Lessons For Dr Chee On His By-election Loss

Nocturnal pillow musings…

Dear TOC, well, in the course of my prognosticative enterprise of many an event, I had of course eaten humble pie; obviously this being the latest. As a relatively recent observer to up-close local politics, I bow to your percipient piece, pointedly illuming Chee’s doomed denouement. In his gracious concession speech last evening, Chee appeared too hurt to smile and too old to cry. Paraphrasing JFK: victory has a thousand fathers and defeat calls for postmortem. OK then let me here try give it a shot.

1. Laboring under a ‘perverted mechanism’ (your precise words not mine)…

The opposition just doesn’t have a prayer in a decidedly askew system, so goes the ululation. But wait a minute, take a gander at the world’s beacon of democracy namely the US election system. It is patently a kind of skewed primary system of delegacy in electing the party nominee for the presidential bid — you don’t need a Bernie or a Trump to telegraph the bemoaning of a rigged election system, all thanks to the establishment. Inherent in just about every electoral system are quirks and biases. Years back, I succinctly recalled LKY on Charlie Rose remarking to the effect that no one predominant ruling party anywhere would knowingly create rules for a level playing field so as to subserve its opponents. That said, I’m heartened to note that the days of collateral casualties following a hard-fought election — that required one to seek subsequent relocation elsewhere for refuge — are over for good, I trust.

2. The rough and tumble world of politics…

No election contest is complete without some rough and tumble. No doubt in this by-election personal punches were thrown. The question is whether they were below the belt. In all fairness to Prime Minister Lee, his playing hardball on the character issue was par for the course. That’s because it was a rejoinder to SDP’s initial sniping at David’s personal conduct. Whether deliberately orchestrated or otherwise, the gratuitous character bashing initiated by SDP stalwarts was a misstep for it simply opened the floodgates for comebacks, and PM Lee would be blind or tone-deaf to pass it up. However, the subsequent piling on of fusillade at Chee by PAP lieutenants may have proved counterproductive. If you ask me, Chee’s ‘soft’ counter-punching on the character issue by way of paralipsis was highly effective. But unfortunately, Chee was inadequate and ineffective in his reassurance to his constituent audience in matters relating to funding continuity for infrastructural upgrades if they were to consider his election… this is crucially where I believe the election was lost, and that brings me on to the next point.

3. To take or not to take from Chiam’s playbook…

If there was a working template for SRC opposition to follow, it might as well be Chiam’s. Here’s a pol who was the beloved of his constituents for 27 years, 18 of which he labored only part-time as their MP. Then I was dumbfounded to read what he said in his letter posted on TOC on April 24, 2012. In it, it says throughout his long tenure, ALL but one of his applications for government funding on project upgrades were given the thumbs down. The tone of his eye-popping letter was one of resignation; he surely did not seem to begrudge the absence of any such government ‘bounty’ but seemed rather to preen himself on making do with a shoestring for his constituents’ needs. Parsimony appeared to have pride of place in his list of accomplishments for his grateful PP voters who apparently were nothing loath to stomach such mediocrity for over a quarter century. He tellingly concluded his letter with the following, quote: “In any case, I am happy for my former residents to be able to get assistance and grants from the government now, to enhance their living environment in Potong Pasir.” (As an aside, if I were a longtime resident of BB, reading this letter would send chills down my spine; Chee had evidently failed to fully address this nagging concern that had to be lurking in the back of BB residents’ mind at the ballot box; a costly lesson learnt.)

4. Failure to overcome old baggage…

Chee’s failure to mend fences with his former political colleague(s) evidently did not bode well for him. Was the then breakup with his ex-party boss that acrimonious that 20 years on, Chiam still nurses a grudge against Chee, refusing him any endorsement? Or is Chiam just a mean-spirited curmudgeon after all?

5. A rolling stone not and all politics is local…

I agree that Chee needs to hunker down and set up permanent camp in a ward of his choice. Only then could he begin endearing himself to the constituents, a process that is labor-intensive and that takes time — the adage is worth repeating, a frequently re-planted tree yields little fruit. His image transition from a ‘rebel’ pol to one who is of the people and for the people at the local level will favor him going forward.

Finally, I’m not about to write Chee off just yet even after his 5th coming a cropper in 25 years. At only 54, he is nowhere close to becoming the Harold Stassen of Singapore; Stassen persisted in a total of 9 futile attempts at the US presidential bid. In the final analysis, it boils down to a question of opening; David’s dalliance was a godsend but which Chee wasn’t able to capitalize on. Just hang in there Dr. Chee, fortune would eventually favor the willing, able and prepared.


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