South China Morning Post interviews Chee

Toh Han Shih
South China Morning Post

Both Singapore and Hong Kong need greater democratisation to resolve their acute wealth disparity, and social media could help foster this, said Singaporean opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.$CUT$

“Democratisation is essential in Hong Kong and Singapore to overcome income inequality. To reduce income inequality, we have to have an opposition voice,” said Chee, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party.

[photo (left): Chee Soon Juan says policies in both Hong Kong and Singapore have been skewed to benefit those at the top of the food chain.]

The SDP has no seat in Singapore’s Parliament, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) dominates with 80 of the 99 seats.

“Without democracy, policies in both cities have been skewed to benefit those at the top of the food chain, leaving the middle and lower classes to struggle. Without democracy, there can be no workers’ rights. Extreme income inequality does not induce a society’s well-being.”

He pointed out that both cities had very high income disparities. Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient is 0.54, the highest in Asia. A Gini coefficient of zero equates to complete equality and a coefficient of 1 is total inequality. Singapore’s is 0.48, higher than the United States’ 0.41.

“Singapore has the highest number of millionaires per capita, yet 5 per cent of our workforce draw an annual income of less than US$5,000,” Chee said.

While the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive is a core issue of the Occupy Central protest, other concerns include the lack of opportunity for the young and wealth disparity, he noted.

“Singapore and Hong Kong are at the cusp of something momentous. If we rise to it, we will take Asia to greatness. If Hong Kong manages to take the lead in China’s democratisation, that will be a pleasant surprise to the world. If Singapore democratises, that will be quite a change,” Chee declared.

The reason there are no protests on the scale of Occupy Central in Singapore is the restrictions its government imposes on public gatherings, he said.

Although Singapore does have elections, the nation’s democratic system is less than perfect, he said. Electoral boundaries are redrawn “with almost no transparency”, while the mainstream media tend to favour the ruling PAP, he argued.

The Reporters Without Borders 2014 Press Freedom Index ranked Hong Kong 61st and Singapore 150th out of 180 nations. Chee has been sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his father the former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and another ex-PM, Goh Chok Tong, and ordered to pay damages to them.

Still, he admitted: “The times have changed. The Singapore government can no longer detain without trial mainstream opposition politicians or civil-society figures.

“The question is how much longer the PAP can control the political discussion, due to the enlargement of social media. That has changed political debates remarkably. The element of fear among Singaporeans subsided significantly at the last general election in 2011.”

During the general election of 2006, the SDP only managed to recruit 20 to 30 volunteers, but shortly after the 2011 elections, 500 to 600 volunteers showed up at the party’s thank-you dinner for the volunteers, Chee said. “That was a huge jump. I attribute that to social media. I have every confidence we will see more of that in the next election.”

Chee’s guess is that elections will be held shortly after Singapore’s National Day on August 9 next year.