On May 9, The New Paper published the article, “Best showing, but should Dr Chee be going?” by its reporter Foo Jie Ying. The report featured prominent academic Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University (SMU) who was also a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP).
In addition, a separate article titled “Law prof: Chee lacks staying power” appeared as a sidebar to the main story, also carrying the views of Prof Eugene Tan.
Few people expect high-level journalism from a tabloid like The New Paper. But for an academic to make unsubstantiated and biased comments in the two articles is not an acceptable practice in the academic community.
Below are some examples of Prof Tan’s bizarre tirade:
Example 1: “[Dr Chee is] trying to milk voters’ sympathy. He was trying essentially to reinforce that he has been persecuted – not only him, but his entire family has had to suffer, and so that’s why he’s deserving of people’s support.”
Dr Chee has been vilified, sued, bankrupted, jailed by the PAP in the past 24 years in his work to advance democracy in Singapore. All this has come at a huge personal cost to himself and to his family. However, he has never used that as grounds for support – least of all in this the Bukit Batok by-election campaign.
Dr Chee himself was the one to call for the campaign to focus on issues. It was PAP’s Grace Fu who said that Dr Chee was not fit to run a Town Council because he was ununemployed.
This elicited a stern response from Singaporeans who saw Ms Fu’s attack as below the belt. Dr Chee then explained that he chose to remain in Singapore to continue with the political fight instead of leaving for other countries which would have allowed him to continue his academic career.
To say that Dr Chee is now trying “to milk voters’ sympathy” flies in the face of reality and is an insult to a loving and supportive family who has stood by Dr Chee through all the years.
Example 2: “The law don [Prof Tan] said he also saw Dr Chee’s hunger for power in the by-election. When the People’s Action Party (PAP) incumbent MP David Ong resigned, Dr Chee was the one who decided he would contest in the by-election. ‘He made the decision on his own accord. Unless he did a CEC (central executive committee) meeting over the phone,’ [Prof Tan] said. Calling SDP Dr Chee’s alter ego, he said: ‘The election was not about the party, or even the voters. It was all about him.’”
SDP CEC meetings are internal party meetings that non-CEC members and particularly non-members are not privy to. We are curious to know how Prof Tan came to the conclusion that no CEC meeting was called to discuss the candidacy for the Bukit Batok by-election.
It is quite shocking for an academic to make such a statement when he has no knowledge of how the decision for the SDP’s candidate for the by-election was made.
For the record, an extraordinary CEC meeting was held on 16 March 2016 to decide on the SDP’s candidate for the by-election and it was a unanimous decision of the CEC to field Dr Chee.
Being an academic myself, I am appalled at how a law professor from the SMU could mount such a vicious attack on Dr Chee without even bothering to check the facts.
Example 3: “I have never seen [Dr Chee] sitting down to help people work through their issues. He has never really held a Meet-the-People Session. He’s not interested in helping people. He’s interested in getting elected into office.”
This is the kind of language we would expect from the PAP but certainly not from an academic. How does Dr Chee hold a Meet-The-People (MTP) Session when he is not an MP? As for non-MTP Sessions, we had organised events in the past to meet with residents and listen to their problems but was stopped by PAP town councils.
If Prof Tan had bothered to check with us, he would have found out that the SDP had made arrangements for one of the residents in Bukit Batok who was an amputee to receive a prosthetic leg. In addition, the SDP tried to organise health-screening for Bukit Batok residents only to be stopped by the Jurong-Clementi Town Council. We are also in the process of building a wheelchair ramp for a resident. More recently at the national level, we spoke up for Mdm Felicia Seah after she contacted Dr Chee over her son’s (Dominique Lee) death in the SAF.
How does Prof Tan come to the conclusion that Dr Chee is “not interested in helping people” from all this?
Example 4: “[Dr Chee] claims he understands what the heartlander issues are because he lives in a small flat. Let’s see what he does, whether he will go into deep hibernation or churn out policy papers which are out of touch with reality.”
The language and content in the former NMP’s comment betrays his political motivation and, worse, reflects poorly on an academic who seems not to have read any of the material that he refers to.
The SDP has published detailed and comprehensive policy papers addressing issues such as poverty, income inequality, unaffordable public housing, expensive healthcare, an unnecessarily stressful education system, minimum wage, greater financial support for the poor and elderly, and retrenchment insurance.
Many of the ideas we proposed have been co-opted by the PAP or echoed by its MPs.
Yet, the SMU don thinks that these policy papers are “out of touch with reality”. The comment seems more a reflection of his limited grasp of what concerns Singaporeans than of the content of our policy papers.
These papers took much effort and time to research. They could not have been written if the SDP or Dr Chee had gone into “deep hibernation”.
In addition, there is much behind-the-scenes work which the public, including Prof Tan, does not see. These include planning and administrative work for our ground campaign, fund-raising, training of members and volunteers and so on – both during and in between elections.
All these require full-time attention which Dr Chee has provided throughout his leadership of the party. It is shocking that despite all this, Prof Tan is able to conclude that Dr Chee goes into “deep hibernation” in between elections.
It is not that academics cannot or should not commentate on politics and its practitioners. In fact, we feel strongly that our society lacks such participation by Singaporeans and would like to see more of it.
We are, however, deeply troubled by Prof Eugene Tan’s unhinged rant on Dr Chee which seems to be based on personal animosity untethered to facts and reason.
One does wonder how the SMU would react if such commentary from one of its staff – even if it did not carry so much unsubstantiated vitriol – was directed at the PAP instead of Dr Chee.
Dr Wong Souk Yee
Singapore Democratic Party