Chee Soon Juan responds to Singapore minister's letter to Huffington Post

SDP’s secretary-general Chee Soon Juan is one of the four SDP members convicted of being part of an illegal assembly in 2008. (Yahoo! file photo)

[UPDATED on Friday, 16 January 2015 at 2pm: Adding response from Chee Soon Juan]

Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP)'s practice of "stigmatising failure" and of "engaging in mud-slinging" is "troubling", says Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

In a post published on the website of the Singapore Democratic Party, which he leads, Chee was responding to a letter from social and family development minister Chan Chun Sing to American news portal Huffington Post.

On Thursday evening, Chan sent a strongly-worded letter addressed to the left-leaning news aggregator and commentary outlet, published in full on local broadcaster Channel NewsAsia, where he outlined Chee's failures in politics and elsewhere.

Chan's letter was triggered by two articles by Chee that were published on Huffington Post, one of which criticised the Singapore government's control of the local news media.

Agreeing with Chan that he had "not succeeded" thus far, Chee said he had "instead undertaken to speak up for the people of Singapore in what was, to put it mildly, a very difficult political terrain", adding that he was still proud of what he had achieved.

"Even if I have failed in Mr Chan's eyes, he must resist the urge to denigrate," he wrote. "We must not be afraid to fail."

He said he found Chan's comments about him troubling because it reflects the PAP's "outdated practice of stigmatising failure", which he finds unfortunate, as well as the party's "habit of engaging in the politics of name-calling and personal destruction".

"It is disappointing that the younger generation of ministers like Mr Chan has not set a new direction for the conduct of politics in Singapore instead of relying on that of a bygone era," he added.

"How does calling me a failure help to solve the problems that Singaporeans face? The more the PAP engages in mud-slinging and ignore(s) the grave problems that confront our nation, the more dire will be the lot of our people," he said.

Undue credence given?

On Thursday, Chan said the Post had given Chee "considerable but undeserved attention and space", in light of them previously publishing two articles written by Chee, who said he was "silenced" in Singapore's mainstream media.

"You perhaps believe that he is a weighty political figure in Singapore. He is nothing of the kind," he added, noting that Chee had stood in three elections and "lost badly all three times, once receiving just 20 per cent of the vote".

Chee betrayed his political mentor Chiam See Tong, who founded the SDP in 1980 and brought the then National University of Singapore lecturer into it in 1992, by isolating and forcing Chiam out of the party, the minister alleged.

Chee subsequently failed to win any seats in parliament although the latter won elections repeatedly afterward, Chan pointed out.

Chan also highlighted that Chee was dismissed from his teaching post at NUS in 1993 "for misappropriating research funds and for other serious misconduct".

Also, in 1996, Chee and three others were convicted of perjury in Parliament for submitting false statements to a special parliamentary committee, the minister added.

"As he has done in the past, he has looked to the foreign media for redemption, chiefly because foreign journalists don't know him as well as Singaporeans and he believes he can beguile them into believing he is the Aung San Suu Kyi of Singapore politics," Chan wrote.

"Dr Chee's problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans. His problem is that they have," he concluded.

Chan's salvo against Chee comes after Huffington Post ran two articles by Chee, titled "Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade" and "Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go", where Chee argued for the prioritisation of human rights alongside free trade agreements and the expansion of press freedom in Singapore respectively.

In the second article, Chee referenced a piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, which also received a response from the government saying it was "dishonest".

Last Saturday, the SDP unveiled its political campaign and party manifesto in anticipation of what some believe could be an early general election this year as well.