Democrats respond to ST feature

The Straits Times (ST) called up the Singapore Democrats and wanted answers to several questions it posed for its feature article that was published on Saturday, 18 September 2004.

The Democrats refused to provide the answers given the track record of the local press in Singapore. If the Straits Times was genuine in wanting to get the views of the SDP, why did it wait until the very last minute (the questions were emailed to Dr Chee Soon Juan at almost 5 pm on 16 September and ST wanted the responses the next morning)?

True to form, the piece was a hatchet job with one and only one intention: to ensure that the Singaporean public gets as negative a view of the party as it possibly can regardless of the truth.

What readers do not know is that the authors of the piece have been calling several members of the partys Young Democrats (YD) and couldnt get anyone to talk to them. One YD member even threatened to report the journalists to the police if they continued with their phone calls. So much for a credible newspaper where members of a political party don’t want to talk to the nation’s main daily.

So what does the ST do? It gets the newest guy in the party, appoints him spokesman and proceeds to quote him at length as if he knew the goings-on of the party. Just how desperate can the PAP/newspaper get?

The one question that knowledgeable Singaporeans should ask is: Why the SDP and why now?

The simple truth is this: The Singapore Democrats are focused in entrenching democracy in Singapore, knows how to go about achieving it and, most important, has the determination to make democracy a reality in this country. The PAP feels threatened and like clockwork its mouthpiece, the local media, swings into action to run the SDP down.

Be that as it may, the Singapore Democrats will provide our answers to the questions the ST posed and readers can decide for themselves whether the article is a credible piece or not.

ST: The Singapore Democratic Party hasn’t been very visible or active since the 2001 polls, what has been going on at the party and what do you think will be the party’s future?

SDP: The authors cannot seem to bring themselves to remember that the Party
– organized an International Youth Conference on Democracy,
– was in the thick of setting up the Sweden-Singapore Initiative Democracy,
– its members tried to hold a People Against Poverty rally on 1 May 2002 in which Dr Chee and Mr Gandhi Ambalam were arrested and imprisoned,
– published a report on labour and poverty in Singapore,
– appeared at almost every MRT station and hawker centers to sell thousands of copies of its newspaper The New Democrat,
– attended several international conferences,
– increased the membership of the YD,
– maintained an active website and regularly publishes articles by its members,
– fought the PAP on cases such as the expulsion of Captain Ryan Goh and the amendment of the Constitution to allow the Government to transfer our reserves to GLCs.

Yet, there is not a single mention zilch, nada, kosong – of anyone one of these activities in Saturday’s piece.

What are your plans and programmes for SDP now? What will be the party’s focus and direction? Is SDP gearing up for elections? How?

The partys plans and programmes? Will the newspaper publish it if the SDP told the journalists. It hasnt before. Is there any reason why the ST would have a change of heart and would now like to keep Singaporeans informed about its programmes?

If the newspaper still cannot figure out what the SDPs focus and directions are after countless books, reports, newspapers, statements, speeches, and website postings what hope is there that the ST will ever know or want to know?

What is the state of the party affairs now? How often do you have meetings? Who attends these meetings?

Given the fact that the article goes back 10 years and dredges everything up about the Chiam See Tong episode when so much else has passed under the bridge, it is clear that the ST is not interested in the real state of affairs of the SDP (which by the way, could not be at a higher point) but is determined to ensure that it portrays the party as one in shambles.

Can you provide an updated list of the current CEC members?

How many members SDP has right now? How many of them are active?

Where has CEC members such as Wong Hong Toy and Cheo Chai Chen gone to? Are they still around? Are they still active? Are they still CEC Members?

If the SDP is convinced that the newspaper is genuinely interested in its affairs and not out to wreck the party, the information will be forthcoming. Enough said.

Many have said that you’ve taken SDP on a route that doesn’t connect with local support. Your agenda on human rights, democratic freedom, freedom of speech – while there are issues worth noting – are issues that many people in Singapore can’t connect to. They’d prefer if you’d tackle bread-and-butter issues such as the high medical cost, high S&C charges, etc. As a result, the party seems to lose a lot of grassroots support. What is your response?

Many people have also said that SDP is doing the right thing. Have you seen any of these views in the ST? The newspaper tries to paint a Singapore that is democratic where all parties have equal opportunities to communicate with the people and to gain their support. Genuine grassroots support for an opposition party cannot come about in a dictatorial state. There is a reason why the Saddam Husseins, Suhartos, and Fidel Castros of the world can claim that opposition groups dont have grassroots support.

Any efforts to pump up grassroots activities? And why did SDP decide to do away with going door to door to visit residents?

The question is not whether the SDP wants to pump up grassroots activities. It should be whether the PAP will allow it to. Note the laws in place that deny the opposition to effectively reach out to the people. Again the question is that under the present elections system, will the views of the people be accurately reflected in the polls? If not lets talk about fixing the source of the problem first. There is hardly any point in mopping up the floor when the tap is left running.

Some observers note that SDP has been on the decline since the 1991 polls when there were 3 SDP MPs in Parliament. Now there is no SDP representative in Parliament and the integrity of the party has been undermined by credibility issues starting from the select committee on healthcare and now the defamation suit by MM Lee and SM Goh. Some people we’ve spoken to said that SDP is nothing more than an “empty shell”. What is your response?

This one takes the cake. The ST misreports, slants, spins everything in favour of the PAP, then says that the Democrats have a credibility problem. For the record, the SDP is the only opposition party that has made the Minister of Health (George Yeo) apologise repeatedly for its mistakes and to order an investigation into the Tan Tock Seng Hospital billing system. Did the ST give any credit to the Democrats for that? And more recently, the SDP has credibility problems because MM Lee and SM Goh has sued Dr Chee for defamation. Isnt the logic simply wonderful?

Some observers have also pointed out that you are responsible for changing the directions of the party and hence the decline, do you agree?

Here we go again with the some people, many people thing. In the actual piece, the phrase changes to sources say… More professional. If they feel really energized, theyll use sources close to the party say…

Note: The Democrats challenge anyone to cite any instance which sources have been used to say anything about the PAP.

Your take and update on your intentions on the defamation suit by MM Lee and SM Goh?

Watch this space.

During the case, the subject of SDP receiving “foreign funding” was brought up. We know that you are actively involved in regional NGO-like organisations such as the Alliance for Democracy and Reform for Asia and CALD or Council of Asian Liberal Democrats. Any truth about SDP receiving “foreign funding”?

This is a question Dr Chee will address when he comes face to face with Mr Lee Kuan Yew in court.

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