Building a winning strategy

Singapore Democrats

Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan outlined the SDP’s ideology of building a caring and fairer system which puts people first at the recently held party conference. (Please click on “Captions” for English subtitles)$CUT$

Full text of Dr Chee’s speech

Many people have asked why the ourparty places so much emphasis on policy-making. After all, they say,only a small fraction of the electorate reads the alternative policypapers that we put up. And those who do read them co-opt the ideastherein.

But if we did not spend the time andeffort to put up such position papers, how do we know what we arefighting for? And if, we don’t know what we are fighting for, how canwe ask the people for their support?

Are we just opposing for opposition’ssake or are we truly fighting to make the life better for the peopleand to make tomorrow brighter for them and for our country?

In order for us to make such policies –and more importantly policies that cohere, not just scatter-shotpolicies in knee-jerk reaction to the PAP – we must know what we,as a party, stand for. We must have a vision for our people. Onlythen can we develop a set of holistic and sound policies for ournation’s future.

So what exactly do we stand for?

To answer this question, we must goback to examine the Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew has created. Thatsociety is undergirded by the philosophy, in Lee’s own words, that”no one owes you a living”, “whatever you earn, it’s yours”,and “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

These words appeal to our basestinstincts and rob us of that most essential of human qualities—ourability to care.

Such thought, channeled into policy, has hadmore than half-a-century to work itself into our culture, and theresults are not promising. We have the largest income gap amongstdeveloped economies with all the attendant social, economic and moralills: Citizens who are highly distrustful of each other, people whofind little joy and pride in the work they do, and youths who don’tbat an eye even as they see the elderly clean up after them at hawkercentres.

Want fewer births? Pay women to undergotubal ligation. Want more births? Give tax incentives to couples tohave more babies. Want good cabinet ministers? Pay themmillion-dollar salaries. Want our children to have strong character?Reward them with cash.

Our healthcare system runs on the basisthat the richer you are, the better and more prompt your medicaltreatment is. Elite schools offering special academic tracks chargeschool fees upwards of $300 a month. Our public housing system allowsflats to be sold in excess of $1 million.

When we monetisethings that we shouldn’t, especially in circumstances where societalvalues are involved, we bring about harmful outcomes. Our moneyedsociety wreaks a pernicious effect on the public spirit: Despitehaving the most number of millionaires per capita in the world,Singaporeans are the least happy people; despite rated one of thebest places by foreigners to immigrate to, more than half ofSingapore citizens indicate they want to emigrate; and despite havinga compulsory National Service, more than a third of our youths saythat don’t feel any loyalty to this country.

Something has gone very wrong in oursociety. We must change it. We must adopt a different developmentparadigm and go down a different path. We can, and must, appeal toour better angels.

This is where the SDP can serve our nation.At the core of our message is that we, the people of thisisland-nation, are all in this together and if we don’t look out forone another, we descend into a society that is at once brutal andunevolved. It is a society devoid of humanity and one that we, forour own sakes, cannot afford to become.

We believe that therole of a good government is to care for citizens who need assistanceand then getting out of their way when they are up and running.

Thisis the philosophy upon which the SDP has built our foundation and itwill be the basis upon which we will continue our work. Indeed, ouralternative policies are predicated on this belief that a governmentmust care: care for the elderly who are so poor that they have tostand in line queuing up at temples just for something to eat, forthat woman working two jobs just to feed her family, for the retireewho doesn’t earn enough to pay for his cancer treatment.

Ourability to care will lend courage needed to question authority and tobuild a capacity for collective reasoning and debate that will allowus to shape our future in ways that will fulfill our aspirations andhappiness.

We must stop indoctrinating our people with sloganslike “no one owes us a living”. Rather, we should inspirethem to care for humanity. We must demonstrate to our young ones thatby uplifting those around us, we ultimately uplift ourselves and ourself-worth.

The only way that we can achieve thisis to ensure that money and monetary incentives do not become thebe-all and end-all of the way we live. The problem isn’t what weaspire to, it is what we are willing to sacrifice in our effort toobtain material wealth that we should be careful about. For this willdetermine how happily we live.

The danger of placing money at thecentre of our national life is that we abrogate our moralresponsibility and devolve our decision-making to market norms. Weblur our moral vision when we see everything through the lens ofprofit. The danger is that we become blinded by the things we wantand blind to the things we really need.

Such a way of life maybring us material progress (but even this will slow down as oureconomy finds it difficult to regenerate itself) but the good life,the one that brings us genuine contentment, security and happinesswill elude us. We need a fundamental rethink of how we pursue wealthand, more importantly, to what end.

What I have just described formsthe bedrock of our Party’s philosophy and core values. It iseverything that we stand for, everything that we believe in, andeverything that we have sacrificed for.

It is enshrined in our Party’sconstitution. And unlike the PAP’s constitution, ours is alive andsomething to which we remain true. What do I mean? Take a look at thePAP’s objectives as stated in their constitution and you tell me howmuch of it is kept:

(a) To preserve, protect and defend theindependence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Singapore.

(b) To safeguard the freedom…ofSingaporeans through representative and democratic government.

(c) To forge a nation ofSingaporeans;…to infuse into Singaporeans a sense of nationalidentity and to bind them together by patriotism and commitment toSingapore.

(d) To build a dynamic society…whichalso has compassion…

(e) To achieve the optimum in economicdevelopment…to provide equal opportunities for all Singaporeans tostrive to fulfill themselves…

Now compare this to the objectives inour constitution:

  1. To eliminate all forms of authoritarianism; to uphold democratic principles and institutionalise democratic practices.

  2. To build an economically stable and progressive nation based on the free market system where…direct Government participation in business is minimised.

  3. To foster a vibrant and dynamic society based on pluralism and diversity; to replace elitism; to remove policies that discriminate; to do away with regulation that stifles innovation…

  4. To restore a proper system of checks-and-balance in the polity and to ensure the independence of the judiciary; to respect human, civil, and political rights of Singaporeans…

When you depart from your pledge as aparty, your moral compass starts to go haywire. When you move awayfrom what you say you believe in and what you want to achieve, youbecome an empty shell, a beautiful shop-front with attractivewindow-dressing but little else.

This is the reason why we, the SDP, haskept our constitution alive by building our alternative policiesaround its objectives. This is why our alternative policies onministerial salaries, healthcare, housing, population and ethnicminority are coherent, not ad hoc and piecemeal.

A party that truly believes in thepeople, one that seeks to put people before profit, wisdom beforewealth and rights before riches is one that will be on the right sideof history.

This is who we are, this is what westand for and this is what we must strive to uphold. It is what keepsus united as Singapore Democrats and it is what is going to help ussucceed as a Party and, most importantly, it is what is going tobring this Republic of Singapore a better future.

Thank you.

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