When Mr Chiam’s resignation as secretary-general was made public, the PAP wasted no time in exploiting the issue. The ruling party knew that it could inflict maximum damage if it pitted Mr Chiam against me. Mr Goh Chok Tong, then prime minister, had once told his party members:
Mr Chiam was no threat but had, in fact, been “good” for the PAP as “without him, it would have been more difficult to destroy (Singapore Democratic Party chief) Chee Soon Juan”. (
Party sets five goals to win elections in 2002, Straits Times, 12 Jan 98)
During a Parliament sitting in June 1993, PAP Ministers and MPs took to the floor to pile it on, extolling Mr Chiam and skewering the SDP. One even called the situation “a coup” against Mr Chiam. There was no question whose side the PAP was on:
Mr Wong Kan Seng stated: “Without him (Mr Chiam), what is the SDP?”
Former PAP MP Mr Tan Cheng Bock: “Mr Chiam appreciates the whole political scene, I think he did not want to rock the boat although he genuinely believed that certain things must be changed, which is fair enough.”
Former PAP MP Mr Loh Meng See: “It is sad because the whole event sounds like a coup against Mr Chiam.”
Even former Nominated MP, now Attorney-General, Mr Walter Woon weighed in: “He (Mr Chiam) founded the SDP and I don’t see that he should give it up.”
Chiam back to one-man show? Straits Times, 20 Jun 93)
As I mentioned in Part 1, the PAP even published cartoons in its party magazine, Petir, depicting me as an ingrate whom Mr Chiam brought in to the party only to be kicked out by me.
Of course the media got the cue and has since been ruthless in doing anything and everything to make me look as evil as possible vis-a-vis Mr Chiam. In the months following the split, headline after headline portrayed the SDP and me as the bad guy:
The PAP did not let up. In November 1994 during a Parliament sitting Mr Goh Chok Tong further goaded:
I am surprised that SDP MPs are prepared to work for somebody who has been called a cheat and a liar and who has not sued. The system, which we want to work, is to keep out such people from Parliament.
Chee unfit to be MP, says PM, but how many voters will listen? Straits Times, 12 Nov 94)
A few weeks later at the party elections in January 1995, Mr Chiam tabled a resolution that
This conference notes with regret that our acting secretary-general has been called a cheat and liar in public more than once and he has not taken any legal action to clear his name. As such his name and consequently also that of the party’s name is tainted, and accordingly, I move that this conference calls on Dr Chee Soon Juan to forthwith undertake to commence a court action to clear his name, failing which, he shall not be allowed to hold office in the SDP.
SDP factions prepare for clash at party conference, Straits Times, 11 Jan 95)
Mr Chiam’s repeated attacks through the years, widely publicised by the media, have taken its toll. It was no wonder that Mr Goh told his party members that without Mr Chiam, it would have been more difficult to destroy me.
Even today the Straits Times is still at it. Take a look at these two photographs that the newspaper used last week in its report Chiam’s SDP exit: Wife speaks up (29 Mar 10). While it picked a picture of a smiling and friendly Mrs Chiam, the editor deliberately chose one of me that looked anything but normal (below).
For years the media have been doing this. Photographs, more than words, create impressions in readers and the Singapore Press Holdings knows this. This is why it goes to great lengths to make sure that Singaporeans continue to get the worst possible impression of me.
Just yesterday, the Straits Times published a letter lambasting me for my confontational style while holding in high regard Mr Chiam’s. The propaganda continues.
Mr Chiam’s scorched-earth tactics culminated in the 1997 general elections when he quit the SDP to join the Singapore People’s Party as its leader.
He then sent a Mr Farid to contest in Bukit Gombak to force a three-cornered fight with Mr Ling How Doong who stood under the SDP banner. Both opposition candidates lost, of course, with Mr Farid having his election deposit forfeited as he polled below the minimum required of one-eighth of the total votes.
Living with the burden
Through all these years, I have not said much about the split. For 17 years I have had to live with the perception that I was the villain in this episode. I still do because most Singaporeans still don’t know the truth, and the PAP media seems determined to keep it that way.
A sliver of hope that I have is that with the Internet, the truth will slowly begin to emerge.
