Singapore Democratic Alliance
by Yeo, Zoe
The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) is a coalition of political parties in Singapore, officially registered on 28 June 2001. At the time of its formation, the alliance comprised the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), Singapore Justice Party (SJP), Singapore National Front (SNF) and Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS). The alliance was led by Chiam See Tong, secretary-general of the SPP.1 The NSP and SPP left the alliance in 2007 and 2011 respectively. Presently, the alliance is made up of the SJP and PKMS, with Desmond Lim as its secretary-general, with their last activity recorded on their website in 2015.2
Establishment and objectives
The SDA was formed to create an “artificially” dominant opposition party to compete against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). The coalition was part of a long-term goal to establish a two-party political system in Singapore. To facilitate this, any party that wanted to join the coalition had to relinquish its identity and contest under the banner of the SDA. However, the individual parties could “still add their own dynamism to the synergy of the alliance”.3
The SDA failed to attract the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Workers’ Party (WP) as both parties wanted to focus on their own needs and on strengthening their own parties.4 At the time of its formation, the alliance comprised the SPP, NSP, SJP, SNF and PKMS. The alliance was helmed by Chiam See Tong, secretary-general of the SPP.5
The alliance’s symbol was observed to be identical to the SPP logo – a red star above four interlocking blue circles.6 During the Punggol East by-election of 2013, the SDA logo had changed from four interlocking circles to four separated circles. The reason behind the change was reportedly due to the resemblance of the original symbol with the logo of German carmaker, Audi.7
The NSP announced its departure from the alliance in 2007 to “explore new possibilities through wider latitude to manoeuvre, re-engineer, and rebuild the NSP”.8
In April 2010, the Reform Party (RP) was revealed to be in discussion to join the alliance.9 However, negotiations were halted when a classified document containing the RP’s conditions to joining the alliance was leaked to the press, for which the RP blamed the SDA.10 The SDA executive council was reported to have been divided on the RP joining the alliance. The conflict was rumored to have stemmed from SDA secretary-general and SPP member Desmond Lim’s opposition to the conditions set by the RP. This reportedly led to Chiam’s decision to replace Lim’s position in the SDA as the alliance’s appointed chairman.11 However, his decision to remove Lim was rejected by other SDA leaders together with his proposal to let the RP into the alliance.12 On 5 November 2010, the RP announced its decision to not join the SDA, following speculations that Chiam would pull the SPP out of the SDA after his conflict with alliance members.13
On 1 March 2011, the SDA announced its decision to relieve Chiam from his role as chairman, citing his frequent no-shows at the alliance’s meetings.14 Chiam announced the SPP’s withdrawal from the alliance two days after the SDA’s announcement to the press.15 On the same night, Lim, who had quit the SPP and rejoined the SJP as its secretary-general, was reappointed as secretary-general of the SDA.16
Participation in Parliamentary Elections
The first election that the SDA contested was the 2001 parliamentary general election. The alliance fielded 13 candidates to contest in two group representation constituencies (GRCs) – Tampines GRC and Jalan Besar GRC – and the three single-member constituencies (SMCs) of Potong Pasir, Bukit Timah and Chua Chu Kang.17 Chiam was the only candidate who won under the SDA banner and was re-elected as the member of Parliament for the Potong Pasir ward.18
In April 2006, the SDA issued an “election agenda” in place of a manifesto that “calls for more competition in politics”, outlining the SDA’s hope of establishing itself as a credible alternative to the PAP and creating a prosperous economy with a transparent government. The SDA also announced its target to win at least two GRCs and four SMCs.19 In the 2006 general election, the SDA contested 20 seats in Chua Chu Kang SMC, Jalan Besar GRC, Macpherson SMC, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Potong Pasir SMC, Tampines GRC and Yio Chu Kang SMC. Besides Chiam who was re-elected as MP for Potong Pasir, no other representatives from the SDA captured any seats in the election.20
In the 2011 general election, the SDA released its manifesto themed “For Middle and Working Class”. Nine issues were raised therein: transportation, national identity, Singapore’s low fertility rate, distinction between Singaporeans and foreigners, housing policies, social and welfare needs, Central Provident Fund, medical, and education.21 The alliance contested for seven seats in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Punggol East SMC, but failed to secure any in the general election held on 7 May 2011.22
