Singapore Democratic Party

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is a political party founded by Chiam See Tong in 1980.1 The party is currently led by chairman Paul Tambyah and secretary-general Chee Soon Juan.2

Establishment
On 6 August 1980, Chiam, as secretary-general, gathered consulting engineer Fok Tai Loy as pro-tem chairman and Ernest Chew Tian Ern as pro-tem assistant secretary-general to set up the SDP.3 The party was officially registered on 8 September that year.4


On 19 October 1980, the SDP launched its emblem – a white arrowhead within a white circle on a red background. The arrowhead represents progress towards democracy and socialism, while the circle stands for unity of the races, and the red background signifies courage and determination.5

The SDP was inaugurated on 21 September 1981.6

Structure
A 12-member central executive committee (CEC) that governs the SDP is elected by a body of cadres at the Ordinary Party Conference held every two years. The CEC is responsible for the overall management of the party including its finances, membership and election campaigns.7


The Women Democrats is the women’s wing of the party. It aims to cultivate women leaders in the party to take up roles, thus ensuring a fair representation of women in the local political arena. Members of the Women Democrats are involved in the party’s policy, community services, fundraising, and training and development units. They also actively organise SDP’s activities including workshops and seminars on topics such as women’s health issues, leadership development and community organisation.8

The youth wing of the party, known as Young Democrats, was set up in 1999.9 The SDP is the first opposition party in Singapore with a youth wing.10

Objectives and vision
The original objectives of the SDP were written by Chiam when he first stood as an independent candidate in the 1976 general election.11 The party aimed to:


1. eliminate all forms of colonialism and feudalism as well as safeguard parliamentary democracy and uphold the principles of democracy, socialism and the constitution;

2. build a prosperous, industrial and culturally advanced nation;

3. establish a social system that would protect the labour force and the individual; and

4. establish an economic union with Malaysia and its neighbours.12

Today, the objectives of the SDP are to:

1. eliminate all forms of authoritarianism and to uphold democratic principles and institutionalise democratic practices;

2. build an economically stable and progressive nation based on the free-market system where private entrepreneurship is encouraged;

3. foster a vibrant and dynamic society based on pluralism and diversity, replace elitism with free competition and equal opportunity for all Singaporeans, especially in the area of education, remove all policies that discriminate against the less fortunate, women and minorities and do away with excessive regulation that stifles innovation, creativity, and adventurism; and

4. restore a proper system of checks and balances in the polity, ensure the independence of the judiciary, encourage Singaporeans to participate in the nation’s political process; to respect human, civil, and political rights of Singaporeans; to achieve a free flow of information in society.

The party’s vision is to create a Singapore that takes care of all her sons and daughters, young and old, where the people are free and bold with a strong sense of achievement tempered by an equally fierce regard for compassion and justice; where tolerance and acceptance should be shown for the citizens regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or political persuasion.


To support its vision, the SDP proposes seven alternative policies for Singapore. These include establishing a free and democratic political system; building a free-market economy driven by the people, not the government; developing a more equitable distribution of income and wealth; ensuring that the Central Provident Fund system returns the savings to the people; freeing the media; reforming the education system; and fostering a caring and pluralistic society.13

Key developments
In its first general election in 1980, the party contested unsuccessfully in the three wards of Potong Pasir, Cairnhill and Joo Chiat.14 In the 1984 general election, however, Chiam was elected as a member of Parliament for Potong Pasir after he won 60 percent of the votes.15 Chiam’s 1984 win was seen as a watershed for the SDP and local opposition parties as a whole.16 He successfully retained his Potong Pasir seat in the 1988 general election.17


In the 1991 general election, Chiam was re-elected for the third time in his Potong Pasir ward.18 Apart from Chiam, SDP candidates Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen also won the Bukit Batok and Nee Soon Central seats respectively.19 They held the seats until their defeat to the ruling People’s Action Party candidates in the 1997 general election.20

In 1992, the SDP unveiled Chee Soon Juan, then a National University of Singapore lecturer, as part of the SDP’s lineup contesting in the by-election of Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency. Chee was noted as the first university lecturer to join an opposition party. The SDP was defeated by the People’s Action Party.21

In 1993, the SDP’s CEC voted to expel Chiam as a result of internal party conflict. However, Chiam later sued the party’s CEC for wrongful dismissal and won the court case, thus preventing his expulsion.22

Chee, who was the former deputy of Chiam, was elected in 1993 to replace Chiam as acting secretary-general of SDP following the dispute.23 In 1995, Chee was elected as the party’s secretary-general.24

Chiam officially resigned from the SDP in December 199625 and joined the Singapore People’s Party, which was founded by some former SDP members who had supported Chiam during the leadership struggle in 1993. They had broken away from the SDP and formed the Singapore People’s Party in November 1994.26

Under Chee’s leadership, the SDP contested in the 1997 general election by fielding contestants in five constituencies. None of the SDP candidates were elected, with Cheo and Ling stepping down from their seats in Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central.27

The SDP also contested in the 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2015 elections, but failed to secure a seat in Parliament.28

Secretaries-general
1980–1993: Chiam See Tong
1993–present: Chee Soon Juan

Chairmen29
1980–1984: Fok Tai Loy

1984–2007: Ling How Doong
2007–2011: Ghandi Amabalam
2011–2013: Jufrie Mahmood
2013–2015: Jeffery George
2015–2017: Wong Souk Yee30
2017–present: Paul Anantharajah Tambyah31

