Now, I know Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, but it’s still probably the first website people turn to when they want a quick run-down of anything. And so it says of the Singapore Democratic Party since Dr Chee Soon Juan took over the reins from Mr Chiam See Tong in 1995: “The party has since focused more on a liberal human rights agenda…’’
But there was none of the usual liberal human rights talk about lack of democracy, right of assembly, freedom of expression and the like at its event today. Instead, the SDP’s focus was on the “hard’’ stuff, such as its proposed changes to the education system, healthcare financing and subsidized housing.
Dr Chee said the SDP had “never consciously gone for the liberal agenda’’. It focuses on issues close to the heart of Singaporeans, he said, and that would be bread-and-butter issues. As for human rights, well, affordable healthcare for everyone is also a human right, he argued.
(And there I was wondering why nothing was said about 377A, police powers, public entertainment licences, more room for civil society to grow, use of defamation laws etc…By the way, Dr Chee was introduced as the only man sued by all three prime ministers in Singapore…)
That hoary old chestnut, ministerial pay, however, was raised. The SDP wants it pegged at 10 times the salary of the 20th percentile to incentivize (my word) the leadership into moving up wages in general. By SDP calculations, it means the Prime Minister will earn about $50,000 a month.
If you’re expecting to know how many seats the SDP will contest or
whether where Dr Chee will stand, you’re being silly. What Dr Chee did say though was that the SDP will be back in the wards it contested the last time around, such as Sembawang, Tanjong Pagar and Holland-Bukit Timah GRCs. And people should put behind them names such as Vincent Wijeysingha (he quit to be a full-time activist) and Tan Jee Say (he has his own Singapore First party), said Dr Chee. He promised a slate of candidates who will be as good if not better than the last, “people who have gone through the crucible’’.
So what was today’s to-do at Holiday Day Inn Atrium about? It had been drummed up over the past month as the start of the SDP general election 2015 campaign. (No, no one asked why it’s 2015 when it could be 2016).
Here are the news points:
1. The SDP slogan is Your Voice in Parliament
2. It has slated activities almost every month to showcase itself and its election agenda, and the fact that it is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.
3. Two more policy papers will be forthcoming: on economic policy next month, which will include changing the CPF scheme so that there is no more minimum sum scheme, and on running town councils, in June. (It has already put out position papers on education, healthcare financing, housing and population)
4. A book on – not by – Dr Chee will be out in April to present another side of the man from friends, co-workers, facets which do not surface in MSM
5. It will have one or two pre-election rallies in Hong Lim Park starting in October.
6. It will have “constituency committees’’ of volunteers who will run operations at grassroot level. (Today’s event was also for people to sign up as volunteers)
7. As for what it did after the 2011 election: It had 44 activities, sold 20,000 copies of its newsletter and “made inroads into new constituencies’’. (Sorry. Nobody asked which.)
I have to say that the SDP thought through its steps. Since the last GE, it has been pumping out its policy papers, including suggestions which the G has since adopted, according to Dr Chee in response to a question on whether the SDP will keep the promises it makes if it emerged victorious in the election.
He gave two examples:
- The SDP wanted a minimum wage scheme for all and the G responded with the Progressive Wage scheme, albeit only for cleaners and security guards. (Actually the progressive wage scheme is a “ladder’’ pegging salaries to productivity and expertise, while the minimum wage represents a “floor’’)
- The SDP said that employment should be on the basis of Singaporeans First and the Manpower ministry has since made it policy that firms which want to hire foreigners have to show that they can’t get locals first.
(Now I wonder what the PAP will say…)
Clearly, the SDP wants to debunk the PAP’s constant hectoring of opposition parties as having no vision and no solutions for the country. It was more a case of the MSM not giving enough space/air-time to the party – “couldn’t get the message out”, as Dr Chee put it, like refusing to run his op-ed articles.
He became alternately aggressive and plaintive about the “state-controlled’’ media through out the event, actually appealing at one point to media representatives present to “talk to their editors’’ and do what it is “right for Singapore’’. He was more than ready to talk to editorial management, he said, or speak at events intended for journalists. He’s written to the Singapore Press Club but hasn’t received a reply. But he will be addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.
If the media is such a big bugbear with the SDP, why didn’t it put up some proposals on reforming the laws?
Mr James Gomez, who was on the SDP panel, replied that there was no need for political parties to take the lead on everything. Civil society, such as the Free My Internet group, could step in. And the SDP would support it. Dr Chee added that the need for a free media would be part of its on-coming economic policy proposals, as essential for a dynamic economy.
Frankly, Dr Chee was in rally-mode with rhetorical flourishes which the non-media people in the room lapped up.
So what else was interesting about the event earlier today?
- Someone asked about its “links’’ with foreign institutions which he thought the PAP will “hammer on’’. Dr Chee said it was about “networking” and “making friends” who might be useful later. In other words, nothing sinister about it at all.
- Did he think the SDP’s credibility was dented when it pulled out of the Punggol East by-election to clear the field for the Workers’ Party? Dr Chee said that on the contrary, the SDP earned kudos as it showed that the SDP “listened to the people”. They didn’t want the opposition votes split. The SDP did what the people wanted.
- Dr Chee was asked about his position in 2005 that civil disobedience, not entry into Parliament, was the way to change things in Singapore. He said that this was before the advent of social media when messages could not be disseminated widely. Circumstances have since changed.
- Dr Paul Tambyah, who was on the SDP panel addressing the audience, made a quip about being a full professor with tenure. (I don’t have to explain this do I?) Ears pricked when he said that the opposition should try to deprive the PAP of its two-thirds majority which led to the obvious question of whether some alliance was being forged among the opposition parties. He said he speaking “off the top of his head’’ and that all opposition parties should have this as the ultimate objective to prevent frequent amendments to the Constitution. Dr Chee expanded on this in reply to another question when he said that “nobody can point a finger at the SDP for not co-operating”. He listed a few examples when his overtures to other parties met with lukewarm response. As for co-operation during election time, he would only concede that it was “not an easy process’’ to have all parties in agreement.
That’s about it, folks!
Oh. Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui were present at the event, as on-lookers apparently. And the hotel coffee wasn’t half bad.