Bukit Batok by-election

Chee pledges to speak up for ordinary Singaporeans

SDP held its fourth and final rally in Bukit Batok last night. Dr Chee said his "top priority" if elected will be to personally run the town council and keep it in "tip-top condition".
SDP held its fourth and final rally in Bukit Batok last night. Dr Chee said his "top priority" if elected will be to personally run the town council and keep it in "tip-top condition".ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

He says he is in touch with masses and understands their struggles

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said last night that he is not a member of the moneyed elite who is out of touch with the masses, in a final pitch to Bukit Batok residents to cast their vote for him in tomorrow's by-election.

He took aim at MPs and ministers over salaries, which he said "corrupt the spirit of public service" and repeated his pledge to, among other things, be a full- time MP.

He said he would be at the service of residents at any time - and not manage the town council "by remote control from Shenton Way".

Dr Chee, 53, was alluding to his rival in the contest, the People's Action Party's (PAP) Mr Murali Pillai, 48, who is head of commercial litigation at law firm Rajah and Tann, and others from the party.

He spoke of the elderly living alone or having to work in hawker centres - rather than enjoying their golden years - and said this has arisen here because MPs "don't speak for these people in Parliament". But he said he would do so for them and others, adding in Hokkien: "I live in an HDB flat in Toa Payoh, not a landed property. I buy things at the market and eat at the kopitiam. I understand the struggles of the people."

The SDP leader and speakers at last night's rally, the party's fourth for the hustings, also addressed the issue of character and whether it made Dr Chee suitable to be an MP.

Dr Chee spoke for an hour after several SDP members praised him as a leader who has soldiered on in spite of personal and political challenges he has faced over the years.

He said last night that this had been a "disappointing campaign" because PAP "spared no effort in engaging in the most revolting and vicious type of gutter politics".

He cited Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for having made the "worst attack", accusing Mr Lee of using "a made-up headline" in the Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao to attack him.

An interview that the newspaper ran last week with the headline "Chee Soon Juan does not regret 'crazy past'" was cited by Mr Lee when he spoke about Dr Chee's character at the weekend. The newspaper later revised the headline online to "Chee Soon Juan: I'm proud of my past" after SDP said Dr Chee did not use the phrase "crazy past".

Citing how Mr Lee mentioned the original headline, Dr Chee said: "How low does the PAP want to go?"

He also asked residents and supporters to be the party's "eyes and ears and voice" and to rebut any "falsehoods" in news reports today because it is Cooling-off Day and candidates cannot themselves campaign or address issues with voters.

Dr Chee recapped his campaign promises and plans to voters and said his "top priority" if elected will be to personally run the town council and keep it in "tip-top condition".

And he will ensure estate upgrading programmes and projects for new amenities like eldercare centres - including those promised by former PAP MP David Ong - roll out as planned. He also spoke of the social programmes he will implement if elected, including a legal clinic, and subsidised private tuition for students from lower-income families.

Repeating calls for retrenchment insurance and for Central Provident Fund savings to be returned to Singaporeans, he vowed to speak in Parliament to "push the PAP to act in your interests".

"The SDP does not take a back seat to the PAP, whether it is taking care of the town council or running programmes for the town, or coming up with ideas to help Singapore."

Dr Chee's fifth attempt to enter Parliament comes 24 years after his first bid in the 1992 Marine Parade by-election. He sat out two general elections as he was made a bankrupt after a defamation suit. He was discharged as a bankrupt in 2012.

Speakers last night testified to Dr Chee's strong character, compassion and determination to speak for the poor and needy despite obstacles he has faced.

Mr Khung Wai Yeen, who contested in GE2015 in Bukit Panjang, said in Mandarin: "Even with the PAP calling Dr Chee a liar, a psychopath, or saying he 'chut pattern' (a Singlish phrase suggesting he performed a lot of antics), Dr Chee kept telling us political newbies to focus on the issues and not follow what the PAP has done."

Ms Jaslyn Go, who stood in Yuhua, said that Dr Chee, who was sacked by the National University of Singapore in 1993, had "many opportunities" to live and work abroad and earn a good salary, but chose to stay here to fight for others "who have no voice".

"He works hard for these people without being paid. And he is not paid, not because he is worthless, but because he is priceless."

SDP central executive council member Paul Tambyah said Dr Chee has been fighting for a more open society that values freedom of expression, even when it was the difficult thing to do.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Chee pledges to speak up for ordinary Singaporeans'. Print Edition | Subscribe