The 10-million population hoo-ha is not really about Chee Soon Juan. It is more about Heng Swee Keat – and not a small dilemma confronting Singaporeans in this General Election.
It is no secret that the People’s Action Party has never had much liking or respect for Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party. The ruling party very early “chut pattern” the night of the GE TV political debate on July 1. A smiling Vivian Balakrishnan threw a grenade at Chee, accusing him of spouting falsehood that DPM Heng Swee Keat was even thinking of having a 10-million population target for Singapore, much less advocating it. After that, the whole establishment machinery went into overtime gear. No, Heng never said that (and he himself later said he never said so) and yes, the government has never been comfortable with 6.9 million, not to mention 10 million. Oh, yes.
Was it all a cleverly laid plan to trap and discredit Chee? CSJ 2.0 is still the same not to be trusted old CSJ, that was what the PAP was trying to tell voters. And if it expected the leaders of the other major Opposition parties to distance themselves from the “untrustworthy” SDP leader for political advantage, nothing of the sort took place. Instead, both Workers’ Party’s Pritam Singh and Progress Singapore Party’s Dr Tan Cheng Bock backed Chee on the “toying with the idea of a 10-million population” attack.
This, nevertheless, is not the first time that DPM Heng had to be practically extracted from a difficult situation.
In 2018, he tried to spar with WP chairman Sylvia Lim over talk of an impending GST hike. He denied having floated a trial balloon and was getting entangled in the debate in Parliament before being “rescued” by Law Minister Law K. Shanmugam.
Then in November last year, Heng called for an adjournment to consider Lim’s assertion that it was not proper for him to raise a motion on the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council to discharge its responsibilities to its residents by requiring Lim and Low ThiaKhiang to recuse themselves from all matters relating to, and oversight over, financial matters. On resumption of the debate, he was about to go to the rostrum to resume his speech when PM Lee Hsien Loong could be seen stopping him and signalling for Senior Minister of State (Law) Edwin Tong to take the floor and confront Lim.
Now, the whole state machinery has been garnered over the 10-million population issue in an election which is being seen as a referendum on his coming of age as the next Prime Minister of Singapore.
That machinery is being used to pit him against Nicole Seah and her WP colleagues in East Coast.
This is more than a David and Goliath contest.
It’s like denying the yearning of many Singaporeans for fresh air in a Parliament stifled by decades of stagnation, group-think and cookie-cutter leadership.
Tan Bah Bah, editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader of The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
Send in your scoop to firstname.lastname@example.org