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Deconstructing Dr. Chee: From “Crazy” to “Charismatic”.


(Dr. Chee’s photo from Today Online!)

Wow, wow, wow! This #GE2015 has been SO interesting. I’m so glad I’m back in Singapore for all the action.

Apologies for the long hiatus–I’d been busy with work recently! This year has been an eye-opening political year for me, ranging from school, to having coffee with Roy Ngerng in Norway, to making many friends with political activists from all over the world, randomly. But today I want take an hour to pen my thoughts on a political figure who has recently intrigued and captured the imaginations of many SingaporeansDr. Chee Soon Juan. I’m very amazed by him because I remembered just the last elections, people were still saying that he’s mad/crazy, but this election, just today– people are forming crazy long queues to buy his book along Raffles Place!

Photo I found off facebook which illustrates this point:

random photo

That’s nothing short of amazing Public Relations, and great communication! 

Coincidentally, I wrote my masters thesis on advertisements and wedding fairs, and read up a lot of materials on media rhetoric in the process–so I think I can deconstruct a little about Dr. Chee and how his new image appeals to so many voters.

Dr Chee’s public image transformation could be mainly attributed to the use of social media, I think! It is social media which gives him a platform to expound on his side of the story. It’s social media which draws people who want a solid change in Singapore to him.

And I’m really impressed–I must say–of how he covered the concerns of the ground so well. While I still have my reservations about the feasibility of the solutions, I am convinced that he listens well to residents, at least.

To cut straight to the chase, here are some patterns I’d observed from him, leading to successful rally speeches:

1. In his speeches, Dr. Chee tends to use stories to capture hearts and imaginations. 

-Why the usage of stories is effective:

The usage of stories is effective because it is falls under a type of persuasion method known as emotional appeal. Stories help people relate to the speaker on an intimately personal level, and spark the imaginations of the audience. In general, people think in terms of pictures and not figures, and are entertained by a well constructed storyline.

Emotional appeal, in general, usually works better than logical appeal (through statistics) when it comes to winning over hearts. This is because EVERY SINGLE PERSON has a heart, whereas not everyone are interested in statistics, or are interested in logical economic theories.

-When did Dr. Chee use stories? 

–Before his rallies, an “angel” (In Dr Chee’s words at the lunch rally today) Tay Bee Pin made a video on “Behind the Man”, a documentary offering a sneak peak of the life of Dr. Chee. That’s his life story. And how did I get to know about this documentary? My mother asked me to watch it! “Very interesting, hor, girl?” she said. And that film definitely primed people’s attitudes towards Dr. Chee before the rallies, and made the masses look forward to them with a more sympathetic attitude;

–If you watch a SDP rally, you’d realise that Dr Chee loves using stories in his speeches! He uses stories like buying ice cream for his kids, and automatically avoiding expensive ice creams such as Haagen Daas, to make a point that SDP knows your thought process when you are buying ice cream or food for your children. The message is: SIBEH HIGH COST OF LIVING AH. I think these stories are really endearing, the messages stick, and even I could relate to them myself!

— At tonight’s rally, Dr. Chee made his speech a tribute to the late JB Jeyaretnam, a political friend and mentor he deeply admires. He spoke with nostalgia, deep admiration and a sense of conviction, and ended with –“Don’t you ever believe those who say your fight on earth was irrelevant – nothing could be further from the truth”.

Do you find this sort of stories familiar? If yes, it’s because for the whole of this year, there has been tributes made repeatedly to the esteemed founding father of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, after his passing. And PAP has been using Mr. Lee’s stories at rallies too, as forms of tributes.

Interesting right…??? How the different ideologies are played out by politicians! ^^ By the way, I didn’t have to google the type of stories Dr. Chee shared in his speeches. I remembered them all, and that was how Dr. Chee made an impression in the minds of voters, I think. Stories!

