In his chapter in the book Teacher, Thinker, Rebel, Why? Portraits of Chee Soon Juan, Dr Wong Wee Nam recounted his effort to bring Mr Chiam See Tong back into the SDP fold:$CUT$
Some time towards the end of 2010, Mr Chiam See Tong was having some problem in the Singapore Democratic Alliance of which he was Chairman. The differences finally reached a stage when he had to leave the SDA and withdraw his Singapore People’s Party from the Alliance.
On 20 December 2010, at the Face-to-Face Forum organised by The Online Citizen, Mr Chiam met me and said he wanted to talk to me. He invited me to his SPP Christmas party and later on to have coffee at his residence. At his house he revealed he intended to contest a GRC and wanted me to consider joining his team. I told him I had a better idea and invited him, his wife, Lina, and my friend, Bentley Tan, to my house a week later to listen to my proposal.
At that meeting, we explored how we could help Mr Chiam leave a lasting legacy. With his problems with the SDA, all of us acknowledged that the public perception of Mr Chiam as a one-man show needed to be addressed. We wanted the public to remember Mr Chiam as the leader he was when he fought his first political battles and built SDP into a potent force, not someone who could not hold the SDA together. He needed to show Singapore he was magnanimous and had big ideas.
Bentley and I thought that the best organized and most resilient party at that moment was the SDP. They had a very dedicated and focused team, strong ideological backbone and intellectual muscle, and good resources. From what we sensed, they were not averse to working with Mr Chiam. In their annual dinner, their thirtieth anniversary magazine and at rallies, Mr Chiam was always acknowledged as the founder. In their video presentation about the party, that fact was always emphasised.
Both of us felt that if Mr Chiam rejoined the SDP to contest the GRC it would be a momentous and historic moment. He would be like a patriarch returning home to his roots. It would be the ultimate symbol of opposition unity. There would also be sense of reconciliation and closure. We believed the reaction from the public would be positive.
We assured him we could get Soon Juan to accept the idea. The Chiams agreed to an informal meeting with Soon Juan to see how they could work the thing out. I contacted Soon Juan and gave him a summary of my proposal. He agreed readily to meet up with the Chiams.
As election fever was in the air, with reporters snooping around, we decided the meeting should not be in public and chose the then Assistant Secretary-General John Tan’s house as the venue.
When we met at John’s house in January, the initial awkwardness gave way to a frank and cordial discussion. We proposed that Mr Chiam return to SDP as a mentor-like leader to lead a team to contest a GRC. No decision was reached that night and everyone was asked to return home and think about it.
A subsequent meeting was held at Trishaw Coffeehouse in Hotel Royal. In a matter of days, Chee and Chiam no longer had any reservations about meeting in public. Mr Chiam suggested this place because it was nostalgic as his old SDP had used it for their CEC meetings and made many important decisions there. That night again no firm conclusion was reached.
Two weeks later, there was another meeting at the coffeehouse. Mr Chiam finally said he was keen to go with the proposal to contest the next GE under the SDP. Dr Chee had no objection. He even showed that he had thought the whole thing through by bringing out a master plan listing out the sequence of events for Chiam’s homecoming. He would draft out Chiam’s speech to be released the following week on the SDP web-news at 6pm. This would be followed by Chiam’s official return at the SDP Annual Dinner…
Read Dr Wong’s chapter titled “Soon Juan: A Personal Perspective” as well as other contributors’ views of, and dealings with, Dr Chee. The book will be launched on 11 April 2015, Saturday.
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