Chiam See Tong

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Chiam See Tong
Portrait photo of Chaim See Tong
1st Secretary-General of the Singapore People's Party
Assumed office
Prime MinisterGoh Chok Tong
Lee Hsien Loong
ChairmanLina Loh
Preceded byPosition Established
Member of Parliament
for Potong Pasir SMC
In office
22 December 1984 – 19 April 2011
Preceded byHowe Yoon Chong
Succeeded bySitoh Yih Pin
Majority1,718 (11.6%)
4th and 6th Leader of the Opposition of Singapore
In office
26 May 1997 – 20 April 2006
Preceded byLing How Doong
Succeeded byLow Thia Khiang
In office
10 November 1986 – 17 May 1993
Preceded byJoshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam
Succeeded byLing How Doong
1st Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party
In office
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byChee Soon Juan
Personal details
Born (1935-03-12) 12 March 1935 (age 84)
Singapore, Straits Settlements
Political party
Lina Loh (m. 1975)
ChildrenCamilla Chiam (daughter)

Chiam See Tong (simplified Chinese: 詹时中; traditional Chinese: 詹時中; pinyin: Zhān Shí Zhōng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chiam Sî-tiong; born 12 March 1935) is a Singaporean politician and lawyer. He is Singapore's longest-serving Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) in a Single Member Constituency (SMC), having represented the constituency of Potong Pasir in Parliament from 1984 to 2011.[1][2] Chiam was formerly the longest-serving Opposition Leader in terms of total time served (1986-93, 1997-2006), as well as the opposition Member of Parliament (MP) (1984-2011) until the end of 2017, where former Workers' Party (WP) then-secreatary general Low Thia Khiang surpassed both of his record (Low served as an MP since 1991, and as an opposition leader from 2006 to 2018).[3]

Chiam was founding leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) up to December 1996, when he left the party to join the Singapore People's Party (SPP) prior to the 1997 general election. He subsequently spearheaded the formation of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), and was its chairman and de facto opposition leader from 2001 to 2011. However, in March 2011 he announced that he was withdrawing the SPP from the SDA grouping, and would contest the next general election under the SPP banner. At the 2011 general election, Chiam decided not to seek re-election in his Potong Pasir constituency and instead stood as a member of the SPP's team in the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency. However the SPP was defeated by the PAP's team in Bishan-Toa Payoh. His wife Lina Chiam narrowly lost the election in Potong Pasir and accepted a seat as a Non Constituency Member of Parliament.[4] Chiam stopped his political career ahead of the 2015 Singaporean general election due to health reasons[5].

Political career[edit]

Chiam first entered politics in 1976 when he contested as an independent candidate in Cairnhill constituency, where he lost to Minister for Communications and National Development Lim Kim San. In the 1979 by-election, Chiam contested the Potong Pasir seat for the first time, again as an independent, and got 33% of the votes against the People Action Party (PAP)'s candidate Howe Yoon Chong.[2]

Chiam founded the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on 6 August 1980, and was the party's Secretary-General (leader) until 1993. He contested the Potong Pasir seat again in 1980 and lost to Howe again, but his vote share increased to 41%. In 1984, Chiam contested the seat against Mah Bow Tan (a Director who would later became a Cabinet member), and won with 60.3% of the votes, on a swing of 19 percent against the PAP.[2]

When Chiam was first elected to Parliament in 1984, he was only the second opposition politician ever to be elected to Singapore's Parliament after J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party (WP), in 1981. After Jeyaretnam was expelled from Parliament in 1986, Chiam was Singapore's sole elected opposition MP until 1991, in which two other SDP members, Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen, alongside Low Thia Khiang of the WP were elected, making a total of four opposition MPs, with Chiam effectively the leader of the opposition. At that time of the 1991 election, their party's performance attained its best result (having all nine candidates polled in the top 10), scoring 48.6% of the party's popular vote, including Chiam's best-performing opposition result to date at 69.6%.[2]

In 1992, Chiam recruited Chee Soon Juan, a psychology lecturer at the National University of Singapore, to be an SDP candidate for a by-election in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency. Although the SDP was unsuccessful in the by-election, the recruitment of Chee as a candidate generated considerable public interest. The following year, conflicts between Chiam and Chee emerged after Chee shortly expelled from his job as a university lecturer from NUS citing about the misuse of funds to pay the courier fees for his wife, and also publicly claimed that he had been the victim of a political vendetta by the governing People's Action Party (PAP).

Chiam wanted to censure Chee for these comments, but the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Chee. He then resigned as Secretary-General of the party before proceeding to sue the party. The CEC, after convening a disciplinary hearing, voted to expel Chiam from the party (which would have cause himself to lose his Parliamentary seat) after he publicly criticised them, but however, Chiam won a court case to prevent them from doing so on procedural grounds. The CEC then appointed Ling How Doong to replace Chiam as the party's parliamentary leader.

