with the Chinese-language nightly, Lianhe Wanbao, which published an interview it did with me. The headlines screamed: CHEE PROUD OF HIS ‘WILD AND COLOURFUL PAST’. The not-so-small problem was that I did not say any of those words.
SDP media liaison, Ms Mansura Sajahan, called the newspaper to protest the complete misrepresentation. The editor agreed to amend the offending headline on its online version. (I’ll leave the sorry details of the episode for another piece.)
Enter, quite predictably, Mr Lee Hsien Loong. Mr Lee seized on the made-up headline and said: “[Chee said he] is proud of his record, he is proud of his crazy history, and yet when he comes today, he presents himself as a changed man.”
His remarks were, of course, carried by all the newspapers with none of them bothering to find out from their sister publication whether there was any truth to the words attributed to me.
This signaled Open Season for the rest of the cabinet to hurl more abuse. One of the first in line was Ms Grace Fu who said that I was not qualified to be an MP because I have not “held a steady job for many years”. For good measure, she wondered out loud “what will Mr Chiam write about [Dr Chee]?”
Mdm Halimah Yaacob went further to say that I had no respect for elders.
Mr Heng Swee Keat jumped in: “This means a person can lie, cheat or betray someone with impunity…How are voters to believe what such politicians say or hold them accountable for their actions if they were running a town council?”
Then, right in the middle of the campaign, Mr Shanmugam decided to release the news that eight foreign workers from Bangladesh had been arrested by the Internal Security Department for alleged terrorist activities.
Like clockwork, the state media asked for my response to the arrests. When I replied that the Home Affairs Minister should look into tightening up our lax immigration policy and vetting more carefully foreigners they allow into Singapore, Mr Shanmugam flailed: “That we say no to all foreign workers? Or we say no to all foreign workers who are Muslim?”
PAP MP, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, continued baiting our campaign with the race card, asking if I was advocating that Singapore screened all Muslims entering the country. She accused me of politicising the issue – choosing to forget that it was Mr Shanmugam who decided to announce the matter during the campaign in May despite the arrests being made in April.
Along the way, Mr Goh Chok Tong, Mr Tan Chuan Jin, and Mr Chan Chun Sing weighed in and accused me of various life’s transgressions.
All in all seven members of the cabinet and one Speaker of Parliament jumped into the electoral battle to ensure that the ad hominem onslaught became the focus of their campaign.
In wrapping up his party’s operations, Mr Tharman lectured: “If he loses, I’ll advise him to reflect and ask how can things improve.” And then, without the slightest tinge of irony, added, “That’s how we advance democracy.” (His promise to Dr Paul Tambyah that his party would run a clean campaign based on the issues and not gutter politics notwithstanding, of course.)
As I said at the outset, I am proud that the SDP ran a positive campaign predicated on our vision for Bukit Batok and, indeed, Singapore. Obviously, it was no match for the kind of poisonous politics offered by the PAP.
A political party doesn’t exist just to win elections, however. It also serves as a model, a standard bearer for the people, especially our youth, in moral behaviour.
To this end, character – as was the theme that the PAP made central over the nine days in Bukit Batok – is what guided the SDP in our campaign.
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