NUSSU first pitted Dr Chee against founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in a popularity poll but drew criticism for making such a comparison.
The group said that this new poll, asking netizens to choose between Singapore People’s Party (SPP) leader Mr Chiam and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Dr Chee, was created in the name of fairness so Dr Chee could have a better shot at winning.
The poll pointed out that Dr has been a “Sec-Gen for 26 years and still counting” who “led the SDP to contest 53 seats so far and won zero,” while Mr Chiam was “Sec-Gen for only 13 years” at the SDP and led the party to contest 38 seats and win 5 seats.
NUSSU asked netizens to select who is the better Secretary-General. About 230 individuals have voted so far and 68 per cent of respondents voted in favour of Mr Chiam:
While both Mr Chiam and Dr Chee are respected individuals, the two share a tumultuous relationship. 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 Singapore’s 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 which two other SDP members, Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen, alongside Low Thia Khiang of the WP were elected, making a total of four opposition MPs, with Mr Chiam effectively being the leader of the opposition.
In 1992, Chiam recruited Dr Chee, a psychology lecturer at NUS, to be an SDP candidate for a by-election. Although the SDP was unsuccessful in the by-election, the recruitment of Dr Chee as a candidate generated considerable public interest.
The following year, conflicts between Mr Chiam and Dr Chee emerged soon after Dr Chee was expelled from NUS and after he publicly claimed that he had been the victim of a political vendetta by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
It is said that Mr Chiam wanted to censure Dr Chee for these comments, but the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Dr Chee. Mr Chiam then resigned as Secretary-General of the party before proceeding to sue the party.
The CEC, after convening a disciplinary hearing, voted to expel Chiam from the party (which would have cause 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. The CEC then appointed Ling How Doong to replace Chiam as the party’s parliamentary leader.
Mr Chiam left the SDP in December 1996 and accepted an invitation to join the Singapore People’s Party and became its leader. Standing for his new party, he 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, 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 wither ward in the 2014 General Election – the first election since 1976 that Mr Chiam did not personally contest.
After Mr Chiam left the SDP, Dr Chee became the party’s secretary-general. In 2001, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sued Dr Chee for defamation. Dr Chee lost the lawsuits and was ordered to pay damages of S$300,000 to Mr Goh and S$200,000 to Mr Lee.
On 10 February 2006, Dr Chee was declared bankrupt by the High Court after failing to pay the damages owed to Mr Goh and Mr Lee. As an undischarged bankrupt, Chee became ineligible to stand in general elections and was required to seek the Official Assignee’s permission before making any trips abroad.
On 23 November 2012, Chee was formally discharged from bankruptcy in court. This allowed him to travel freely outside of Singapore, as well as stand in future General Elections. Chee stood as a candidate under the SDP ticket in the 2015 General Election and the 2016 Bukit Batok by-election but lost both elections. -/TISG