Dr Chee will be marginalised

Dear Dr Chee,

You have suffered injustice and I believe that Singaporeans’ future under PAP is dark. Whilst I agree with the issues that you champion i.e. non-violence and objection to the death penalty, I am deeply convinced that with your current activities, you will never convert mainstream Singaporeans to your cause. You are likely to continue to be marginalised, labelled as a radical and unlawful character and unfortunately many Singaporeans who do not have their own opinion will be swayed.

You already have my vote because Singapore needs an opposition. You will have my heartfelt vote if you can give us a vision and show us how you intend to lead us towards that vision.

Lastly, I’ll like to add that you as an opposition party leader should realise that the credibility of the Singapore Democrats would be stronger if you do things as a team. Introduce your team to us. Tell us who will be your Economic Minister and who will be your Home Minister; tell us what would be your economic plan to deliver jobs to the poor and tell us how you intend to protect our home from terrorism. Let us identify with these people and let us feel their fire. You are not a One-Man Show: show us you not only intend to put yourself in parliament in the coming election but you also have a plan to put a team in parliament by the next election.


SDP: Dear Aaron,

It’s always good to hear encouraging words from our supporters. Unfortunately, you may have a mistaken view of the political system in Singapore. You are exactly right what you say that political parties must present a team of leaders, a vision, and a plan of how to achieve that vision. This what all political parties must do if they want to convince voters to elect them to become the government – in a democratic system.

In the situation that we have today, however, it is superfluous to talk about a shadow cabinet because the elections system we have is in disrepair and the PAP won’t allow the people to exercise their votes freely. (Can you name another country which calls for regular elections but have the people so fearful that the opposition is unable to find enough candidates to contest more than half the seats?)

We live in a highly fearful society when in comes to politics. In a survey conducted by the Straits Times, 93 percent of Singaporeans indicated that they would not speak up even if they were unhappy with a certain policy because of fear. This is the reality of our society.

Given such a political climate and the system that the PAP manipulates at will does it make sense to pretend that if the SDP puts up a credible shadow cabinet and enunciates clearly an exciting vision, the PAP will just stand by and allow Singaporeans to vote us into power? We hope you harbour no such illusion. Please remember that if the PAP played by democratic rules, the opposition would have medical doctors, academics, top lawyers, a former solicitor-general, and a former judge in its ranks. In fact we would venture to say that the PAP would not be the ruling party given its performance since the 1997 Asian crisis today if our system was democratic. As it is, many of those who joined the opposition as candidates have been imprisoned or are living in exile.

In spite of this we have spelt out our vision. We have published them in our books, reports, and The New Democrat. We do it again here it the section What We Stand For (we’re publishing these in stages over the next several days). The fact that you know so little about our manifesto reinforces our message that without democracy – which includes a free press that will publicise the manifestos of all contesting parties – voters will not have a chance to know us and vote for us. (There is a reason why the PAP controls the media.)

If we continue to think that we can vote ourselves out of the PAP grip come election time, we are kidding ourselves. We need to think out of the box if we are going to change anything in this country. We have studied and analysed the situation and we believe that Nonviolence is the key to change. Nonviolence is not another “issue”. It is our ticket out of the hole that we are in; it is a tool that we can use to empower ourselves as citizens. We may need to educate and convince Singaporeans about the need for it, and it will take time. But we have to start somewhere, sometime. If you have a more effective solutions, please let us know and we would be happy to discuss and explore it.

We presume you have read the section on How We’ll Succeed. Please come to Dr Chee’s book launch this Saturday, 9 July where he’ll talk more about why it is important for Singaporeans to insist on their political freedoms. If we continue to think that the opposition can address the bread-and-butter issues without our fundamental political rights, then we are building our house on sand.

Those who fail to read history are doomed to repeat it. And history shows us unambiguously that no society has made a successful transition from autocracy to democracy purely by relying on elections. Democracy activists (political party and NGO types) have had to undertake direct civil action to create a free and fair election system before a democracy can emerge.

Finally, please don’t adopt the attitude that the opposition should satisfy you before you will support it. We don’t have the luxury where voters can remain “neutral” and vote for the party that they choose once every four or five years. Singaporeans have to change their mindset and realise that the people have to be the opposition to bring about democracy. The Taiwanese (people that is, not just opposition parties) have done it, the South Koreans have done it, the Hong Kongers and Malaysians are doing it just to name a small sample of countries. Why shouldn’t Singaporeans?

Don’t worry converting “mainstream Singaporeans”. Mainstream Singaporeans will be converted when the courageous few take steps to pioneer the change that is needed. That is how change has always taken place and that is how it will always be.

Let us leave you by citing Taiwan’s Shih Mingteh who during his lonely years of battle against the Kuomintang was not accepted by mainstream Taiwanese. They thought he was “radical” and an “unlawful character”. Today’s mainstream Taiwan, however, holds him up with respect and admiration. You see, today’s anti-current side-flow can become tomorrow’s mainstream. Listen to what Shih said,

“In every era, there are always those who will struggle for freedom. These people play a difficult role, their paths are paved with pain and loneliness. Their own generation will not accept them. In fact they will be rejected, bullied, humiliated, and even killed. These freedom fighters crawl along a narrow path. But in the end, those who follow will widen the path into a broad avenue…”