To be sure, I have had various opportunities to return fire. The Singapore Press Club’s invitation to speak was one (see Part 2). But I declined them because I did not want to let the PAP capitalise on the split and be accused of breaking up the opposition.
In addition I have written several books but, again, I have stayed away from being critical about Mr Chiam because I did not want the PAP to further exploit it. In my first book Dare To Change which I wrote immediately after the saga in 1994, I made only one mention of Mr Chiam and even then it was to call for opposition unity:
The two main opposition parties, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) led by Chiam See Tong until 1993 and the Workers’ Party (WP) led by the determined Joshua B. Jeyaretnam has been challenging the PAP on similar issues with similar viewpoints…It would make much sense for both camps to pool their resources together with the ultimate and over-riding objective to entrench the Opposition in Singaporean politics.
When the SDP organised an official visit to Australia in September 1994, I telephoned Mr Chiam to invite him along. I was still hoping that we could mend the differences. He declined saying that he had to attend an inter-parliamentary conference.
I have long been wanting to tell Singaporeans about Mr Goh’s admission that the PAP had used Mr Chiam to destroy me. Remember, he made this statement in Jan 1998. It has been 12 years since. I have kept this under wraps and not mentioned it in public for reasons cited above.
So why now?
But last week, after so many years, Mrs Chiam continues to tell the public that it was I who ousted her husband. Even after Today published Mr Chiam’s comments that were critical of the SDP in February last year, I still held back and wished Mr Chiam well.
I had attended Mr Chiam’s 25th anniversary dinner as MP of Potong Pasir last year. Again I wished him well. The SDP organised two public forums and invited leaders of the other opposition parties, Mr Chiam included, to speak. No one can accuse me of not trying to bury the hatchet with Mr Chiam.
But my overtures continue to be met with the untrue statement that I kicked him out of the SDP.
The last straw came recently when a student at the NUS, who had read about Mrs Chiam’s interview, informed me on my Facebook that her political science textbook, Politics and Governance in Singapore (McGrawHill) written by Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, also said that Mr Chiam had been ousted by me:
This prominent and popular leader (Mr Chiam) of the opposition party has worked hard to present a credible alternative to the PAP. However, he has not always been successful in this endeavor. He left the Singapore Democratic Party following the challenge by Dr Chee Soon Juan.
…Some of the leading opposition political parties are ‘wracked by internal dissension.’ A case in point includes the ousting of the most senior opposition member, Chiam See Tong from his post in the SDP by a then relative novice, Chee Soon Juan.
When textbooks start to write such inaccuracies and students are taught them, it is no longer just rhetorical back and forth between politicians.
Without correction, these untruths get passed down from university textbooks to secondary textbooks and before long, it becomes historical fact that I was actually the one who schemed to oust Mr Chiam from the party when nothing could be further from the truth.
Unlike other researchers such as Dr Hussein Mutalib who had interviewed me for his work, I have never spoken or been interviewed by Dr Bilveer Singh.
This is why I have chosen to speak up now. I do this not to attack Mr or Mrs Chiam; I continue to wish them well. I do it because I need to set the record straight so that teachers like Dr Singh will get the history right.
Stop the lie
Equally important, I want to stop the PAP and its media from resurrecting a falsehood that began nearly 20 years ago and using it in the upcoming elections to hammer the SDP and me again.
My only regret is that I did not do this sooner. I have retreated time and again, and kept silent all these years about this issue. After a while it becomes dishonest for me to continue to hide the truth. Our supporters deserve to know what really went on.
Some say that the matter happened so long ago and that it is not relevant anymore. I beg to differ. The PAP and the media will trot this issue out from time to time especially when the elections draw near, as is the case now, to jolt the memory of voters, in particular the older ones, of what had happened.
I want to put a stop to this once and for all. The PAP and the media must not be allowed to continue to use this falsehood against me and the SDP.
I owe it to my party, my colleagues and supporters, and my family to clear the air. I have to relate the details of the matter in this series of articles so that Singaporeans, and academics who write history, will know the truth of what happened in those fateful few months in 1993. In 4th and final Part, I explain why I took over as secretary-general following the departure of Mr Chaim.
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 2: Chiam’s expulsion – what really happened? (6 April 2010)
Part 4: Taking the SDP forward (8 April 2010)
Why does Mrs Chiam persist in attacking the SDP? (11 April 2010)