The SDA participated in the 2013 by-election in Punggol East SMC under Desmond Lim. Lim finished fourth with a vote share of 0.57 percent.23 Political analysts attributed the poor performance to the SDA’s lack of clear identity compared to other political parties.24
In the 2015 general election, the SDA announced its decision to run for six seats in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.25 The alliance took to online video platform YouTube to promote its election manifesto themed “Singapore for Singaporeans.26 The SDA eventually lost the election, garnering a 27.11 percent vote against the PAP.27
1. Green light for new coalition. (2001, June 29). Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chia, S., & Kwek, K. (2007, January 19). NSP leaves Chiam’s 4-party alliance. The Straits Times, p. 35; Cheow, X. Y. (2011, March 3). Chiam pulls party out of alliance. Today, p. 35; Toh, M. (2011, March 3). I didn’t cause 3-way fight, says SDA chief. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Democratic Alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved 2018, May 7 from Singapore Democratic Alliance website: http://www.singaporedemocraticalliance.sg/
3. Sivakkumaran, G. (2001, June 29). Registry gives opposition alliance go-ahead. The Straits Times, p. 2; Tan, K. (2001, July 31). The signs. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Sivakkumaran, G. (2001, August 3). WP, SDP to stay out of alliance. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Green light for new coalition. (2001, June 29). Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, K. (2001, July 31). The signs. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Toh, Y. C., & Chow, J. (2013, January 17). SDA tweaks logo, but plans stay the same. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Loh, C. K., & Paulo, D. A. (2007, January 19). Seeking ‘room to manoeuvre’, NSP leaves SDA. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Leong, W. K. (2010, April 5). Possible Chiam-Jeyaretnam alliance eyes Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. Today, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Au Yong, J., & Kor, K. B. (2010, May 10). SDA-Reform Party alliance: On or off? The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Sivakkumaran, G. (2001, August 3). Opposition alliance SDA may fall apart. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Teo, X. W. (2010, November 4). Infighting continues in opposition alliance. Today, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Kor, K. B., & Wong, T. (2010, November 5). Reform Party not joining SDA. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Kor, K. B. (2011, March 2). SDA relieves Chiam of chairman duties. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Cheow, X. Y. (2011, March 3). Chiam pulls party out of alliance. Today, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Kor, K. B. (2011, March 4). Chiam’s former protege quits SPP, rejoins SJP. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Chiam: SDA will form ‘super ward’. (2001, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 6; Page 1 Advertisements Column 1. (2001, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Chia, S. (2001, November 8). Chiam aims to reclaim Sennett vote. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Rajan, T. (2006, April 26). SDA calls for more competition in ‘election agenda’. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Elections Department Singapore. (2017). 2006 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2018, January 2 from Elections Department Singapore website: www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2006.html
21. Saad, I. (2011, March 1). SDA endorses its manifesto. Today, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Elections Department Singapore. (2017). 2011 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2018, January 2 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2011.html
23. Elections Department Singapore. (2017). 2013 parliamentary by-election result. Retrieved 2018, January 2 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_by2013.html
24. Amir Hussain & Neo, C. C. (2013, January 27). SDA needs a clear identity to succeed, say analysts. Today, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. SDA unveils manifesto, calling for a ‘Singapore for Singaporeans’. (2015, August 21). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
26. Lee, A. (2015, September 5). SDA takes to YouTube to discuss party’s manifesto. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
27. Elections Department Singapore. (2017). 2015 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2018, January 2 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2015.html
The information in this article is valid as of 7 May 2018 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.