I am an opposition supporter but I have to say some hard truths. Dr Chee has lost 5 elections and even in a by-election, he failed to overcome the 40% threshold, despite being on the ground longer than his opponent, despite facing a less well-known minority race opponent and despite the David Ong scandal.
It is not a good sign for SDP if the party’s leader cannot get 40% even after 5 tries. Usually, the party leader is the one who pulls up votes, not pulls down votes. LTK, CST and JBJ could easily garner 40% of the votes.
Even a political lightweight from WP like Lee Li Lian could garner 41% on the first try in Punggol East, 54.5% on second try and 48.2% on the third try. Why? Because she has no baggage.
Everytime Dr Chee contests, whatever SDP’s message is, it won’t be heard. Because PAP will make the election a referendum on Dr Chee’s character and his past. Dr Chee’s past is a serious liability to SDP and it is pulling the party down.
Even though SDP has good policies and qualified professionals like Prof Tambyah, they are all doomed because the moment CSJ gives a speech, it becomes a referendum about his character. Individual SDP candidates cannot shine because any SDP contest becomes a debate on Chee Soon Juan. All it takes is for him to appear on stage and speak.
In GE2011, SDP did better without CSJ. New faces like Tan Jee Say, Michelle Lee and Ang Yong Guan were able to show a different side of SDP. And despite the leader now contesting and not being able to give a rally speech, SDP garnered a good share of votes everywhere. In both GE2015 and BE2016, the focus was entirely on CSJ. Every rally had him as the ‘anticipated’ last speaker and ended off with people garlanding CSJ and presenting him with bouquets.
This portrayal of CSJ as a martyr and a saint who is honoured by people is damaging to the SDP brand. SDP is not CSJ. In GE2011, SDP looked more credible and resilient. In GE2015 and BE2016, it regressed to a one-man party.
It might be time for SDP to shed the “Chee is a martyr whom we all admire” theme and elect a new charismatic leader. CSJ can remain as a member but SDP cannot afford to have him as the main face of the party.