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SDP leaders put up strong fight in GE2020

Improved image and SMC strategy reaps rewards for Chee Soon Juan and Paul Tambyah

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, 55, polled 46.26 per cent of the vote in Bukit Batok SMC, against PAP's Liang Eng Hwa.


THE leaders of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) put up a strong fight against the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) in the 2020 general election (GE), helped by its improved image and strategy of contesting single-seat wards, said political observers.

At the Friday polls, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, 55, lost his contest in Bukit Panjang SMC with 46.26 per cent or 15,556 of the votes.

His opponent Liang Eng Hwa, 56, took 53.74 per cent or 18,070 votes in the ward. The constituency, the largest SMC, recorded 34,212 votes, of which 586 were spoilt votes.

Notably, the PAP had a lower margin of victory in the ward, which is considered a traditional PAP stronghold.

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Over at Bukit Batok SMC, SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan lost in his rematch with the PAP's Murali Pillai. Dr Chee garnered 45.2 per cent of the votes, against Mr Murali's 54.8 per cent.

The results indicated that Dr Chee had widened his vote share against Mr Murali.

The two had previously gone head-to-head during a by-election in 2016, following the sudden resignation of PAP Member of Parliament (MP) David Ong due to a personal indiscretion. Dr Chee, 57, lost to Mr Murali, 52, who garnered 61.2 per cent of the vote.

Professor Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore (NUS) said that the SDP did "reasonably well in both SMCs".

"I think voters are warming up to the somewhat re-invented SDP, especially with the emergence of Paul Tambyah. I thought Tambyah came across as reasonable, competent and charming," he said.

Nicholas Fang, a former Nominated MP, said that as a single-seat candidate, Prof Tambyah was better able to build on his higher profile as an infectious disease expert - which came into the spotlight during the Covid-19 outbreak - and also his international standing. Prof Tambyah recently became the first Singaporean to head US-based International Society of Infectious Diseases.

Mr Fang noted that Dr Chee's better showing in his rematch with Mr Murali could have come on the back of his consistency in contesting in Bukit Batok since 2016.

That said, while SDP's strategy of fielding its leaders in single-seat contests looks to have paid off in terms of good individual showings, it may have ultimately failed in getting them into Parliament.

"This is largely due to the growth and development of the other opposition parties such as the Workers' Party, which have produced slates of younger candidates that not only hold their own, but are able to contest successfully in GRCs," said Mr Fang.

"Going forward, this will make it much more competitive for opposition parties seeking to enter parliament," he added.

Prof Tan noted that voters still need some convincing that the present SDP is not like the SDP exemplified by Dr Chee in the past, who had a number of run-ins with authorities. "It still has an image problem, but less so than before," he said.

In a panel interview with CNA, NUS senior lecturer Mustafa Izzuddin and Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan noted that the election results this year could give a boost to Dr Chee and Prof Tambyah's electability, which could work in their favour in the next GE should they contest in their respective wards again.

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