I was running against the media and state machinery: Chee

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, seen here with his wife Huang Chih-Mei, thanking the party’s supporters at Bukit Gombak Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Nair)

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said the Bukit Batok by-election campaign was an uphill battle, given that he was up against the combined might of “the media” and “the state machinery” in an “undemocratic society”.

Chee said his fellow party members could hold their heads high as they had run a clean campaign, unlike the  PAP which had campaigned on “false headlines”.

He added that he was “very encouraged” by the vote swing towards the SDP and also pledged to continue to be active in Bukit Batok, in order to garner more support for the party.

The political veteran won 38.8 per cent of the vote in the Single-Member Constituency, losing out to the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate Murali Pillai’s 61.2 per cent of the 23,570 valid votes cast.

This was a significant improvement on the results from the 2015 General Election, when SDP candidate Sadasivam Veriyah garnered just over 26 per cent of the vote.

After the results came in on Saturday (7 May) night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook: “This is not just a win for Bukit Batok, but shows all Singaporeans, and others too, that the government and people are united in a building a better nation together.”

Speaking to reporters at a doorstop, Chee responded to Lee’s comments: “If you wanted to say this and you campaigned on this, and you won on this, it’s a very different story. But when you campaign on false headlines, what else can you say? When Wanbao does things like that and people start all these kinds of smear (efforts)… and then you say you want to appeal to a better nation?”

The SDP chief was alluding to a Lianhe Wanbao article that had said Chee was proud of his “crazy past”. The headline was later amended when Chee denied uttering that phrase.

He added in Mandarin: “I cannot understand it, how the journalist and editor managed to print a headline based on something I did not say. If we had a professional media with high standards, this would be a sackable offence.”

(Video by Jeremy Ho)

The supporters speak

A party volunteer, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said he was disheartened as he thought Chee had a “fighting chance” against Murali. He added: “We will carry on doing the ground work, and see what the next party objective is.”

Actress Neo Swee Lin, who spoke at one of the SDP’s rallies, told Yahoo Singapore that she was hopeful despite the result. “I know Dr Chee will keep coming back. I have hope because there were more voting for the SDP this time,” she said.

SDP supporters react following the release of the by-election results. (Photo: Joseph Nair)

Analysts weigh in

Sharing his thoughts on the by-election results, National University of Singapore political scientist Reuben Wong said: “I think the SDP’s vote share was disappointing for them because they were playing to win and… were quite far off the mark. For me you need to hit 40 per cent.”

He noted that the vote swing was “not a big deal” as the “by-election effect in Singapore is strong”, with the PAP having lost every by-election for single-seat wards since 1981.

Regarding Chee’s leadership of the SDP, Wong said: “If he (Chee) continues leading the SDP and they continue to have these kinds of results in elections, there will probably be numbers in the party looking for a change in leadership. People don’t want to be in a losing team.”

He added: “My suspicion is that somebody who doesn’t attract that kind of negative vibe as Chee Soon Juan would have done better.”

Also weighing in was Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, who said that the SDP “came out better” for all their efforts in the by-election.

“Given that he (Chee) was able to move one out of 10 voters who voted for the PAP just eight months ago, (which) contributed to his best electoral performance … he can claim it was a successful campaign,” he said.

Despite not hitting the 40 per cent mark in terms of the vote share, Tan said the results give the Chee a “good base on which he can build”.

“I think he (Chee) needs to stop moving around… He needs to show his sincerity and commitment to one constituency,” he said.