There are those who still don’t understand the SDP’s strategy and approach to politics. Why do Singapore Democrats insist of defying the law and ending up in court instead of doing the ground work necessary to win elections?
The answer is simple: Because the PAP has absolutely no intention of allowing the opposition to win power through elections.
The ruling party will continue to introduce new laws and amend existing ones to block any meaningful inroads the opposition makes in elections. The introduction of the GRC system, the increase of election deposit, the restriction of the use of the Internet by opposition parties, etc are done to ensure that opposition parties remain crippled.
There is even a law that prohibits five or more people from “demonstrating opposition to the actions of the Government” or to “promote a cause or campaign” under the Miscellaneous Offences Rules.
Already the SDP and its supporters have been charged under such a law simply for distributing flyers. What’s there to stop the Government from applying this law to the other opposition parties especially if they start making political headway?
And isn’t the opposition’s work all about promoting a campaign or cause? How can we limit our numbers to less than five in public if we want to reach out to the public more effectively? Most important, if the opposition cannot demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government, why exist at all?
The one reason why the opposition has fared so poorly at the polls is that we have always been one step behind the PAP. When its support eroded, it introduced the GRC system. When the opposition adopted the by-election effect, it threatened the voters with HDB upgrading. When we started to attract more quality candidates, it upped the election deposit.
If we don’t arrest the rules-changing, we will forever be chasing our tails. We need an independent elections commission, not an elections department that says “Yes sir” to the PM all the time.
We must stop letting the PAP fool us. More important, we must stop fooling ourselves that under present arrangements the opposition will be able to entrench ourselves as an institution.
Does this mean then that the opposition should abandon electoral politics in Singapore? No, of course not. The Singapore Democrats have said many times before: Elections are the only way for a party to come to power and govern society.
So why does the SDP participate in elections that are neither free nor fair?
Because they are good a opportunity to raise awareness of political issues. With the advancement of cyber technology, we can use elections to educate the people on their rights and responsibilities as citizens, as well as the benefits of an open and democratically accountable government.
But remember, elections only last for nine days and the excitement dies down very quickly. It is the interim four or five years that the opposition needs to get down to serious work to reform the system.
With the Internet, our work is greatly facilitated and there is no excuse for the opposition to retreat into its shell in between elections.
The success of the SDP’s effort may not be immediately apparent, but like all responsible leadership we understand the need for delayed gratification. We are confident our work will bear fruit in the not-too-distant future.
In that vein we ask all Singaporeans not to be seduced by the temptation of instant success. Just as Rome was not built in a day, democracy in Singapore will take time to entrench.
But the work to reform the political system must start now.
Elections must be part of the strategy, not the strategy itself. We need to work amongst our own opposition parties to foster greater cooperation and understanding. We need to help civil society to develop civil society. And we need to encourage our fellow citizens to become actively involved in this coming elections and thereafter the work in democracy-building.
In other words, we need to invest for the future. There is not a moment to tarry.