SINGAPORE - Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong, 84, has stepped down from his leadership post at the Singapore People's Party (SPP), bringing to an end a storied political career spanning more than four decades.
He relinquished his post as secretary-general at the SPP's biennial Ordinary Party Conference on Wednesday (Oct 16) evening.
The Straits Times understands Mr Chiam's name was not put forward during a vote for the party's new central executive committee (CEC), during the session at its headquarters in Sin Ming Drive which lasted almost three hours.
His wife, Lina Chiam, 70, who is the party chairman, was among 12 members elected to the party's CEC.
"Mr Chiam has given to politics for 40 years already, and I think it's time for him to have a rest. I think he has given all he can for Singaporeans," Mrs Chiam told reporters after the session, which Mr Chiam did not attend.
She said Mr Chiam will remain as a party member.
"The meeting went on very amicably. Everybody was like a family, and we all voted consciously and happily."
The SPP's new CEC members include law undergraduate Ariffin Sha, 22, Mr Jose Raymond, 47, who heads a communications firm, and Mr Eman Lim, 39, director of corporate development in a training consultancy.
Mr Raymond said the new team would have to meet within three weeks to decide on key appointments, and also the party's future direction.
Mrs Chiam had indicated early last month that the party leadership would be handed to a younger team, ahead of the SPP's 25th anniversary in November.
The Straits Times had previously reported that the front runners to fill the role of secretary-general are Mr Raymond and organising secretary Steve Chia, 48, a former Non-Constituency MP from the National Solidarity Party.
Mr Chiam last made a public appearance at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner in August. He was in a wheelchair and was unable to talk, but managed to shake hands with attendees.
In a statement, the party said: "We are confident that the renewed party leadership will uphold the party motto of service before self and always have the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart."
A STORIED CAREER
Mr Chiam first ran for Parliament in 1976, losing the contest for Cairnhill ward. After a failed bid for Potong Pasir in 1980, he was elected as its MP in 1984, defeating PAP candidate Mah Bow Tan who would later go on to become a Cabinet minister.
Mr Chiam went on to become Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP until the 2011 general election, when he left the Potong Pasir stronghold to lead a SPP team for a unsuccessful bid for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
He had stepped down as Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader in 1993 due to internal disagreements with a faction led by then-protege Chee Soon Juan.
He later joined the SPP, which was set up by a breakaway SDP faction, assuming leadership of the party in December 1996.
In 2001, he set up the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), a group of opposition parties working under one banner to contest the general elections that year.
He was removed as SDA chairman in 2011 as he was unable to attend regular party meetings, after a stroke in 2008 took a toll on his health.
The SPP subsequently quit the alliance.
As Potong Pasir MP for 27 years, Mr Chiam has left a mark there even until today, with residents remembering his stint as MP fondly.
Florist Woon Siew Ling, 72, who has been operating her shop at block 146, Potong Pasir Avenue 1 since 1985, said that Mr Chiam regularly walked around the estate and was very caring.
"Some of my customers have shared that he helped them out of his own pocket, such as when they could not pay their water bills or town council utilities bills. And he never expected anything in return," she said.
Even among his political rivals, Mr Chiam's actions and attitude has brought him much respect.
During the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner in August, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said Mr Chiam was a "well-meaning, decent and honest politician and Member of Parliament".
Current SDA chairman Desmond Lim, who worked with Mr Chiam for 14 years in the Potong Pasir Town Council, said his former mentor believed the country always came first, and when representing Singapore abroad in a delegation, "you must toe the national line".
Mr Lim added that Mr Chiam took his Meet-the-People sessions (MPS) very seriously, helping residents to write appeal letters even for cases he knew had little chance of success.
"He would say, 'Look, if a resident makes an effort to come to the MPS, it means they really need help. As an MP, even if you know the outlook of the case is not positive, you still need to give them hope. Try your best, write a good appeal letter, and never ever turn away any residents'."