Holland-Bukit Timah GRC

Chee's polls comeback after 14 years ends in defeat

Dr Chee Soon Juan (second from left) and his SDP team won just 33.4 per cent of the votes in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
Dr Chee Soon Juan (second from left) and his SDP team won just 33.4 per cent of the votes in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It was billed as his comeback after 14 years in the political wilderness and the talk was that Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan and his team contesting Holland-Bukit Timah GRC would give their People's Action Party (PAP) rivals a close fight.

But it was hardly close, and the SDP team won just 33.4 per cent of the votes - lower than its vote share in the last polls in 2011.

Despite Dr Chee's more moderate image this time round, some voters of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC said they remained unsure about him, given his past.

"Track record is important. One cannot change overnight," said Mr Ching Jianhong, 33, a Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School instructor.

Dr Chee, who had made his political debut at age 30 in a Marine Parade by-election in 1992, made headlines for going on a hunger strike in 1993. The former psychology lecturer did so to protest against his sacking from the National University of Singapore, claiming that it was politically motivated.

In 2001, he was sued for defamation by former prime minister Goh Chok Tong and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew for remarks he made during the elections that year. Dr Chee lost the lawsuit, became a bankrupt and was unable to take part in the last two elections.

But Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan felt it was premature to say that the election result is a "decisive rejection of Dr Chee".

"Voters are still getting to know Dr Chee," said Prof Tan, stressing that he was standing in an election for the first time since 2001.

"Voters are still wary of his past. He will need to show that the image makeover that went very well, especially with the online community, is something that is for real."

Despite the results, Dr Chee, 53, said he "remains hopeful".

At a press conference this morning, he said the SDP had "won a lot of hearts and hopefully that will put us in good stead as we go into the future, to the next elections".

Dr Chee contested the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC with medical professor Paul Tambyah, 50; compliance auditor Sidek Mallek, 55; and healthcare administrator Chong Wai Fung, 45. They were up against a PAP team led by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, 54.

Dr Chee had won favourable comments online for his rally speeches during the nine-day campaign, with the crowds at his rallies growing bigger each day.

When The Straits Times followed him and his wife around the polling centres in Bukit Panjang yesterday, voters were seen going up to greet and encourage him. One even stopped his car to ask for a photo with him.

"People get really excited during election time and especially at rallies, but their reactions to him would not necessarily translate into votes," Dr Chee's wife, Ms Huang Chih-mei, 53, said.

Despite the loss, Dr Chee, who has contested in three previous elections, saw the positive aspect of his run this time.

It was the first time that he has received such a warm reception from voters, he said. Previously, when voters saw him "it's like they've seen a ghost", he said.

Earlier during the day, his homemaker wife, Ms Huang, had told The Straits Times that whatever the outcome, she believes Dr Chee would take it in his stride.

"It's not the first time he has lost in an election. Unlike the other first-time candidates, who were more excited and anxious about the results, he is quite calm.

"And I have told him that he is 10 years younger than PM Lee. And he still has time."

• Additional reporting by Rennie Whang and Nur Idayu Suparto

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'Chee's polls comeback after 14 years ends in defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe