SINGAPORE ELECTIONS: SDP’S FUTURE
Here’s what the SDP contributed to GE2006: 2.2 points to the PAP’s vote share. If it had not contested at all, the PAP’s share would have been 64.4 percent, not 66.6. Voters have rejected the Singapore Democratic Party once again, but this is unlikely to be the end of the story. It is inevitable that the party will split, if not entirely disintegrate.
Really, the only surprise is that the SDP has cohered as long as it has. For several years, there’s been an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of the SDP leadership. The old SDP, represented by chairman Ling How Doong and other stalwarts, wants to win Parliamentary seats and knows from experience that the way to do this is by painstakingly cultivating the grassroots (even if in practice they lack the energy or resources to do it). The new SDP, led by Chee Soon Juan, is less interested in electoral politics. It is instead engaging in a long term struggle to transform political culture in Singapore.
Although these two missions sound complementary in theory, that’s only the case if there’s a conscious effort to balance them. Chee has made no such effort. It’s easy to understand why. Having been roundly rebuffed by voters in past polls, and now disqualified from contesting, he knows that his personal future lies with getting the attention and approval of foreign pro-democracy groups. Since these groups deal routinely with far larger and more brutal regimes than Singapore, Chee can only sustain their interest in him if he remains in the news as a victim of PAP authoritarianism. His repeated attempts to provoke the authorities – inviting fines, suits and even jail terms – seem crazy in the eyes of many Singaporeans, but are entirely rational when one realises who his real audience is.
Whether or not you agree with his strategy, the point is that it is at odds with the interests of the rest of the Opposition, including most of his SDP colleagues. I suspect that Chee was only tolerated by the likes of Ling because he was willing to do the work. At best, it was a live and let live relationship. It was a relationship that always looked vulnerable to pressure – and that pressure was provided by the PAP’s lawsuit, which forced SDP leaders to decide where their interests really lay.