By Mary Lee
One wonders what led the Singapore People’s Party leaders to re-elect a frail Chiam See Tong and his wife, who lost an Opposition stronghold in the last election, to head the party on Friday.
Chiam, 78 , commands a lot of admiration among Singaporeans for having been the longest-staying opposition member in Parliament (1984–2011).
However, he clearly does not have the stamina to lead a political party that is serious about contesting the next general election. He needs help walking. Mrs Lina Chiam, 65, his wife, lost Potong Pasir by 114 votes and is keeping the Chiam flag flying as a Non-Constituency MP.
She has retained the chairmanship of SPP and Chiam the post of secretary-general. None of the other 10 members of the party’s central executive committee are known leaders, so perhaps it was mainly a process of having known names as leaders.
The SPP itself had a difficult birth in 1996, in an ugly intra-party squabble when Chiam quit the Singapore Democratic Party, which has also floundering as an opposition group.
Alongside the old guard are fresh faces aged 27-29. Older members who could have challenged the Chiams for leadership left the party a year ago “citing differences in opinion over the SPP’s leadership style and direction”.
From social media responses, it seems that many Singaporeans will give their anti-PAP votes to the Chiams, although he failed to win the group constituency Bishan-Toa Payoh against the ruling People’s Action Party in 2011.
As a brand, the new SPP team has very little time — the next election must be held by January 2017 — to breathe life into a floundering party. It is time that the Chiams realised that.