Straits Times, 29 Jan 2009
By Kor Kian Beng
THE newly elected executive council of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) will meet next month for the first time to decide on two key issues.
The grouping of three opposition parties will decide whether to come together and recruit new members under the SDA banner and whether to extend the veto powers of its chairman Chiam See Tong.
The veto powers of Mr Chiam, who is also the MP for Potong Pasir, are due to lapse this year.
The 12-member council will meet on Feb 25, said Mr Desmond Lim Bak Chuan, 41, SDA’s new secretary-general.
Elected on Jan 12, the council’s term will end in 2011, signalling the alliance’s intent to start preparations for the possibility of an early General Election this year, said Mr Lim.
The last General Election was in May 2006 and the next must be held by Feb 2, 2012.
The SDA comprises the Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS), Mr Chiam’s Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and the Singapore Justice Party (SJP). A fourth partner, the National Solidarity Party quit the alliance in January 2007.
However, all the four new faces on the council are from the PKMS. Key among them is Mr Ali Asjadi, 52, PKMS’ deputy president. He is SDA’s vice-chairman, taking over from former PKMS president Ali Aman.
Said Mr Lim: ‘It’s good to have new faces that can hopefully bring in new ideas. It’s also a good time for SDA to rev up its engine again.’
Sharing his sentiment, Mr Chiam said he hoped to see ‘much enthusiasm’ from the newcomers.
Mr Lim, who will present the proposal for a joint recruitment, said it was likely to be held as a roadshow at which people can apply to join one of the three parties in the alliance.
Mr Malik Ismail, 38, SDA’s assistant secretary-general, said yesterday that Mr Chiam had asked for his veto powers to be extended, a move that would require the SDA constitution to be amended.
The request was made at the Jan 12 convention, Mr Malik added.
Mr Chiam told The Straits Times yesterday that he did it to ‘maintain stability in SDA’ and hence create a grouping similar to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in Malaysia.
He said the BN had been able to remain stable for many years because Umno, Malaysia’s biggest party, acts as a stabilising force in the grouping by providing the numbers and being the dominant force.
As the SDA lacks a dominant party, the alternative is to create an artificial situation through the veto powers, said Mr Chiam.
He was given the powers for an eight-year period when the SDA was formed in mid-2001 for opposition parties to share resources and ideas in contesting elections.
The powers allow Mr Chiam to veto council decisions and appoint the SDA’s top officials.
The SDA parties had agreed to the sweeping powers to assure him that he would not suffer his earlier fate, when he had to quit as leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) because of differences with his one-time protege, Dr Chee Soon Juan, now SDP’s secretary-general.
Sources close to the SDA said several council members had reservations about extending the veto powers, with one saying that ‘this should not be the case for a democratic party in a democratic country’.