SDP members of Parliament
32
1984–1994:
Chiam See Tong, Potong Pasir Single Member Constituency

1991–1997: Ling How Doong, Bukit Gombak Single Member Constituency
1991–1997: Cheo Chai Chen, Nee Soon Central Single Member Constituency

Publications

1984: The Demokrat: A Publication of the Singapore Democratic Party33
1994: The New Democrat: A Publication of the Singapore Democratic Party34
1994: Dare to Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore35
1995: The SDP Economic Report 199536
1995: The SDP Land Transport Report 199537
1996: The SDP-PKMS Cost of Living Report 199638
2002: First World… For Whom?: An SDP Report on Labour and Poverty in Singapore39

2010: It’s About You: Prosperity and Progress for Every Singaporean40
2010: The Singapore Democrats: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine41



Author
Zoe Yeo



References

1. “Where We Came From,” Singapore Democratic Party, 22 February 2009; “Chiam Gets Registrar's Approval to Form Party,” Straits Times, 17 September 1980, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From.”
3. Hussin Mutalib, Parties and Politics: A Study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004), 167. (Call no. RSING 324.25957 HUS)
4. “Search for Society,” Registry of Societies, n.d.
5. Mutalib, Parties and Politics, 168.
6. “SDP Plan to Get Support from Public,” New Nation, 21 September 1981, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Singapore Democratic Party, The Singapore Democrats: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 2010), [n.p.]. (Call no. RSING 324.25957 SIN)
8. “The Role of Women Democrats,” Singapore Democratic Party, accessed 20 February 2018.
9. “Young Democrats,” Singapore Democratic Party, accessed 20 February 2018.  10. “10 Reasons Why You Should Join the Young Democrats,” Singapore Democratic Party, 22 February 2009.
11. Mutalib, Parties and Politics, 168.
12. Philip Lee, “Chiam Forming New Party,” Straits Times, 7 August 1980, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From.”
14. “‘Show’ Goes On for SDP 3,” Straits Times, 25 December 1980, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “PAP wins All but Two,” Straits Times, 23 December 1984, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Mutalib, Parties and Politics, 175.
16. Mutalib, Parties and Politics, 173.
17. “Potong Pasir,” Straits Times, 4 September 1988, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “7 in 10 Potong Pasir Votes Go to Chiam,” Straits Times, 1 September 1991, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “PAP Loses Ground in 13 Single-Seat Wards,” Straits Times, 1 September 1991, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Walter Fernandez, “Ling ‘Shocked, Disappointed’ by Polls Defeat,” Straits Times, 9 January 1997, 41; Zuraidah Ibrahim, “Nee Soon Central: PAP Man Worked Very Hard, Says Cheo,” Straits Times, 4 January 1997, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Zuraidah Ibrahim, “We Are the Main Opposition Party, Chiam Tells Voters,” Straits Times, 8 December 1992, 19. (From NewspaperSG) 
22. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From”; “Chiam Wins Court Order, Remains SDP Member and MP,” Business Times, 26 August 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Chiam Steps Down as SDP Sec-Gen, Chee Soon Juan Takes Over,” Business Times, 19 June 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From.”
25. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From”; Walter Fernandez, “Chiam Quits, Warns SDP Not to Contest His Ward,” Straits Times, 18 December 1986, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Jimmy Yap, “Breakaway SDP Group Registering New Party,” Straits Times, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Patrick Daniel, “PAP Takes 81 Seats, Loses Two,” Business Times, 3 January 1997, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “2001 Parliamentary Election Results,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 24 May 2017; “2006 Parliamentary Election Results,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 24 May 2017; “2011 Parliamentary Election Results,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 24 May 2017; “2015 Parliamentary Election Results,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 24 May 2017.
29. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From.”
30. Chong Zi Liang, “Jeffrey George No Longer SDP Chairman, Replaced by GE2015 Candidate Wong Souk Yee,” Straits Times, 5 November 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
31. “SDP Elects Medical Specialist Paul Tambyah as New Chairman,” Straits Times, 26 September 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
32. Singapore Democratic Party, “Where We Came From.”
33. Singapore Democratic Party, The Demokrat: A Publication of the Singapore Democratic Party (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 1984). (Call no. RCLOS q329.95957 D)
34. Singapore Democratic Party, The New Democrat: A Publication of the Singapore Democratic Party (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 1994). (Call no. RSING q324.95957 D)
35. Chee Soon Juan, Dare to Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 1994). (Call no. RSING 959.5705 CHE-[HIS])
36. Singapore Democratic Party, The SDP Economic Report 1995 (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 1995). (Call no. RSING 338.4095957 SDP)
37. Singapore Democratic Party, The SDP Land Transport Report 1995 (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 1995). (Call no. RSING 338.4095957 SDP)
38. Singapore Democratic Party & Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura, The SDP-PKMS Cost of Living Report 1996 (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party and the Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura, 1995). (Call no. RSING 339.42095957 SDP)
39. Singapore Democratic Party, First World ... for Whom?: An SDP Report on Labour and Poverty in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 2002). (Call no. RSING 331.11095957 FIR)
40. Singapore Democratic Party, It’s About You: Prosperity and Progress for Every Singaporean (Singapore: Singapore Democratic Party, 2010). (Call no. RSING 338.95957 ITS)
41. Singapore Democratic Party, Singapore Democrats.



The information in this article is valid as at 7 April2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Political parties--Singapore
Politics and Government
Singapore Democratic Party