2. On Credibility

  • Credibility No.#1: Dr. Chee has a book (books?) available on sale at every rally! Whenever you publish a book, usually it means you’re credible and some sort of a thought leader.
  • Credibility No.#2: Dr. Chee has a PhD. This implies a certain level of clarity of thought.
  • Credibility No. #3: Dr. Chee’s LIFE! LIFE! So many, so many years spent in politics under a strictly controlled media by PAP, many years spent in jail, high opportunity cost when you consider that he could have gotten a high-salaried job as a professor overseas and lived happily ever after with his family. Three kids some more!
  • Credibility No. #4: Humility. Dr Chee lives in a 3 room flat in Toa Payoh with his family leh. Whatever he talks about, I feel like I can understand, as a fellow HDB dweller. There was another story about old folks collecting cardboards too, and on my way home I saw an elderly lady collecting cardboards. So these sharings are very real, and do resonate with me.

3. On the refusal to engage in gutter politics. 

When we study persuasion, there are tactics known as “logical fallacies” such as “POISON THE WELL”, or “personal attack”. This means, if you cannot win someone in logical arguments, you attack their character. This is a fallacy because a person’s character has nothing to do with the logical argument.

For example, let’s say someone exclaims to you, “Eh I found a cockroach in my chicken rice. WTH!!!” *shows picture of cockroach in chicken rice, when the waitress served the food*

If you respond with–“EH YOU COMMITTED A CRIME TEN YEARS AGO RIGHT. You liar. you went to jail. what cockroach are you talking about now? what rights do you have to talk about a cockroach in the chicken rice?!”

–Then effectively, you have committed the fallacy of poisoning the well.

PAP’s Lawrence Wong, Sim Ann and Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan all made attacks on Dr. Chee’s character. Well I’m not against people calling each other names, especially if you sincerely think the person is the name you’d called. But calling people names don’t address difficult issues in Singapore, too.

I mean, if there is really a cockroach in your chicken rice, as a customer I really don’t care about the character of a waiter. I’d care instead about how you are going to convey your utmost apologies, give me a satisfactory explanation, then compensate me.

I do understand that character is very important in politics, especially of someone THIS talented, like Dr. Chee. But no–gutter politics is not the way to go. A lot of minus points leh!

And I’m impressed by how Dr. Chee refuses to retaliate or indulge back in gutter politics. So I guess, this is part of his persuasive speeches too: Always use logic and facts to stand your ground and speak up for the people.

4. Good pace and articulation. 

I like Dr. Chee’s pacing and articulation in speech. Either it’s natural, or that he has practised it a lot of times before giving the speech. His use of pauses is also very apt. You can rewatch his rally speeches and observe!

5. Great megawatt smile! 

Smiles usually convey warmth, sincerity and friendliness. So I guess that’s an asset too. He smiles a lot and shows his teeth a lot.

6. Speeches made in different languages and dialects. 

Well if you speak different languages and dialects, the message goes right into the hearts of the electorates who speak the same languages and dialects. There is a sense of familarity and warmth.

Therefore, what are the general takeaways from this deconstruction process?

Takeaway #1: if you used to have a terrible past portrayed by the mainstream media, be sure to make use of all your social media platforms to present your alternative story. Justify your story; explain why you did things the way you did at that point in time. A compelling story–that’s the keyword. People love and remember stories!

Takeaway #2: Whatever you do, don’t call your opponent names. Focus on logic, focus on the value you bring to the table, focus on being “human” and say that all “humans make mistakes”.

Takeaway #3: Always rehearse your speech for pace and clarity. Work hard on your credibility too. Know your message well–YOUR message, what you stand for, the vision you offer.

Haha, what do you think? Leave a comment if you like! I’m so glad it’s easier to vote in the Sembawang GRC, and I dare say the folks of Holland-Bukit Timah are going to have a tougher time.


  1. Shuan says

    a comprehensive summary of Dr Chee’s contribution to Sing politics. Some misunderstandings of his past were cleared in this passage. Thanks.

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