Chiam steps down as SPP chief, ending storied political career

Singapore People's Party chairman Lina Chiam speaking to the media after leaving the party conference yesterday. She said her husband, Mr Chiam See Tong (above), "has given all he can for Singaporeans", and it is time for him to have a rest. ST PHOTO
Singapore People's Party chairman Lina Chiam speaking to the media after leaving the party conference yesterday. She said her husband, Mr Chiam See Tong, "has given all he can for Singaporeans", and it is time for him to have a rest. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Singapore People's Party chairman Lina Chiam speaking to the media after leaving the party conference yesterday. She said her husband, Mr Chiam See Tong (above), "has given all he can for Singaporeans", and it is time for him to have a rest. ST PHOTO
Singapore People's Party chairman Lina Chiam speaking to the media after leaving the party conference yesterday. She said her husband, Mr Chiam See Tong (above), "has given all he can for Singaporeans", and it is time for him to have a rest. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong, 84, has stepped down from the top 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 yesterday evening.

The Straits Times understands Mr Chiam's name was not put forward during a vote to elect the party's new central executive committee (CEC), in the session at its headquarters in Sin Ming Drive which lasted almost three hours.

His wife, Mrs Lina Chiam, 70, who is party chairman, was among 12 members elected to the CEC.

"Mr Chiam has given to politics for 40 years already, and I think it is time for him to have a rest. I think he has given all he can for Singaporeans," she told reporters.

She said Mr Chiam, who did not attend the session, 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 has to meet within three weeks to decide on key appointments and 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.

ST 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 unable to talk, but managed to shake hands with attendees.

In a statement, the SPP said: "We are confident 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."

 
 

Mr Chiam first ran for Parliament in 1976, losing the contest for the Cairnhill ward. After a failed bid for Potong Pasir in 1980, he was elected as its MP in 1984.

He went on to become Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP until the 2011 General Election, when he left his Potong Pasir stronghold to lead an SPP team that mounted an 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 election 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 left the alliance.

As Potong Pasir MP for 27 years, Mr Chiam has left a mark there even till today, with residents remembering his stint fondly.

Florist Woon Siew Ling, 72, who has been operating her shop at Block 146 Potong Pasir Avenue 1 since 1985, said 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 utility bills. And he never expected anything in return," she added.

Current SDA chairman Desmond Lim, who worked with Mr Chiam for 14 years in the Potong Pasir Town Council, said 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'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'Chiam steps down as SPP chief, ending storied political career'. Print Edition | Subscribe