Friday, October 5, 2012

Must you talk only among yourselves? (The SDP alternative)

Jufrie Mahmood

Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party

Singapore Democrats (source)

Jufrie Mahmood

It seems that there is no end to PAP charade that would inevitably cost tax payers quite a bit of money. There is a total of 87 Members of Parliament, three non-constituency MPs and nine nominated MPs.

Elected MPs hold weekly meet-the-people sessions in their respective constituencies to listen to and offer solutions to their constituents’ problems. There are also thousands of Resident’ Committee members in the PAP comprising voters in the same constituencies where they serve and from whom the PAP can draw feedback.

Then there is the Citizens Consultative Committee whose members are appointed by the PAP to help PAP MPs manage their constituencies. Next we have the Community Centre Management Committee, appointed by the People’s Association to run the community centre or club.

Two more rungs of command and control were later introduced in the form of mayors and CDCs (Community Development Councils), a quasi –governmental body that functions as a local administration of its district, initiating planning and managing community programmes.

All the above can be said to be in close touch with the ground.

Lest we forget, we also have the Feedback Unit and the restyled ‘Reach’,helmed by a government MP and whose declared aim is to encourage and promote public participation in shaping government policies. Its three main aims are to gather and gauge ground sentiments, reach out and engage citizens and promote active citizenry through citizen participation and involvement.

Should all these institutions fail to deliver or fail to influence the formulation of policies we can always go back to Parliamentary Committees or Parliamentary Select Committees which can formally invite public participation to present their views on any particular issue.

Is the PAP now telling Singaporeans that all the above institutions set up by the party and helmed by its MPs have failed to function so much so that they have to get a National Conversation going?

Isn't this an admission that all its feedback mechanism from the plethora of committees have been an utter failure, serving to be the PAP's mouthpiece rather than hearing aid?

The PAP could have also relied on friendly voices from among the legions of journalists serving in its stable of printed and broadcast media. Have they not been telling the truth to their political masters? If the main stream media could not be relied upon the PAP could, if it is serious about getting at the truth, always turn to the social media to strike a balance and counter-check the information obtained from the state media.

Last but not least the opposition parties have always been around, shouting themselves hoarse, so to speak, pointing out the many flaws in policy making. The SDP has even presented alternative policy initiatives drawn up by qualified and respected members of society who have aligned themselves with us.

If only they would we could save a lot of time and energy – not mentioning a huge sum of money since PAP ministers are very highly paid – by not staging the wayang all over the island and get the same result.

As we have said earlier this is what they will get if they only talk to and among themselves and exclude the opposition.


The Singapore Democratic Party: Challenges and Opportunities

Dr Chee Soon Juan

Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party

Global Views, October 3, 2012 (source1, source2)

Burma is undergoing deep political change with the release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders from prison, the liberalization of the country’s media and the tolerance of peaceful public assembly.

Malaysia has recently seen its own political reform. The country’s High Court defied the decades-old authoritarian regime by declaring the largest and most potent civil-rights organization, Bersih (clean), a legal entity. It also overturned a government ban on a non-state news portal to publish a print edition. Another landmark decision ruled that the imprisonment of dissidents without trial in 2001 was not warranted, awarding the detainees a total of US$1.5 million.

All this sits uncomfortably with one of the last holdouts of autocratic rule in Southeast Asia – Singapore. While the region moves inexorably towards democracy, the Singapore government labors to contain political discontent among the people who are finding expression on the Internet, a medium out of the grasp of the authorities.

If present socioeconomic trends are any sign of the future, public voices demanding change look set to get even more vehement. With public housing out of reach for many younger Singaporeans, public transport that breaks down on a regular basis due to a burgeoning influx of foreign workers (forty percent of the population are non-Singaporeans), and jobs and wages under pressure from cheap foreign labor the immediate future looks far from rosy.

The People’s Action Party (PAP), having been in power for more than half-a-century, continues to rely on extractive economic policies that are ultimately unsustainable. Beyond the facade of modernity, Singapore has the biggest income disparity among comparable economies in the world. The segment of the underclass is significant and growing.

What the political system needs at this stage is a fresh perspective of how and in what direction the country should proceed. New ideas accompanied by a new entrepreneurial energy of an educated and diligent younger generation are brimming. Tragically, instead of harnessing the verve, the government shows no sign of easing up on its authoritarian dominance.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), of which I am Secretary-General, laments such a state of political affairs. We recognize that without economic and political liberalization, Singapore will be unable to meet the challenges ahead in a global system that increasingly relies on openness and innovation.

Singaporeans, seeing how we are falling further and further behind a world that is increasingly embracing democratic change, are questioning the status quo. The anticipation of democratic change started a few years ago with the expansion of the social media which provided the public with new tools to disseminate information and dismantle state propaganda. To this end civil society actors, including the ones in the blogosphere, have played and continue to play a significant role.

This resulted in a stark rise in support for the opposition in the 2011 general elections resulting in unprecedented electoral losses for the PAP – by Singapore standards. The enthusiasm was not a flash in the pan. Recently, I appealed for assistance to raise $30,000 to pay Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong to clear my bankruptcy. The two former prime ministers had sued me for defamation in 2001 and I was ordered to pay them damages which I could not afford. As a result I was made a bankrupt which barred me from running for office. The money was raised in ten days.

The fund-raising was unprecedented in Singapore and signaled the people’s frustration of the continued crackdown on the opposition and their desire for change. The clearing of my bankruptcy means that I will be eligible to stand for the next elections. Within the SDP, there is keen anticipation of the road ahead. We have seen professionals joining our ranks – a development unimaginable only a few years ago. They have helped us to formulate alternative policies to rival the PAP as the ruling party.

This augurs well for Singapore’s future. But whether change materializes will depend on how effectively Singapore’s political opposition and civil society work together. How the government reacts will determine the price of that change.


(Dr. Chee Soon Juan is the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party. He was awarded Defender of Democracy by Parliamentarians for Global Action in 2003 and Prize for Freedom by Liberal International in 2011)


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