SDP withdraws from Punggol East race in shock move

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan announces his party's withdrawal from the Punggol contest. (Yahoo! photo/Fann Sim)

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) are withdrawing from the race to contest the Punggol East by-election, a day ahead of Nomination Day.

In a surprise last-minute move announced on Tuesday, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said, "Singaporeans have signalled clearly that they do not want a multi-corner fight in Punggol East which may dilute the votes and allow the PAP to win."

"We hear the voices and have heeded them. ... We note the genuine concern that the PAP may return if there is a split in the opposition support between the SDP and WP. For this reason, we are stepping aside," Chee said.

The decision was made this morning after consulting Central Executive Committee (CEC) members in the party on Monday evening.

Flanked by SDP supporters at a hastily arranged media conference at a rain shelter at Jalan Gelenggang, Chee said, "We were trying to see if we could avoid a three-corner fight and that turned out to be not possible. As nomination day drew closer, people's mind became more focused and we heard loud and clear that there was a distinct concern that we would split opposition vote."

SDP had been expected to field a candidate for the single-member constituency but had also approached  fellow opposition party Workers' Party last week to field a "joint" candidate so as not to dilute the share of opposition votes.

But several attempts at meeting with WP officials were rebuffed and brushed off.

Just last week, the SDP collected political donation certificate and nominations forms from the Elections Department and had also been active on the ground.

'Not a publicity show'

Lecturer and social activist Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, 42, or doctor Paul Tambyah, 47, had been expected to be named as SDP's candidate.

Recognising that "this isn't a publicity show", Chee said that "we went all the way and things started to develop" but eventually decided pulling out was the right move.

He added that the party had covered almost every blocks in the constituency and two sets of publicity posters and flyers were printed for both Tambyah and Wijeysingha.

"If we were an opportunist party, we would have gone into the by-election".

Acknowledging that Singapore Democratic Alliance's Desmond Lim has since officially announced his candidacy and with Reform Party also expected to contest in Punggol East, Chee said he could only speak for SDP and left the rest to make their own decisions about a multi-cornered fight.

Moving forward, both candidates have indicated they would contest the General Election in 2016.

"I'm disappointed that we're not running -- the opportunity to serve the people -- that's all we've ever asked for. People have shown us that they don't want a dilution of the votes and our supporters have told us to conserve our resources for 2016," Wijeysingha said.

Credibility in question

However, political observer Siew Kum Hong told Yahoo! Singapore said the whole episode has damaged SDP's standing.

"The SDP's decision to not contest is an 180-degree turn from their previous statements... Voters will only elect parties that are credible and predictable; the SDP's statements and actions over the past 2 weeks show them to be neither," he said.

"Some people seem to think that the SDP has brilliantly played out some grand strategy in all this. In my view, the patently unworkable proposal of a joint campaign with the WP strongly suggests that there was no grand strategy. The SDP's standing has been tremendously weakened by all this."

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