Any error found in this essay is unintended and not malicious. Sources have been gleaned from Wikipedia and personal notes.
Singapore 2011 General election follows in the shadow of the
Opposition's historic win 20 years ago, back in 1991 when 4 Opposition
MPs were elected to Parliament. Three of them were from the SDP which
was led by Chiam See Tong which enabled CST to actually form a working
Parliamentary Opposition for the first time since the 1960s.
had proposed a non-confrontational style to the Opposition movement.
Unlike JB Jeyaretnam, he believed in a thoughtful considerate
(gentlemanly) approach to taking on the Ruling Party. It made common
sense, most Singaporeans acknowledged the good that the PAP had achieved
- public housing/transportation, and social + economic stability. To
aggressively hammer and criticize the government at every point and turn
would reduce the effectiveness of the tiny minority voice of the
Opposition. Eventually, Jeyaretnam paid the price and was ejected from
Chiam on the other hand stayed the course and
even won the respect of the Old Man himself who on occasion would seek
his opinion on policy. Maybe its because he was assured that he would
receive an independent rational response. PAP Ministers and MPs were
bemused to see LKY summoning CST - only to receive the laconic response
that he'll talk to the Founder of Modern Singapore after he got his
coffee!!! Chiam's straight talk, coupled with his lack of fear, un-cowed
nor overawed by the most august leader - gained CST a level of
influence not realized by other Opposition voices or even some PAP MPs.
it is, Chiam See Tong has lost his place in Parliament, neither was his
wife able to retain the Potong Pasir seat. A lot of Singaporeans are
upset but I don't see it as a zero-sum game, ie. "PAP won, Chiam See
Tong/Lina/ Potong Pasir residents/democracy :) lose".
years ago, when King Leonides and 300 Spartans (+Thespians allies etc)
dared to hold the Thermopylae pass against a million strong Persian
Army - it wasn't to "win" - to defeat the entire Persian Army. The point
was to hold off the enemy to buy time for the Greeks - Athenians,
Spartans etc.. to mobilize their armies. That Leonides' small band of
troops could stave off an enemy army vastly stronger in numbers - for
even a day, eventually three full days (before being overwhelmed), was a
The delay was a strategic disaster for
the Persians, a shameful humiliation. Xerxes was so furious he had the
Greek king's corpse ritually mutilated. Nonetheless, the battle put an
awful dread into the Persian heart for if a handful of Spartan soldiers
could hold them off for 3 days what more the entire Greek Army?
Leonides' and his 300 Spartans are remembered not for being annihilated
but for their bravery and for their honorable, incredible fight against
overwhelmingly odds. That in itself was the ultimate victory,
celebrated to this day, for which they have gained eternal fame and
So what if "Aunty Lina" lost Potong Pasir? That a
relatively unknown housewife (an "aunty") could audaciously fight a
three time PAP contender- who was promising millions of dollars in
incentives - and lose by a mere 114 votes (0.72%) - is victory enough.
also have to bear in mind the herculean fact that Chiam See Tong held
the seat for 27 years against a supremely stronger opponent!!! And the
political scene back then was considerably more harsher with situations
like "The Marxist Conspiracy", "Operation Cold Storage" slamming into
the news headlines. Chia Thye Poh, a member of the Barisan Sosialis, was
still under detention without trial under the ISA. That was the
political climate back then.
Despite the PAP threats,
cojoling, and recriminations, the people of Potong Pasir kept on voting
for their "Mr Chiam". Who would have thought that Singaporeans who are
said to be materialistic, self-centered etc.. would reject the promises
for HDB property up-grading, better amenities, and other public
services in favor for what exactly?
Chiam even fought off
Mah Bow Tan's electoral bid which perhaps caused the PAP not a small
amount of consternation as they did not field another high flyer
candidate in that seat ever again.
When the SDP won 3
seats in the 1991 GE. Chiam See Tong was riding high. For the first time
since the 1960s, there could, be a working Parliamentary Opposition - 3
SDP, 1 WP. It was very small but it all looked very promising.
came an Ephialtes moment, in 1993 Chiam faced a revolt against his own
leadership in the SDP - apparently led by his own protégé. There was
even a serious attempt to expel Chiam from the SDP which
was confounded due to a legal technicality. If it had succeeded, he
would have had to stand down from his seat in Potong Pasir. Since the
next election was sometime away (1997) perhaps someone from the SDP
hoped to take over Chiam's Parliamentary seat? A terrible thought
Its one thing to be thrown out of your seat by the
PAP, its quite another to be thrown out by members of your own
political party. Imagine the horror if the PAP expelled Lee
Kuan Yew from the PAP (and Parliament) because of remarks he had made.
!!! This bitter infighting certainly did not reflect well on the
Opposition movement; its no wonder the PAP has dominated Singapore's
political battleground for 50 years.
Eventually in the
next election, Chiam had to join another party, the SPP, and fight the
very party he founded (as well as the PAP). Amazingly, he still managed
to win. Not many Singaporeans remember this or perhaps they do since the
SDP has not won a single seat ever since that incident.
this General Election, its noteworthy to remember that Chiam in the
Bishan GRC managed to score a decent innings against the PAP. A
spectacular result considering the odds. Who would have thought that a
74 year old opposition politician stricken with stroke together with a
couple of unknowns could achieve a 43% result against the PAP team led
by a Deputy Prime Minister in the Heartland?
admirable that Chiam chose to step outside his comfort zone, despite his
immense frailties, and take on this almost impossible challenge. Would
you? A lesser man would have given up ages ago. But like King Leonidas,
Chiam See Tong has remained steadfast despite the odds.
Ruling Party, like the Persian Military Behemoth, won in the end but
certainly not convincingly. Like the 300 Spartans, the people of Potong
Pasir defied the odds. For 27 years, the people of Potong Pasir made its
point: "Don't tread on us." You can expect that the PAP will be making
good on its promises on the upgrading. You can also expect Potong Pasir
to be merged with another constituency before the next election. But if
promises are reneged - Potong Pasir will be like a porcupine fish
swallowed by the shark.
As for the magnificent win by the
Worker's Party in Aljuneid and the overall drop in the popular vote for
the Ruling Party I'll talk about that some other time.
the meanwhile, I'd like to end with a poem by Robert Graves - its a
satrical poem awash in irony. Purporting to tell the Persian version of
history, the parochial speaker casually and condescendingly dismisses
the Greek victory (the earlier one at Marathon) to focus on the "bigger
picture", avoiding any serious reflection on their defeat. I certainly
hope the sentiments are not shared by the PAP... for Singapore's sake.
Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer's expedition
Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece - they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together. -- Robert Graves
Bibliography, Notes, Sources