Indomitable Chiam See Tong: My improbable hero

by: Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan/


I have often been unkind to Mr Chiam See Tong.

I have thought him too slow and too cautious in the renewal of his party.

However his doggedness, irrepressible optimism in the face of the apparent all-powerful PAP juggernaut and his indomitable spirit has finally convinced me that his is the truly amazing Singapore story that has been deemed impossible by many a cynical Singaporean.

Political Journey

Those who are old enough to remember (and who love Singapore) will remember Chiam’s humble beginnings as a lonely politician.

His political journey started in 1976 when as a 41 year old, he entered the General Elections as an independent candidate at Cairnhill against the “Father of Singapore public housing” Minister Lim Kim San. His political symbol then was the Horse and he campaigned with the help of a loud-hailer attached to his faithful red Volkswagen beetle. He lost but continued 3 more unsuccessful attempts before finally winning at Potong Pasir in the 1984 elections against a certain Mr. Mah Bow Tan.

The victory was especially sweet as, during one of the rallies at Fullerton Square, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked, ‘Who is this Chiam See Tong? We looked up his record and he has only got six Cs in his school certificate.’

Unfair treatment by establishment

It was perceived by neutrals that the traditional media did not accord Chiam proper respects as an elected representative as he was often depicted as less than an elegant orator and when he had internal party divisions within the Singapore Democratic Party that he founded, the media went about town making him look like someone who could not keep his own house in order.

However, in the more than 25 years as Potong Pasir’s MP ( 6 terms), he has never lost faith in his mission and the electorate had reciprocated time and again in returning him as its MP. This was despite of and in the face of all kinds of carrots and sticks that the PAP could think of including the much maligned “no upgrading for opposition ward” strategy.

Extraordinary outcome by an ordinary Singaporean

Despite all the scholarly talents that were at the disposal of the PAP, they did not take into consideration or perhaps underestimated the bond and kinship that the ordinary folks of Potong Pasir felt for “Ah Chiam” whom they consider as one of their own- an ordinary Singaporean with a very un-Singaporean mission of standing up against someone more powerful.

This is an edited version of the article which first appeared on ‘nofearSingapore‘. Dr Huang wrote this article during the General Election 2011 period.  We want to thank him for allowing us to reproduce the edited version of his article on TOC.

Have you bought the tickets for “Thank you, Mr Chiam!” An appreciation dinner organised by TOC?

There will also be an auction at TOC’s appreciation dinner, of limited edition portraits of Mr Chiam See Tong.


Starting bids are:
Black (1 set of two 24×24 inch canvas) – $600
Yellow (24×24 inch canvas) – $500
Red (18×18 inch canvas) – $300