Chiam left the SDP in December 1996 and accepted an invitation to join the Singapore People's Party (which was formed by a breakaway faction of the SDP in 1994) and became its leader. Standing for his new party, he was re-elected as MP for Potong Pasir at the 1997 general election.[2] The negative publicity generated by the disputes with Chiam affected the SDP's electoral prospects, and both Ling and Cheo lost their seats, leaving Chiam and Low Thia Khiang as the only two elected opposition MPs. Chiam and Low remained the only two opposition MPs elected at all the subsequent general elections until 2011. At the 2001 general election, Chiam won Potong Pasir for the fifth time. At the 2006 general election, he won 55.82% (or 8,245) of the votes to claim his sixth term, defeating the PAP's Sitoh Yih Pin, who got the other 44.18% or 6,527 votes. For many, this was a surprise victory for Chiam, as the PAP had offered an S$80 million upgrading package for the residents of Potong Pasir and had brought in then-Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to help the PAP's campaign in the constituency.

In early 2008, Chiam suffered a mild stroke[2] which led to the suspension of his 'Meet-the-People' sessions. In 2011, Chiam said "there's still remnants of the stroke which I suffered".[6]

In 2009, Chiam celebrated his 25th year as MP for Potong Pasir.[7] That year, he also announced that he did not plan to stand as a candidate for Potong Pasir at the next general election (due to be held on May 2011), and would instead be a candidate in a Group Representation Constituency (GRC).[8]

In 2010, Chiam tried to bring the Reform Party into the SDA. He reportedly accepted the conditions the Reform Party set out for joining the alliance, however the terms of entry were opposed by other members of the SDA's Council who blocked the move. In 2010 and early-2011, it was also reported that some members of the SDA's Council felt that Chiam was unable to properly fulfil his role of Chairman of the alliance, after he had cut back his political activities following his stroke in 2008. On 28 February 2011, the SDA's Council voted to relieve Chiam of his role as chairman, however the Council stressed that they still hoped to field Chiam as a candidate at the next general election. But two days later, on 2 March 2011, Chiam announced that the Singapore People's Party was withdrawing from the SDA, and that he would stand under the banner of the SPP instead of the SDA at the next general election.[9][10]

For the 2011 general election, Chiam's wife, Lina Loh Woon Lee (sometimes referred to as Lina Chiam), the SPP candidate in Potong Pasir. Chiam himself became a candidate in the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency. Chiam's team in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC finished with 43% of the votes, and was defeated by the PAP team led by then-Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng. His wife Lina Chiam (Lina Loh) failed to retain his old Potong Pasir seat and was defeated by his opponent in the last two elections, the PAP's Sitoh Yih Pin, by a margin of 114 votes (0.72%). A week later, the Singapore People's Party (SPP) announced that Lina Chiam would accept an offer to become a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament as one of the best-performing losing opposition candidates.

In October 2014, the biography of Chiam, Let the People Have Him, by Loke Hoe Yeong (published by Epigram Books) revealed that Chiam's grandfather, Chiam Seng Poh, was a revolutionary who helped Sun Yat-sen overthrow the Qing dynasty. In addition, Let the People Have Him revealed that one of Chiam's maternal aunts, Mabel, married Kwa Soon Siew – a brother of Kwa Geok Choo, the wife of Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. [11]

In 30 August 2015, Chiam announced that he chose not to stand in the 2015 general election that was due to be held on 11 September[5]. On the same election, his party of SPP faced a big swing towards PAP and as a result, Lina Chiam was not re-elected a second term in the NCMP, and ending their presence in the parliament after 31 years.

Life outside politics[edit]

Chiam qualified as a barrister at the Inner Temple in London in 1974.[12] He then joined Philip Wong and Company as a lawyer, before starting his own law firm, Chiam and Company, in 1976.

Chiam retired from his law practice in 2002 to become a full-time politician.


Date Qualification Institution
1955 GCE Advanced Level Anglo-Chinese School
1961 Bachelor of Science University of Canterbury & Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
1967 Certificate in Education Teachers' Training College
1974 Barrister-at-Law Inner Temple, United Kingdom


Date Workplace
1962 to 1963 Mahmud Secondary School, Raub Pahang, Malaysia
1964 to 1972 Cedar Girls' Secondary School
1974 to 1976 Philip Wong & Co (Advocates & Solicitors)
1976 Advocate & Solicitor, Chiam & Co
2002 (Advocates & Solicitors) (Retired)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New opposition candidate expected in Potong Pasir". Zul Othman. Channel Newsasia. 4 November 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Straits Times (print edition) 9 December 2009, page B6.
  3. ^ "Low Thia Khiang will be the longest-serving opposition MP in Singapore's history by end of 2017". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  4. ^ "Lina Chiam to take up NCMP offer". Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Ong, Justin (30 August 2015). "SPP, DPP announce candidates for joint Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC team". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  6. ^ "We're 'not that small-minded'" Archived 25 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine 25 March 2011
  7. ^ "Dinner bash for Chiam". The Straits Times. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 22 June 2010.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Channel News Asia : Chiam See Tong marks 25 years as opposition MP
  9. ^ GE: SDA says Chiam pulling SPP out of alliance,, 2 March 2011
  10. ^ Chiam pulls party out of alliance Archived 6 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Today, 3 March 2011
  11. ^ Leong, Weng Kam (26 October 2014). "New book traces Chiam's road to Parliament". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  12. ^ Loke Hoe Yeong (5 February 2019). Let the People Have Him: Chiam See Tong: The Early Years. Epigram Books. pp. 59–60, 73. ISBN 978-981-07-9174-2.

External links[edit]