The ballad of Dr. Opposition Bad Boy and General (NS) Paper
In the past week, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan and former General/current Minister Chan Chun Sing have written no less than 4 letters to public mediums, all making reference to each other. The entire debacle is degrading into a rebuttal of rebuttals, so we ask: why is this important?
Well, it could be because THE ELECTIONS ARE COMING SOON. PROBABLY.
Here, we bring you a summary of the convoluted events that have led the two new best friends together. There’s so much drama, Jack Neo could make an entire trilogy (or even hexology!) of films about it.
We open at the start, where all good stories begin:
Episode I: The Opposition Menace (27 November 2014)
Dr Chee wrote in to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on 27 November criticising the income inequality present in Singapore. A particular bone of contention was the Government’s claim that a family could live on a monthly income of $1000 a month. Chee also criticised Singapore for placing monetary values on things like using incentives to increase or reduce the number of births.
Chee proposed an alternate vision for Singapore: one where privately-owned companies rather than public corporations would drive economic growth, better wage distribution, better protection of our elderly, a free media, and fair elections.
Chee also called on Singaporeans to “question authority and to build a capacity for collective reasoning and debate”.
Episode II: Attack of the Consul (2 December 2014)
A swift reply was issued just five days later, coming from Singapore ‘s Consul-General in Hong Kong, Jacky Foo. Foo called Chee’s letter “dishonest” because it was a one-sided piece that left out crucial pro-government facts. Foo also concentrated on rebutting Chee’s claims and proposed measures.
Why did the Hong Kong-based Consul-General step in to rebut CSJ’s claims about life in Singapore? We’re not quite sure ourselves.
In a jibe towards Singapore’s political opposition, Foo commented that it was merely because “Singaporeans have rejected them.”
Episode III: Revenge of the Chee (18 December 2014)
Chee replied Foo’s letter 15 days later in a post to The Straits Times forum, his stand unchanged. He once again placed emphasis on the points he brought up in his first letter. He also criticized the Government’s refusal to implement a minimum wage — a cornerstone of SDP’s political agenda.
Chee also mentioned that his forum letter eventually published in the WSJ was initially written to The Straits Times, but it was rejected.
Episode IV: A New Hope – Part 1 (16 January 2015)
In a letter published 16 January, Minister Chan Chun Sing rebutted Chee’s claim that his WSJ letter was rejected by state media, citing the fact that Chee had been published before by Singapore media. However, more objective minds will note that whether or not Chee had been published by the local press before is irrelevant, because the fact is, his WSJ piece was rejected.
CCS noted CSJ’s willingness to pander his subject matter according to the political affiliations of the publications carrying his pieces. CSJ’s storied past was also alluded to:
“Dr Chee has always been ready to sacrifice Singaporeans and Singapore if he can win points overseas. But older Singaporeans will remember that he was once dismissed from the National University of Singapore for misappropriating research funds. Above all, they will remember that Dr Chee betrayed his own mentor, Mr Chiam See Tong.”
– Chan Chun Sing
Episode IV: A New Hope – Part 2 (15 January 2015)
The mud slinging packaged nicely in apparent diplomacy did not stop there. Chan called out the Huffington Post on 15 January, taking offence with the fact that the website had published two pieces by Chee in 2014.
Chan attacked Chee’s (lack of) political might by pointing out that Chee lost badly all three times he stood for elections, and harped on SDP’s betrayal and ousting of former Chairman Mr Chiam See Tong.
Chan also suggested that Chee had to resort to foreign media because Singaporeans knew better than to give him a platform to speak out on, and that Chee had “beguile(d) [foreign media] into believing he is the Aung San Suu Kyi of Singapore politics”.
Read netizens’ response to the petty letter here.
Episode V: The SDP Strikes Back (16 January 2015)
Chee posted a response on SDP’s Facebook page just one day later, referencing Chan Chun Sing’s easy entry into politics. Chan began his political career in 2011 when he stood for election in the Tanjong Pagar GRC, an area known for its walkovers by the PAP due to the presence of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
CSJ also challenged the incumbent to a public debate:
“To this end, I repeat my invitation to Mr Chan and his PAP colleagues to debate me and my SDP colleagues on issues such as CPF, healthcare, housing population, education, etc that Singaporeans care about.”
Episode VI: Return of the (Chee Soon) Juan
In the latest development to this saga, Dr. Chee has also come out to accuse The Straits Times of refusing to republish his letter to Chan Chun Sing in full. According to Chee, the broadsheet wanted to remove three paragraphs, which CSJ termed as the “essence” of his letter. The letter was left unpublished until it appeared on the SDP’s website.
Here are the three controversial paragraphs:
If Mr Chan insists that I am undermining Singapore, then he should note that it is not I but Mr Lee Kuan Yew who, in an interview with National Geographic (a Western magazine), rather uncharitably likened Singaporeans to indolent animals where “spurs [had to be] stuck into the hide” to make us work harder.
It is not I but the PAP who are persuading young Singaporeans not to pursue a university education while giving foreign students generous financial grants to study at our universities.
It is not I but the Government who has allowed in millions of foreigners to work in Singapore at the expense of Singaporeans’ jobs and wages.
The entire letter can be read in full here.
No end in sight to saga
Although the PAP has dominated the Singapore political scene ever since Singapore gained independence in 1965, the growing discontent amongst Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, is likely to usher in an era of greater opposition presence.
Bread and butter issues like the CPF, healthcare, population and education systems in Singapore are expected to come under the spotlight, as the PAP faces calls for massive policy changes and restructuring that opposition parties have long called for.