Singapore GE2020: SDA chairman to step down after election

Desmond Lim says next generation is ready; party's chief media officer expected to take over

KELVIN ONG SOON HUAT, 34
KELVIN ONG SOON HUAT, 34PHOTO: SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE
KUSWADI ATNAWI, 57
KUSWADI ATNAWI, 57PHOTO: SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE

Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chairman Desmond Lim Bak Chuan, 53, will be stepping down from his position after the general election.

Mr Lim told The Sunday Times that this will be the last election campaign that he leads, adding that he believes the party's younger generation is ready to take over.

"After this election, I will hand over to my successor," he said during a walkabout in Pasir Ris-Punggol yesterday, where the party also introduced its candidates.

The Sunday Times understands that the SDA's chief media officer Harminder Pal Singh, 48, will step up to become party chairman.

Mr Lim said: "I have done my part... It's time for a more talented, more capable person to take over, and I hope that the next generation of SDA leaders will bring the party to new heights."

He will remain a party member after he steps down, and continue to share his skills and experience with younger party members. And while he will no longer take a leading role, Mr Lim did not rule out the possibility of standing in another election.

Mr Lim made his electoral debut in the 2001 General Election and has contested every election since.

He is known in opposition circles as an affable character who is always trying to come up with new ways of campaigning.

During the 2013 Punggol East by-election, Mr Lim put up a series of videos as part of what he called an "online rally". The videos were mocked because of his bad diction, but Mr Lim said then that he should not be judged on his command of the language, but more on how he could help others.

He was considered Mr Chiam See Tong's protege at the SDA, which Mr Chiam had set up, before a falling-out in 2011 led the older politician to pull the Singapore People's Party out of the alliance. Mr Lim became SDA's secretary-general in 2009 before taking over as party president in 2011.

Mr Lim said during the walkabout yesterday that he had honoured Mr Chiam's legacy in his work at the SDA. At the same walkabout, Mr Singh said that the SDA has been reaching out to the Peoples Voice (PV) party to discuss if a three-cornered fight in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC can be avoided in the election.

PV chief Lim Tean had said on Thursday that his party will be contesting the Pasir Ris-Punggol group representation constituency as well as Jalan Besar, Pioneer, Mountbatten and Punggol West.

Mr Singh said SDA will not cede ground, given that the party has contested in Pasir Ris-Punggol in the last two elections. "We had very good support from residents... and to just leave them and desert them would be very unfair," he added.

The People's Action Party won Pasir Ris-Punggol in GE2015 with 72.89 per cent of the vote, up from 64.79 per cent in GE2011.

The SDA slate for the upcoming election will include two new faces as well as Mr Lim, Mr Singh and Singapore Malay National Organisation president Abu Mohamed, who ran in GE2015.

A party statement yesterday said that its two new candidates, operations manager Kelvin Ong Soon Huat, 34, and electrical engineer Kuswadi Atnawi, 57, had been part of its walkabouts and charity work.


NEW CANDIDATES

KELVIN ONG SOON HUAT, 34

Operations manager

Mr Ong hopes to address the rising cost of living if he is voted into Parliament. More alternative voices are needed in the legislature, said Mr Ong, who joined SDA in 2015 to help out with its contest in the election then.

"We need to have a voice in Parliament to raise concerns about housing, employment and retirement and Central Provident Fund issues, " he told The Sunday Times. More checks and balances on policies and Bills are also needed, he added.

Mr Ong, who is an operations manager contracted by a town council, said: "We will be full-time (MPs) if we are voted into Parliament."

The Institute of Technical Education graduate is married with no children.


KUSWADI ATNAWI, 57

Electrical engineer

Employment issues top the list of issues Mr Kuswadi hopes to address. He said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused Singaporeans to lose job security, and he hopes to find ways to help build up their confidence in securing good jobs. More job opportunities will also need to be provided, he added.

Other issues he hopes to tackle through Parliament include housing, transport and the rising cost of living. He has been distributing lunches and masks amid the pandemic to Pasir Ris-Punggol residents as part of his outreach in SDA. He is also information head at PKMS, one of SDA's component parties.

The divorcee with six children has a diploma in electrical engineering from Singapore Polytechnic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline 'SDA chairman to step down after election'. Subscribe