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“We will never waver in standing up for freedom and justice” – SDP celebrates 40th birthday

"We fell short at this GE as far as getting into Parliament is concerned but, make no mistake, we will get there," said the SDP

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The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) reiterated its commitment to stand up for up for freedom and justice for Singaporeans as it commemorated the 40th anniversary of its formation, today (6 Aug).

Having been founded on 6 Aug 1980, the SDP is one of the oldest opposition parties in Singapore that is still active. In a social media post published this morning, the SDP emphasised its commitment to continue serving as a party of principle. Paying tribute to its founder, opposition legend Chiam See Tong, the party said:

“The SDP was founded this day in 1980 by a group of Singaporeans, led by Mr Chiam See Tong, committed to the ideals of democracy. We have come a long way since and have contributed meaningfully to our nation.

“We have been and will always be the party of principle, never wavering in standing up and speaking out for justice and freedom for Singaporeans. People before profit, rights before riches, wisdom before wealth is our guiding principle as we go about working towards change for Singapore.”

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The party also assured supporters that its members will make it to Parliament eventually, even though it fell short in the latest election. The 2020 general election that took place last month saw the SDP’s best electoral performance in recent years.

Secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and Chairman Paul Tambyah very nearly made it to Parliament and narrowly lost the single member wards they were contesting with over 45 per cent of the vote.

Referring to the results of the election, the SDP said: “We have gone through our share of trials and tribulations, and we have come out stronger. We fell short at this GE as far as getting into Parliament is concerned but, make no mistake, we will get there.”

The opposition party thanked supporters for standing with it through the decades and said, “So, thank you, our fellow Singaporeans, for being there through thick and thin and for having faith in us through the decades.

“From all of us at Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) #WeAre40”

The SDP was founded this day in 1980 by a group of Singaporeans, led by Mr Chiam See Tong, committed to the ideals of…

Posted by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The SDP was founded on 6 August 1980 by lawyer Chiam See Tong, who had contested several elections as an independent candidate in the 1970s. The party contested the 1984 election under Mr Chiam’s leadership.

Despite the odds being stacked against him, Mr Chiam won Potong Pasir SMC in a stunning upset after three attempts in the constituency with a vote of 60.3 per cent. The SDP founder became the second opposition politician ever to be elected to the Republic’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 opposition MP. Mr Chiam successfully defended his seat in the 1988 and 1991 elections. The 1991 election also saw two more SDP candidates being elected to Parliament.

The SDP’s achievements were marred by an internal dispute that arose in the 90s. In 1992, Mr Chiam recruited academic Chee Soon Juan into the party and fielded him as a star candidate in the 1992 Marine Parade by-election. Although the SDP was unsuccessful in the by-election, the recruitment of Dr Chee generated considerable public interest.

In 1993, three months after joining the SDP, Dr Chee was dismissed by the National University of Singapore, where he taught psychology. Dr Chee claimed that there was a political motive behind his dismissal, but the ruling party denied the accusation. Mr Chiam wanted to censure Chee for his comments, but the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Chee.

Mr Chiam then relinquished his party’s Secretary-General post to Dr Chee, before he proceeded to publicly criticise the CEC, and won a court case to prevent the party from expelling him (as well as vacating his Potong Pasir seat) from SDP on procedural grounds.

Supporters of Mr Chiam left the SDP and formed the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) in 1994. After Parliament was dissolved ahead of the 1997 general election, Mr Chiam left the SDP to join the SPP and became the new party’s leader.

The controversy caused the SDP to suffer significant electoral setbacks. While Mr Chiam was re-elected under the SPP ticket, the SDP failed to win a single seat and incumbents Cheo and Ling were ousted from Parliament.

The SDP continued to perform relatively poorly in the polls in subsequent elections, party members’ tireless efforts began to bear fruit in the 2011 and the SDP’s popular vote numbers began to rise. Dr Chee, Dr Tambyah and other key members developed a reputation for being keenly in tune with the pulse of the common man and became well-liked in the heartlands.

Although the party has yet to win a seat in Parliament, its leaders came close to winning the 2020 election, with Dr Tambyah garnering 46.26 per cent of the vote and Dr Chee winning 45.20 per cent of the vote in separate constituencies.

After the election, the SDP has remained active on the ground, with Dr Chee even launching a grassroots initiative in Bukit Batok SMC.

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