Part 2: Chiam’s expulsion

In Part 1, I recounted that it was Mr Chiam See Tong who had resigned as the SDP’s secretary-general because of problems he had had with his CEC colleagues even before I had joined the party. No one had forced him out.

Mr Chiam argues, however, that his subsequent expulsion from the party is a sign that the Central Executive Committee (CEC) had wanted, and was even eager, to oust him.
He said in 1993 that the PAP has failed to remove him from Potong Pasir but “with a stroke of the pen, our members have dislodged me.”

Mrs Lina Chiam (Mr Chiam’s wife) repeated this line when she told the Straits Times (29 Mar 10) last week: “The People’s Action Party tried all means to defeat my husband, but failed after several general elections. But the SDP achieved it effortlessly with one stroke of the pen and did the PAP a great service.”

Matters, as one might expect, were not quite that straight forward and Mr Chiam was not quite the aggrieved party as records show. Few people know the truth behind Mr Chiam’s expulsion.

Chiam attacks own party in front of SPH journalists

After his resignation was announced in Jun 93, Mr Chiam was invited by local journalists to speak at the Singapore Press Club (SPC) on 16 Jul 93.

The following day, the Straits Times gave Mr Chiam’s speech much prominence (I quit because other leaders were hurting SDP’s credibility: Chiam, 17 Jul 93).

It reported Mr Chiam as saying about his resignation: “I had to disassociate myself from people who are definitely going in the wrong direction.” (Isn’t this an admission that Mr Chiam was not “forced out” of the party?)

Among some of the criticisms were that the CEC members lacked discipline, damaged the SDP’s credibility, and that we were looking after our own interests.

The merits of his views aside, the CEC members were appalled that he had chosen to give his talk to local journalists who were, to put it mildly, never supporters of the opposition.

I was also invited to address the SPC by Mr Han Fook Kwang, now Editor of the Straits Times. As I did not want to add fuel to the fire and play into the hands of the media, I said that I would speak not on the fight with Mr Chiam but on the future plans of the SDP. Mr Han quickly rescinded the invitation. This matter is recounted in my book Singapore, My Home Too.

The attack by Mr Chiam at the SPC was especially difficult to take given that it was he, when he was secretary-general, who had made CEC members sign an oath and a deed to “prevent high-ranking officials from disparaging the party.” (Chiam drafted oath ‘to safeguard party interests’, Straits Times, 16 Nov 93) 

But he did exactly what he forbade everyone else to do.

Despite this the CEC held its counsel. The Straits Times reported that while Mr Chiam “was gaining political capital from the public at the expense of the SDP’s ‘collective leadership’, the CEC has maintained a stony silence.” (The Sacking of Chiam See Tong, 28 Aug 93)

Three weeks later, the CEC decided to convene a disciplinary enquiry. It summoned Mr Chiam to attend a hearing on the night of 6 Aug 93. CEC members had several and protracted discussions about how to deal with our former secretary-general. The last thing that we wanted to do was to expel him:

A source close to the CEC said that it was never the committee’s intention to sack Mr Chiam. “The inquiry was to serve notice on him that he should wake up and realise that he was not above being disciplined if he continued to act irresponsibly,” said the source. (
The Sacking of Chiam See Tong,
28 Aug 93)

An agonising decision

Mr Chiam duly showed up at the party’s office on the evening of 6 Aug to answer 16 charges brought against him. In the course of the hearing, Mr Chiam did not express any regret about his talk at the SPC. Instead he maintained that he was only speaking the truth when he questioned the integrity of the CEC members. He then accused the CEC members of being biased and insisted that the hearing was not conducted in a fair manner.

After the hearing, which lasted more than three hours, the 13-member CEC debated the course of action to take against our former leader. Three questions were posed:

1. Did we find Mr Chiam’s explanations acceptable? The response was a unanimous no.
2. Did we agree that he ought to be disciplined? Everyone said yes.
3. Finally, what disciplinary action did we want to take: Expulsion, suspension or demotion?

It was an agonising decision to make. We were acutely aware of the consequences if we decided to expel him. But Mr Chiam left us no choice because he would have continued to criticise us through the years given his stance. Where would that leave the SDP then?

The arguments went back and forth until close to five the next morning. In the end, 11 of the 13 chose expulsion including me. Two opted for demotion.

But even after the decision was made – and this is an important point that readers must note – we still wanted to avoid having to expel Mr Chiam.

We assigned three members to meet with Mr Chiam that very morning to convey to him our decision and to see if there was anyway that we could avoid sacking him. The Straits Times reported:

Yet some members were not comfortable that this would be the final parting of ways. They asked if the CEC could postpone implementation of the decision.

“They wanted to find out if there was a way to talk to him,” said a source.

Three members, Mr [Jimmy] Tan, Mr Kwan Yue Keng and Mr [Ashleigh] Seow, were appointed to do so. They called Mr Chiam in the morning and met him at a hawker centre near his law office.

He was then told of the CEC decision and asked to re-consider his position and “agree to a last ditch effort” to stay in the party, said a source.

The Sacking of Chiam See Tong,
Straits Times, 28 Aug 93)

In fact CEC members had visited Mr Chiam once, faxed him a letter requesting a meeting, and telephoned him several times after his sacking to see if there was any chance of reconciliation. Mr Chiam did not deny this in court but only said that the overtures were not sincere (SDP’s overtures rebuffed, Straits Times, 18 Nov 93)

Even then, after all seemed lost, we held back the announcement of Mr Chiam’s expulsion for two weeks until 20 Aug 93.

Judge found no malice

Following his expulsion, Mr Chiam sued the SDP for wrongful dismissal. After a nine-day hearing, former High Court Judge Warren Khoo awarded the case to Mr Chiam.

The Judge, however, qualified that Mr Chiam succeeded only because the disciplinary hearing was conducted in an “inept manner and he has succeeded in court on that count.” (Stroke of luck for Chiam, Straits Times, 11 Dec 93)

The Judge added that “It may be fairly said that [Mr Chiam] brought the disciplinary proceedings and court action on himself.”

What is even more important is that Judge Khoo acknowledged that he could find no bias or malicious behaviour on the part of the CEC, since the CEC did attempt to seek reconciliation with Mr Chiam even after the decision to expel him was made.

In the end, the Judge awarded Mr Chiam only one-third of the costs.

Is it true that Chiam was ousted?

Given all the above can one say, hand on heart, that Mr Chiam was forced out or, worse, that I was the one who forced him out and usurped his position as secretary-general?

The sources from which I have quoted are publicly available and I encourage readers to do their own reading and research. I have refrained from polemics and introducing my own opinion of things, and tried to present the matter factually.

I do all this because the matter is still being used by the media today to discredit the SDP and me. This cannot go on. I will show readers how the PAP has used this saga to prop up Mr Chiam and attack the SDP in Part 3.


An open letter to all opposition supporters (29 March 2010)
No one forced Chiam out: SDP chief (2 April 2010)

Part 1: The truth about Chaim See Tong’s departure (5 April 2010)
Part 3: Goh Chok Tong – Without Chiam, harder to destroy Chee (7 April 2010)
Part 4: Taking the SDP forward (8 April 2010)

Why does Mrs Chiam persist in attacking the SDP? (11 April 2010)

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