There was once a man named Ah Chiam who decided to set up a company in 1980. Ah Chiam didn’t do well initially, and failed to get important contracts in his first four years. However, Ah Chiam secured his first breakthrough in 1984, and won his first major contract. His business picked up for the next few years, and more shareholders joined his company.
In 1992, Ah Chiam decided that he had to find a protégé to help expand his business. After all, Ah Chiam was starting to grow old, and was having a tough time competing against his rival company, Lightning Pte Ltd (which was a very big player that had been around since 1954). So in 1992, Ah Chiam recruited a promising young man called Ah Chee into the company.
In 1993, Ah Chiam and Ah Chee had a business conflict – they disagreed over the business direction. Ah Chee somehow managed to get the other shareholders to support him. Ah Chiam felt that this was a de-facto no-confidence motion against his leadership. Eventually, Ah Chiam decided to resign as the boss, but stay on as a shareholder in the business. After all, the company was his life’s work. The newbie Ah Chee then took over as boss.
However, in the same year, Ah Chee decided to sack Ah Chiam from the company entirely. An indignant Ah Chiam took this case to the courts, who subsequently ruled that Ah Chiam’s dismissal was invalid and unlawful.
In 1996, a heartbroken Ah Chiam decided to strike out on his own and leave the very company he first founded in 1980. Ah Chiam’s new venture continued to do well for another fifteen years before his semi-retirement, while Ah Chee’s business floundered.
Sounds familiar? The story, as reported in newspapers then:
Fired by NUS for misappropriation of funds and misconduct
“The university accused Chee of using Singapore $226 (US$137) from its research grant to send his wife’s academic papers by courier service to a U.S. university.”
– Reuters News, 31 March 1993
Maintained no wrong-doing and was fully justified in the use of funds
“He maintained yesterday that he had done no wrong. “I do not accept and will counter whatever reason the university may have for my termination,” he said.
– Business Times, 31 March 1993
Staged a hunger strike to protest situation
“Chee Soon Juan last night said he was going on a hunger strike from 6am today to protest against his dismissal from the National University of Singapore.”
– Straits Times, 5 April 1993
“There is a big question mark over why Dr Chee refuses to challenge the university’s action in court. Does he not have faith in the system in which he wants to be a player?”
– Straits Times, 7 April 1993
“If he feels so strongly that he was wrongfully dismissed, why can’t he take legal action against his employer? He should show the public some facts.”
– Straits Times, 8 April 1993
Chee will not take legal action against NUS
”I will not go to the courts and that is as far as I can say.”
– Straits Times, 5 April 1993
Chiam See Tong called for Chee to stop hunger strike
“SDP secretary general Chiam See Tong said on Monday night that the party fully supported Chee in what had been a personal decision, but believed his point had been made.”
– Reuters News, 6 April 1993
Chee drinks glucose water while on hunger strike
“He had said he would take only plain water when he began his protest on Monday. He began taking water with glucose yesterday, but denied emphatically that it meant that he was taking a source of food with his drinks.”
– Straits Times, 7 April 1993
Chee faces defamation lawsuits
“Chee Soon Juan, 30, assistant secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), said he had received a letter from lawyers for S Vasoo, his former department head at the National University of Singapore (NUS), claiming defamation and seeking a public apology and damages.”
– Reuters News, 24 April 1993
“Chiam quit after CEC vetoed censure move”
– Straits Times, 19 June 1993
Chee took over Chiam to become Secretary-General of SDP
“The statement came a day after Mr Chiam had revealed that the CEC had blocked him on many issues and that the differences had remained unresolved for some time now. He resigned as the party’s leader during a CEC meeting on May 17, when he was out-voted on a motion by him to censure Dr Chee for going on a hunger strike.”
– Straits Times, 28 June 1993
Chiam criticises Chee
“MR CHIAM See Tong has accused Dr Chee Soon Juan of usurping his post in the party and challenged him to resign if he really had not sought to lead it.”
– Straits Times, 3 July 1993
“Mr Chiam slammed the hunger strike as something that should not have been carried out, as hunger strikes had little place in modern Singapore. Many members of the public had approached him to criticise Dr Chee’s move as “stupid” and “childish”, he added.”
– Straits Times, 17 July 1993
Chee leads SDP to take disciplinary action against Chiam
“THE Singapore Democratic Party’s collective leadership has asked Parliament to consider stripping its former chief Chiam See Tong of the title “unofficial leader of the opposition”.”
– Straits Times, 3 August 1993
“The CEC is also planning to take disciplinary action against Mr Chiam, acting secretary-general Chee Soon Juan confirmed yesterday.”
– Straits Times, 3 August 1993
SDP sacks Chiam
“Singapore’s longest-serving opposition member of parliament, Chiam See Tong, has been expelled from the party he founded for breaching discipline and refusing to accept collective leadership, party officials said on Saturday. Officials of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said its Central Executive Council (CEC) had expelled Chiam, the party’s former secretary-general, on Friday.”
– Reuters News, 21 August 1993
Chiam does not accept sacking decision
“”The CEC has no legal authority to sack me from the party while the authority of the leadership is being questioned by the cadres,” said Mr Chiam, who resigned as party chief in May after a squabble with CEC members, and has since criticised the leaders in public.”
– Business Times, 21 August 1993
Chiam wins court order to keep seat in parliament for now
“CHIAM SEE TONG yesterday successfully obtained a court order against the Singapore Democratic Party’s central executive committee (CEC), in effect freezing the party sacking he received last Friday and thereby keeping his seat in Parliament.”
