Call for Unity amongst Opposition Parties

TO: Worker’s Party & Singapore Democratic Party

Dear Opposition Leaders,

A very happy Deepavali! This is a public letter to both of you which I will put on my personal blog soon. I am writing with regard to the recent event in which an anonymous protestor distributed flyers critical of the Worker’s Party on its 50th Anniversay on Sat, 3 Oct 2007. This event was reported in both the Straits Times and LianHe WanBao.

First and foremost, allow me to state that I do not condone this civil action. I feel that in the context of Singapore which is dominated by one ruling party that has a very firm grip on power and whose rule has been clearly shown to be authoritarian and oppressive, any civil action should be directed at the ruling party, and NOT at any opposition party. I do not know who is behind that civil action, but I hope he or she stops immediately.

But that being said, I firmly believe that there must be constructive debate and dialogue between various opposition parties. We must not be afraid to provide constructive criticism if we genuinely feel something is being done wrong, in order for every opposition party to improve and become a better fighter against the ruling party.

It is in that context that I wrote a letter to the Straits Times Forum page last week criticizing the Worker’s Party for merely being content with providing token resistance to policies debated in Parliament, but not being able to suggest concrete alternatives. I also criticized the Worker’s Party for claiming that it would take decades more before it had any chance of being an alternative government, when in GE 2006 it gave the electorate the impression that it was already proactively working towards that goal. The Straits Times published my letter in the print edition on Fri, 2 Oct.

Response to my letter was very negative, especially from WP members.

After the news of the civil action (distributing flyers) against the WP attracted headlines in the local media, some internet forum participants accused Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) supporters of being behind the civil action, and they took the chance to direct their anger at the SDP. One person by the name of “DESMOND” even wrote an email letter to Dr Chee Soon Juan accusing SDP or its supporters of instigating this civil action. This letter received a swift rebuttal from Dr Chee. Both letters have been published on the SDP website:

To put it simply, it is my desire to see this irrational conflict end here and now. It is a waste of time and energy, and only gives the ruling party a hearty laugh and a fat year-end bonus. Let us instead direct our precious energy and resources to what truly matters: Challenging the ruling party.

In this regard, I would like to call for Unity amongst Opposition Parties. Let us put this episode behind us and move on. More importantly, let us all welcome constructive feedback and criticism, and refrain from overreacting at all times. As Opposition, we must be thick-skinned enough to accept that there will inevitably be disagreements amongst ourselves and from members of the public. I humbly call for the WP to improve in this area.

Let us not give the ruling party the last laugh.


SDP’s Reply:

Dear Ng E-Jay,

Your call to the SDP to be more united with the other opposition parties is well-intentioned and appreciated.

We wish to add that the SDP has always been an advocate for opposition unity. As early as 1994, Dr Chee Soon Juan wrote in his book Dare To Change: “It would make much sense for [SDP and WP] to pool their resources together with the ultimate and overriding objective to entrench the Opposition in Singaporean politics.”

When he became Secretary-General of the SDP, Dr Chee got together with then WP leader, Mr J B Jeyaretnam, to write a letter to the United Nations urging it to look into problems with the election system here.

In 2001, the two SDP and WP leaders formed the Open Singapore Centre to promote transparency and democratic accountability.

Under Dr Chee, the Singapore Democrats also signed a memorandum of understanding with the PKMS for greater opposition cooperation, and encouraged other opposition parties to join in.

We even made overtures to other opposition parties for greater cooperation during elections.

As you can see, the SDP not only understands the importance of a united front but we have also taken concrete steps to to try to achieve this.

But with changes in leadership in the other parties, our efforts have not been able to continue.

Having said that, it is also important that we are clear in what we are trying to achieve in calling for opposition unity.

Opposition unity for its own sake will achieve little. It must be more than just creating a façade for the consumption of the voting public during elections.

This is because with the election system the way it is, the opposition no matter how united we are, will not be able to make a dent in the PAP armour, let alone challenge it for the government.

With the PAP threatening voters, buying their votes, fixing the opposition, and gerrymandering elections are quite meaningless. As long as the election system remains the way it is, the PAP will rule for another 50 years.

But if the opposition will unite to tackle the fundamental problems of the election system and push for the election process to be rectified, like what the Malaysians did on Saturday in their country, opposition parties become natural allies. (read

On the other hand, if unity is going to result in the opposition collectively becoming less bold and vocal, then democracy will become a casualty and the people are the ultimate losers.

The SDP agrees with you that the opposition must not give the PAP the last laugh. The only way the PAP will have the last laugh is when the opposition remains timid and without a vision.

The SDP welcomes cooperation with any party that would also work towards reform of the political system. To this end, we are encouraged to see the potential formation of the Reform Party by Mr Jeyaretnam.

Unfortunately calling for reform of the system, as opposed to trying to better the PAP in a sham election system in which every button, lever and wheel is controlled by the ruling party, will attract the ire of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

This is, admittedly, a position to which not every party aspires. But it is the only way that the opposition is going to bring about democracy and the rule of law, and the only way that will regain the rights for our people.

It is also the path on which the Singapore Democrats have embarked and one on which we will continue.

Along the way we will be a target of the PAP. But freedom and democracy can never be achieved without some individuals willing to make personal sacrifices. Be assured, however, that these sacrifices will not be made in vain, for one day we will be vindicated.

Until then, we will remain steadfast in championing the foundation that underpins our party – democracy, justice and freedom for all our fellow citizens. We will receive with humility and democratic brotherhood anyone who wishes to join our cause.

We ask you and others who understand and support what we are doing to stay strong and unwavering. Continue to do your part by diligently educating Singaporeans about our mission and campaigning on our behalf. Don’t let your critics discourage you.

For our cause is your cause and our freedom is your freedom.

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