SDP yet to decide who to field but could choose Chee Soon Juan

Dr Chee greeting a resident during the SDP's walkabout in Bukit Batok yesterday. He said the party hopes other opposition parties will not contest the seat as it is "looking forward to a one-on-one contest with the PAP".
Dr Chee greeting a resident during the SDP's walkabout in Bukit Batok yesterday. He said the party hopes other opposition parties will not contest the seat as it is "looking forward to a one-on-one contest with the PAP".ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan may contest the Bukit Batok by-election, but the party has not decided who to field, he said yesterday.

Dr Chee added that the SDP was still considering all possible candidates, including himself.

The party wasted no time in staking its claim to contest the single- member constituency by walking the ground there the morning after Mr David Ong resigned as MP and from the People's Action Party (PAP), citing personal indiscretion.

"We are going to not wait for the starting gun. We are going to start campaigning already, and that is going to be an important step for us," Dr Chee told reporters before the one-hour walkabout.

Several SDP candidates in last year's general election were present to greet residents who were having breakfast at coffee shops or buying groceries. They included former teacher Sadasivam Veriyah, who stood against Mr Ong in the last election. He got 26.4 per cent of the votes, while Mr Ong won 73 per cent in a three-way race also contested by independent Samir Salim Neji.

Residents were cordial towards the SDP members.

Laboratory technician Lee Soo Seah, 49, a Bukit Batok resident for over 20 years, said she was waiting to see which parties were contesting and what they had to offer. But Mr Ong's conduct would not affect her vote, she said. "It is his personal matter and nothing to do with the PAP. It is a pity to lose a good MP, but every party has its own rules, so it is unavoidable that he must resign."

Accountant Crystal Soo, 42, who has been living in the area for 15 years, said she was hoping for a smooth transition to the new MP. "We have seen progress in the neighbourhood and want it to continue."

Dr Chee said the SDP hoped other opposition parties will not contest the seat as it was "looking forward to a one-on-one contest with the PAP". He pointed out that the SDP had contested Bukit Batok in 1988 and 1991 before it was redrawn into a group representation constituency, and also when it became a single seat last year.

But most of the opposition parties contacted by The Straits Times yesterday said they were not ruling out a bid for the single seat. The Workers' Party - the only opposition party with a presence in Parliament - declined to comment.

The Democratic Progressive Party said it was keen to contest and was discussing the matter. The Singapore Democratic Alliance said it would wait for the by-election to be called before making a decision.

The People's Power Party said it would reach out to the SDP first before considering the matter.

Only the Singaporeans First party ruled out running for the seat, citing the SDP's prior contest there.

Dr Chee did not dwell on Mr Ong's resignation, other than saying it was an "unfortunate episode" and Mr Ong's family's wish for privacy should be respected.

He said the focus should now be on the by-election to replace Mr Ong, and the campaign should revolve around bread-and-butter issues Singaporeans care about.

But Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam was not satisfied with the PAP's explanation of Mr Ong's decision to quit, saying questions should be asked of its selection process after two cases of infidelity by PAP MPs in four years. Then Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer stepped down in December 2012 after admitting to an affair.

Chong Zi Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'SDP yet to decide who to field but could choose Chee'. Print Edition | Subscribe