An idea whose time has come

June 9, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Chee Soon Juan
08 Jun 07

Below is the text of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s address to party cadres at SDP’s 13th Ordinary Party Conference on held on 1 Jun 07. You can also watch the video of the speech here. [Part I] [Part II]

Mr Chairman, members and dear friends,

It has been said that even armies cannot resist an idea whose time has come.

I address you today as someone who truly believes that democracy in Singapore is an idea whose time has come.

It is the idea of a people empowered, the idea of a society politically vibrant and dynamic, and the idea that the citizens no longer wish to live in a state of PAP exploitation – ideas that loom large on the horizon of this nation.

As a party we must see this vision and we must grab it for our people. We must point our fellow citizens in the right direction and encourage them to take it. In other words, we must lead.

But, alas, in order to lead we must also be the ones to make the sacrifices without which change will never come.

This is why the SDP is in the position that we are in today. We have been the target of PAP’s persecution and abuse so much so that many have left us for dead or, in the words of our Minister Mentor, “kaput”.

But rather than be discouraged, we take pride in the knowledge that only those by whom Lee Kuan Yew feels threatened will he try to crush.

For this reason, we wear our battle scars with the PAP-state machinery as badges of honour.

Every oppressive measure the Government takes against us is one more reason for us to carrying on our struggle.

For out of the political crucible will emerge a party steeled in its resolve and steeped in the values of democracy.

The results are already beginning to show. Our ranks have grown over the past year especially after the last general election largely by reaching out through the Internet.

Because of our stand, our activities and our can-do spirit, we have had many Singaporeans, especially younger Singaporeans, joining the party. Mind you, this is despite all the attacks the PAP has heaped upon us.

To those of you who found the courage to stand with us, I salute you.

One reason why people decide to commit to the SDP is because we have been a party of principles – democratic principles – not opportunism. We have been unafraid to define ourselves clearly and tell Singaporeans unambiguously who we are, what we stand for and where we want to take this nation.

We have staked out our positions clearly on the various issues, be they ministerial salaries or the mandatory death sentence or discrimination of minority groups, and we have advocated them with logic and gusto.

Economic concerns top priority

Of all these issues, however, the one I feel most passionate about is the economic well-being and welfare of our people.

As long as I am secretary-general, this party will not stand by and keep quiet when our elderly and poor have to rummage through rubbish dumps to look for scraps of leftover food while our prime minister lavishes himself with a salary of $10,000 a day.

As long as I am secretary-general we will speak up when hospital fees and polyclinic charges increase when wages continue to plummet.

As long as I am secretary-general we will call the attention of the people to the Government increasing the GST while losing billions of dollars of public money in debacles like the Shin Corp deal and the University of New South Wales campus crash.

As long as I am secretary-general we will campaign actively against the unthinking and indiscriminate opening of the gates to foreigners to displace Singaporeans from their jobs. This horrendous exploitative Foreign Talent Policy must be called for what it is: A policy that uses the vulnerable to make the vulnerable even more vulnerable.

Confronting the PAP

Singaporeans increasingly see the value of the SDP because we have been unafraid to confront the PAP.

Some say that the SDP is too confrontational. To them, I say that when you find yourselves in your retirement without income, when your aging parents or children end up in hospital and you don’t have enough money to pay the bill, when you find our reserves siphoned off to pay for failed Government-linked companies, you would be wishing that someone had confronted the PAP earlier and harder.

The truth is that we seek reasoned confrontation, confrontation with ideas – not violence, and confrontation with the truth and with facts. It is righteous and peaceful confrontation that we seek.

But confront we must. An opposition party that seeks not to confront the ruling party, a despotic ruling party I might add, is an opposition party not worthy of support because such a party knows neither the courage nor the honesty to serve the people.

And without these core values of courage and honesty, a party cannot become a good government.

It is tempting to keep our heads down so as not to incur the wrath of Lee Kuan Yew and through that gain the acceptance and approval of the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao so that they will report favourably about us and then maybe, just maybe, get enough votes to squeeze into parliament.

We must eschew such an approach. We must not adopt the strategy of trying to appease the powers-that-be in the hope of getting into parliament.

If we do that we will be beholden to the PAP. This will benefit only the party, and for that matter only a few in the party. It certainly will not benefit the people whom we claim to serve.

If the SDP is going to get into parliament, we will get in on the power of the people not the patronage of the PAP.

How do you vote out a dictatorship?

With the election system completely in the hands of the PAP, getting elected in sufficient numbers to form an alternative government is like trying to climb a mountain on roller skates.

We are fooling ourselves. Worse, we are fooling Singaporeans into thinking that that the opposition can win enough seats to make a difference.

Before the elections in May last say, I was invited with other opposition parties to speak at a forum organised by the National University of Singapore Society.

I told the audience at the time that during the campaign period, the PAP will pretend to be fighting for its life and after Polling Day, the media will run the headline that the PAP has won a resounding victory and the party will claim its mandate and then its back to dictatorship-as-usual.

Did things not turn out exactly the way I had described?

From the point of the people what has changed? The only thing that changed is the Non-Constituency MP. How has the elections affected the lives of the people?

As I said in my speech at the NUSS the PAP claimed its mandate and then continued to raise prices and the people continued to live in frustration and hardship.

I have heard opposition members blame the voters because 66 percent voted for the PAP. This completely ignores the fact that the election system here is engineered to ensure PAP’s victory. Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted this.

Elections, in case anyone forgets, are not for the ruling party to engineer. It is for parties to participate in – on equal terms.

Lee said he would even send in the army if there is a “freak” election, meaning that his party loses.

His son, Lee Hsien Loong, said that he would have to “buy votes” and “fix the opposition” if more opposition MPs get into parliament.

With all this, are we still to believe that elections are the way forward if we want meaningful political change?

Don’t get me wrong, elections are the only way to organise society – a democratic society that is.

It is a society where people can vote freely, where the media are not controlled by one party, and where the police don’t arrest people from speaking and protesting in public.

None of these conditions exist in Singapore. Until we achieve these, we are kidding ourselves if we believe we can make significant inroads just by taking part in the elections once every five years.

We have to stop lying to ourselves and stop living in fantasy. The hard, unvarnished truth, if we have the eyes to see it and the honesty to admit it, is that with the system the way it is, the opposition is not going to make any meaningful headway.

The need for reform

We need to work for reform first: reform of the election process, reform of the media, and reform of the judiciary. We need to work to empower our citizens, that is, to wrestle back for them their freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

If you are an observer of history, you will see that no authoritarian regime has ever been voted out of power. Dictatorships will always manipulate the elections system to ensure that they not only win the elections but also completely crush their opponents in the polls.

This is exactly what the PAP has been doing all these years. They give out shares and money just before polling day, threaten the voters with HDB upgrading, introduce the GRC system, prosecute the opposition for speaking to voters, and if all else fails, sue.

And after they have bribed and intimidated the voters sufficiently they allow them to go to the ballot boxes. Then they claim that they have the mandate and things continue on as usual.\