Saturday 25 October 2014

New book traces Chiam See Tong's road to Parliament

By Leong Weng Kam Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

THE first instalment of a two-part biography of veteran politician Chiam See Tong, titled Let The People Have Him, is being released today.

The 232-page book traces the period from his birth in 1935 to his winning the Potong Pasir seat in 1984 at his fourth attempt to get into Parliament.

It is written by Mr Loke Hoe Yeong, 29, the assistant secretary-general of Mr Chiam's Singapore People's Party (SPP) and an associate fellow at the European Union Centre - a think-tank to promote research on the EU set up by the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University in 2008.

Mr Loke said on Wednesday the book involved three years of research, interviews and writing.

"I thought of writing Chiam's biography soon after the 2011 General Election because there has been no book written about him and I believe his story deserves to be told," he said.

Mr Loke, who met Mr Chiam through a friend and joined the SPP two years ago, described Mr Chiam's story as being very much a history of the political opposition in post-Independence Singapore. In the preface, he said he decided to write the biography to also "present a different side to the mainstream narrative of Singapore's political history".

He conducted at least six interviews with Mr Chiam, each lasting several hours, and also spoke to his wife Lina Chiam, who is now a Non-Constituency MP.

In the 2011 elections, Mr Chiam moved from Potong Pasir - which he had held since 1984 - to helm an SPP team in what was an unsuccessful bid to capture Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. He was, until then, Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP.

Mrs Chiam, the SPP vice-chairman, contested in Potong Pasir in 2011 and lost narrowly, but entered Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP.

Mr Loke said he showed the completed manuscript to Mr Chiam and his wife, but "they did not make any changes". "They provided only clarifications and made additional points," he said.

The book traces Mr Chiam's early years, his experiences studying first in New Zealand and later in London, and how the science teacher became a lawyer and first entered politics in 1976, when he stood unsuccessfully in Cairnhill as an independent.

He later moved to contest Potong Pasir in the 1979 by-election and 1980 General Election - but lost on both occasions. But he won there on his next attempt in 1984.

Mr Loke said he expects to complete the second volume in two years' time. That will cover Mr Chiam's record 27 years as an opposition MP, why he left the Singapore Democratic Party that he founded in 1980 to join the SPP, and his loss in 2011.

Mr Loke, like Mr Chiam, is an old boy of Anglo-Chinese School. He graduated with a degree in music from the Eastman School of Music in New York in 2006. He then obtained degrees in political science, including a master's in comparative politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2009.

Mr Chiam is the second of three sons of a wealthy merchant. Among the book's interesting revelations is that his grandfather Chiam Seng Poh was a revolutionary who helped Dr Sun Yat Sen overthrow the Qing government. Another is that one of Mr Chiam's mother's sisters, Mabel, married Mr Kwa Soon Siew - a brother of Madam Kwa Geok Choo, the late wife of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Asked why he thought Mr Chiam entered politics, Mr Loke said: "I think he truly believed in democracy, breaking the PAP's one-party rule and being the voice for the people."

The book, published by Epigram Books, is available at major bookstores and costs $37 (inclusive of GST).

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