Youths play a crucial role in the future of the Singapore Democratic Party. This is why we put in much effort to nurture our younger members and encourage them to participate in activities at home and abroad.
Such activities will help our youth members develop their leadership skills so that they may assume greater roles in the party in the future. The party takes pride that it has built up an impressive youth wing that is dynamic and vibrant. We even have numerous students asking to be part of the Young Democrats. The SDP is the first opposition party in Singapore to establish a youth wing in 1997.
Presently two Young Democrats, Mr Teoh Tian Jing and Mr Eric Ng, are in Kaohsiung, Taiwan to attend a youth workshop with the theme
The Role of Youth Wings in Political Parties. The 5-day workshop (17-21 Aug 10) is organised by the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) and Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party.
The event will enable Tian Jing and Eric to share their experiences and build relations with their counterparts in the region. The workshop will discuss:
- the importance of forming, sustaining and strengthening youth wings within political parties;
- issues and problems that youth wings face in-between and during elections;
- experiences and best practices on how party youth wings can enhance their capacities;
- the importance of establishing networks with like-minded youth wings both at the regional and international levels; and
- policy recommendations on how youth wings can increase their influence within their own respective political parties, as well as in regional and international affairs.
In the past, the Singapore Democrats have also sent our youth members, Mr Charles Tan and Mr Muhd Shamin, as interns to the European Parliament. We also organised the first International Youth Conference in 2004 to discuss the participation of youths in politics.
This National Day, we put up a video message comprising of voices from our youths. Judging by the number of views it has registered (more than 8,000 in less than two weeks since it was first posted), it seems that younger Singaporeans are interested in what their fellow youths have to say about politics in Singapore.
In preparing for the youth workshop in Kaohsiung, CALD wrote a concept paper on the importance youths play in politics and political parties which we would like to share with our readers:
The importance of the youth in politics is beyond question. There have been many instances in the recent past where the youth proved to be a potent force in challenging authoritarian leaders, in safeguarding democratic institutions and processes, and in monitoring government performance.
As a political grouping, the youth has always been a source of new ideas that facilitated the rethinking of conventional processes, if not the overthrow of the status quo. The astuteness, dynamism and fervor of this group, without a doubt, are a resource that political parties might potentially put into productive use.
Political parties have recognized this, and they have accordingly encouraged the creation of youth wings within their organizational structure. This action on the part of political parties has a number of positive repercussions.
On the part of political parties, youth wings may serve as a good recruitment ground of future party leaders, and even of potential candidates for public office. They may also serve as a channel to voice party positions which may be too sensitive when aired by party officials themselves.
Most importantly, the youth usually offers a refreshing look at issues that confront the party – views which, at times, may spell the difference between party relevance and obsolescence.
While the benefits which flow from the creation of youth wings are widely acknowledged, the formation of youth wings is also accompanied by its attendant problems and issues. In the process of forming the youth wings, for example, political parties confront at least two major concerns – the difficulties in recruiting young members into the party and the weakness of parties themselves.
In many countries, political parties are not viewed highly by the general public. People are disillusioned with political parties, which they consider as part of the problem and not as part of the solution. Given this situation, it is difficult for political parties to recruit promising, idealistic young people into their fold.
The youth become more attracted to civil society organizations or social movements, which are perceived to be more progressive than political parties. Another constraint in the formation of youth wings is the weakness of political parties themselves, which may not provide the necessary organizational and financial support for the creation of such youth wings.
If the viability of the party itself is in question, this lays serious questions on the feasibility of creating and sustaining youth wings.
Upon establishment, there are other issues which the youth wings must address, the most pressing of which is its relationship with its mother party. The quintessential battle between the “old guards” with the “young Turks” has always been a problem in any political party (or in any organization for that matter), but this becomes more prominent in circumstances once a youth wing is formally established.
Essentially, the tension revolves around the predilection of the young party members for change or reform, while older members may be more inclined to the preservation of the status quo. This tension, when not properly resolved, may lead to internal hostilities within the party, or worst, to the abolition of the youth wings or resignation of young members.
Despite these possible issues, the salience of establishing party youth wings remains to be widely recognized. Youth wings are potentially important components of the political party as they may assist in enhancing party viability and effectiveness.
In this day and age, for example, political parties with established and effective youth wings have a greater tendency to reap the fruits of advances in communications and technology, which the youth have mastered and successfully employed in forwarding whatever objectives they have.
For one, youth wings can be vital tools in-between and during elections. During non-election period, for example, youth wings may be utilized for grassroots organizing, public relations and networking, membership recruitment, conduct of seminars and workshops, secretariat management among others.
When elections come, youth wings may also be utilized for campaigning, organization of volunteers, media relations, fund-raising just to name a few. Furthermore, youth wings may also be tapped for regional and international networking.