Chiam See Tong steps down as SPP secretary-general, effectively ending political career

Chiam See Tong (centre) during the 2011 general election. (FILE PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Chiam See Tong stepped down as secretary-general of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) on Wednesday evening (16 October), effectively ending his career as one of the most prominent opposition politicians in Singapore.

The 84-year-old, who has been in ill health in recent years, relinquished his post during SPP’s ordinary party conference at its Sin Ming Road headquarters.

“The Party would like to send its best wishes to Mr Chiam See Tong for his decades of service to the party and to Singapore,” SPP said In a post put up on its Facebook page on Thursday.

According to The Straits Times, Chiam’s name was not put forward during a vote for the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). He remains as a party member.

"Mr Chiam has given to politics for 40 years already, and I think it's time for him to have a rest. I think he has given all he can for Singaporeans," his wife Lina told reporters after the conference, which Chiam did not attend.

Long and well-respected political career

Chiam began his political career in 1976, when he first ran for Parliament, losing in the Cairnhill constituency.

He is best known as the Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir from 1984 to 2011, becoming the second opposition politician after J.B. Jeyaratnam to be voted into Parliament after Singapore’s independence.

He assumed leadership of the SPP in December 1996, after leaving his previous party, the Singapore Democratic Party. In 2001, he set up the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), a group of opposition parties working under one banner to contest the general elections that year.

However, he was removed as SDA chairman in 2011 as he was unable to attend regular party meetings, after a stroke in 2008 took a toll on his health. The SPP subsequently quit the alliance.

He made a rare public appearance in August at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner. He was in a wheelchair and was unable to talk, but managed to shake hands with attendees, including guest-of-honour Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

ESM Goh had said during the gala dinner that Chiam was a “well-meaning, decent and honest politician and Member of Parliament”.

Individual CEC positions to be decided

Lina Chiam, who is the party chairman, remains in the 12-member CEC. SPP said that individual positions within the committee will be decided following its first meeting, which has to be within three weeks.

The CEC members are: Lina Chiam, Jose Raymond, Steve Chia, Ariffin Sha, Eman Lim, Williiamson Lee, Kathleen Cheong, Ong Ming Hui, Yong Seng Fatt, Shahir Shahfie, Ng Theng Lim and Jalil Wari.

“We are confident that the renewed party leadership will uphold the Party motto of 'Service Before Self', and always have the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart,” SPP said in its Facebook post.

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