The Young Democrats (YD) were in Kaohsiung, Taiwan as one of the founding members of the youth wing of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, or CALD Youth. The new organisation was established during a
youth caucus organised by CALD.
Representatives of Singapore Democratic Party’s YD, Mr Teoh Tian Jing and Mr Eric Ng, were part of the 12 political parties from all over Asia particiapting in a four-day workshop entitled “Roles of Youth Wings in Political parties”.
The workshop served as a platform where the youth wings of CALD members share their experiences in running their organisations and building democracy in their countries.
CALD, established in 1993, is a regional network of liberal democratic parties in Asia that promotes democracy and human rights. Its members comprise of parties, both ruling and in opposition, and prominent politicians in Burma, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and, of course, Singapore.
The youth workshop allowed Mr Teoh and Mr Ng to interact with parties such as the Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has come a long way since the martial law era in the 80’s.
The political landscape in Asian societies has over the last 20 years been changing, with more Asian countries adopting democracy.
“The oft used explanation by the ruling party in Singapore for the growing repression is that democracy is a western concept and not suitable for Asian societies,” Mr Teoh noted. “But the participants at the workshop strongly disagreed.
“They said that it is democracy that enables people to engage in the decision-making process, giving them a stake in their countries’ affairs.”
The participants also visited a youth camp organised by the DPP where more than a hundred university students volunteered to help in the local elections scheduled for the end of the year. Taiwanese students, Mr Teoh added, are encouraged to be politically active and such youth camps are common.
“In the repressive state of Singapore, young political activists routinely face police intimidation, persecution and judicial punishment,” the Young Democrat related to workshop participants.
When he talked about his brushes with the police on several occasions, one of the delegates exclaimed that the situation in Singapore reminded her of Taiwan’s martial law era.
“One wonders how Foreign Minister George Yeo can keep a straight face proclaiming Singapore as a democracy during a recent ASEAN meeting,” Mr Teoh pointed out. “The ‘democracy’ that George Yeo describes Singapore as is actually an authoritarian system and police state.”
As for Mr Eric Ng, the trip was his first foray onto the international stage.
“It was also a good opportunity for me to learn from the other participants on communication and presentation skills,” he commented. “It certainly serves to build up my confidence.”
He added: “The workshop made me realise the importance of establishing networks with like-minded youths all over. Not only were we able to understand the problems faced by the respective political parties within their own countries, we also learnt from members whose organizations formed the government.
“I am proud to have been part of a historical event and can proudly proclaim to be one of the founding members of CALD Youth.”
Mr Teoh summed up the significance of the event: “If anything, our participation in this workshop served as a reminder, not only to us in the Young Democrats, but to all the youths in Singapore that we cannot adopt a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to political reform. Change can only come when sacrifices are made.”