The gloves have officially come off.
Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing has kicked off the first round of bare knuckle sparring with the chief of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Chee Soon Juan.
In a letter to The Huffington Post, Minister Chan took issue with the publication for giving the SDP sec-gen “considerable but undeserved attention and space”.
Chee had published two opinion pieces, Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade and Free The Singapore Media And Let The People Go, on Nov. 13 and Dec. 11 last year, respectively, that were critical of the government.
To many, Minister Chan's reaction might appear unprecedented as he came off strongly to skewer Chee and going on the offensive.
Afterall, Chan did not appear to have any beef with Chee publicly on previous occasions.
However, if we looked beyond the theatrics, we can examine how this might just be the most calculated move in Minister Chan's political career thus far.
Here are 5 reasons why Minister Chan decided to have a go at Chee via The Huffington Post:
1. Chan is the Minister at Tanjong Pagar GRC, a seat likely to be contested by Chee.
At the launch of the Singapore Democratic Party's General Election campaign on Jan. 10, 2015, SDP chief Chee said that the party could contest at Tanjong Pagar GRC.
Although Tanjong Pagar GRC is widely known as former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's stronghold, Chan is the only cabinet Minister in the GRC. Therefore, it was left to him to fire the first salvo at Chee.
2. Chan is "troll baiting" Chee, so that Chee can commit himself at Tanjong Pagar GRC.
Tanjong Pagar GRC was the only GRC that experienced a "walkover" in the GE2011. This means that Tanjong Pagar will be "up for grabs" among the opposition parties.
Between the Worker's Party (WP) and the weaker SDP, it is a no-brainer that Chan wants to get Chee to commit to contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC.
If WP wishes to contest in Tanjong Pagar GRC, SDP's involvement will split the opposition votes.
And it is much safer for the PAP to go toe-to-toe with SDP than WP.
3. Chan wants to remind Singaporeans about Chee's past.
Over the past few years, Chee has done a good job in rehabilitating his image as the "elder statesman" of opposition politics.
He sounded reasonable when he urged bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui to apologise after they were accused by many to have "heckled" the special needs children at Hong Lim park.
At the risk of looking and sounding rather petty, Chan chose to remind Singaporeans about Chee's past. Perhaps Chan was concerned that Chee's track record would not be closely examined during the GE campaign, since the focus would be on WP.
In the letter, Chan reminded Singaporeans about Chee's dismal electoral records, his ungentlemanly conduct in ousting gentleman Chiam See Tong, his dismissal from the National University of Singapore, and him being sued for defamation by both PAP and the opposition.
4. Criticising Chee is a "rite of passage" for PAP politicians.
In 1992, then PM Goh Chok Tong proved his personal popularity as a Prime Minister by thrashing Chee in Goh's only by-election and Chee's maiden election. Goh garnered 72.9% of the votes, while Chee received 24.5% of the votes.
He was Matthias Yao's whipping boy in the 1997 General Election. After Yao defeated Chee by 12,546 votes (65.1%) to 6,713 (34.9%) in the GE, Yao was promoted from Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of State.
Therefore, it appears that any PAP stalwart who wants to prove his calibre must go through the rite of passage of hammering Chee.
5. As one of the fourth generation PAP leaders, Chan has to lead by example.
In the 2013 PAP convention, Chan said that the PAP must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up, because if it does not, then others will occupy the space and make them irrelevant.
“We must not concede the space - physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers - to fight to get our message across at every corner - every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary."
Since Huffington Post is a space that is dominated by Chee, Chan felt the need to reclaim the space from Chee.