– Business Times, 26 August 1993
27 cadre members elect Chiam as head of new ‘CEC’
“TWENTY-SEVEN cadre members of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) members voted last night at a special meeting to dissolve the party’s “collective leadership” and to elect a new CEC with Mr Chiam See Tong as its chairman. In a dramatic turn of events, they also passed a unanimous resolution to “retract” Mr Chiam’s expulsion from the party.”
– Straits Times, 29 August 1993
Chee leads court order against Chiam
“SINGAPORE Democratic Party Acting Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan said yesterday the party had obtained a temporary court order restraining Chiam See Tong, Sin Kek Tong and nine other persons from “pretending” to be the SDP chairman, secretary-general and central executive committee members.”
– Business Times, 1 September 1993
Chiam challenges explusion from SDP
“THE High Court has set aside five days, from Nov 15, to hear Mr Chiam See Tong’s legal suit challenging his expulsion from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).”
– Straits Times, 9 September 1993
“Singapore opposition MP’s expulsion illegal – court.”
– Reuters News, 10 December 1993
Chiam keeps parlimentary seat
“SINGAPORE, Dec 10 (Reuters) – The High Court ruled on Friday that the expulsion of Singapore’s longest-serving opposition member of parliament, Chiam See Tong, from his own party in August was illegal and invalid. The ruling allows Chiam to keep his parliamentary seat.”
– Reuters News, 10 December 1993
Chee drops defence in defamation suit
“OPPOSITION politician Chee Soon Juan has abandoned his defence in a defamation suit brought against him by his former boss and an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, Dr S. Vasoo. His decision to do so is, in effect, an admission that he has defamed Dr Vasoo.”
– Straits Times, 18 February 1994
SDP to pay costs to Chiam
“THE High Court yesterday fixed the costs in Mr Chiam See Tong’s recent successful suit against the Singapore Democratic Party at $101,845, including disbursements.”
– Straits Times, 23 February 1994
Let’s fast forward the story 22 years later. So yesterday, SDP held a press conference to clarify matters surrounding the conflict between Mr Chiam and Dr Chee. The matter must have stung and irritated Dr Chee a lot for him to call a press conference all of a sudden.
Dr Chee said that he needed to clarify matters because the PAP has been using the issue to attack him. Dr Chee maintained his innocence that he did not oust Mr Chiam out of SDP, and that SDP had asked Mr Chiam to return to the party.
But Dr Chee did not address the crux of the matter – what were the circumstances then that forced Mr Chiam to quit a party that he founded, and did Dr Chee do right by Mr Chiam?
Here’s three points of rebuttal to Dr Chee:
- The way I see it, Dr Chee is playing with words. Dr Chee technically didn’t formally oust Mr Chiam as Secretary-General. There wasn’t an official motion to remove Mr Chiam as Secretary-General. But Dr Chee made things extremely difficult for Mr Chiam, and turned parts of the party hostile towards Mr Chiam. Mr Chiam was forced to resign as Secretary-General.
What Dr Chee did was akin to a company suggesting that an employee should leave and making conditions very harsh for him, and maintaining that the employee was not retrenched as he resigned voluntarily. Jialat, don’t even get retrenchment benefits.
It is clear from the news reports in the 1990s that there was fierce party infighting after Dr Chee joined SDP in 1992. There was a clear contestation of wills over the direction of the party. It is difficult to determine who was right or wrong, but the key personalities in both camps can hardly be absolved of any blame or responsibility. So why is Dr Chee trying to make himself seem innocent and wriggle out of it?
- It is ironic that Dr Chee said that PAP was trying to use Mr Chiam to destroy him, when Dr Chee was the one who tried to destroy Mr Chiam’s political career in the first place?
As if forcing Mr Chiam to resign as Secretary-General wasn’t enough, SDP (under Dr Chee’s leadership) tried to expel Mr Chiam from the very party he founded – a move that would make Mr Chiam lose his Potong Pasir parliamentary seat. Luckily for Mr Chiam, the courts ruled that his dismissal from SDP was illegal.
There is a Chinese idiom called “赶尽杀绝”, which roughly translates to ‘eradicating/destroying completely in a ruthless manner’. Quite an apt description I’d say.
- So Dr Chee said that PAP has been using Mr Chiam. But hasn’t Dr Chee been making use of Mr Chiam as well?
He hijacked Mr Chiam’s party agenda and took over as Secretary-General. If Dr Chee had been honourable, he wouldn’t have joined Mr Chiam’s SDP in the first place given vast ideological differences. He would have set up his own party instead. But Dr Chee chose to take a short cut – by joining the biggest opposition party at that time (SDP held three parliamentary seats when Dr Chee joined), and forcing its leader out. Yes, like a fifth column.
More recently, SDP has also been using Mr Chiam to create the impression that they’ve patched up. SDP used a picture featuring both Mr Chiam and Dr Chee in one of their party publications last year. The SDP then flooded Bukit Batok SMC with this said publication during the Bukit Batok by-election a couple of weeks ago. Quite clear what SDP was trying to do, and Mrs Lina Chiam stepped in to clarify that Mr Chiam had not endorsed Dr Chee for Bukit Batok. During last year’s General Elections, SDP drummed up the narrative that they have offered Mr Chiam an olive branch, and invited Mr Chiam back to SDP. Again, using Mr Chiam to create a better image among voters. Mrs Lina Chiam has since disputed this.
In any case, we have heard a lot about the tale of Ah Chiam and Ah Chee from SDP. We are look forward to hearing what the Chiams have to say. According to Mrs Lina Chiam, a forthcoming book – part two of Mr Chiam’s biography – will reveal all.
Stay tuned for more popcorn time.
Cover picture from TodayOnline