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Mr Alex Au has shifted his microscope onto the political opposition in Singapore and has, in his usual clinical way, written an incisive piece about its role and performance in the country’s body politic.
For the most part, Mr Au does a commendable job in pointing out where the weaknesses of the various opposition parties lie. The Singapore Democrats did not escape his scrutiny and came in for criticism as well, some of which we would be foolish not to reflect upon. But there were others that were off the mark. This response is confined to the latter.
Analysis and alternatives
Mr Au points out that while the Singapore Democrats are clear about our platform on civil liberties, we tend to “[stick] to slogans rather than present a clear analysis with a view to alternative solutions” when it comes to the economic system.
We wish to point out that we published the SDP’s Economic Report 1995, a 38-page document, where we examined the different aspects of our economy, including the use of the GDP as well as the structure and direction of our economic system. A chapter was dedicated to presenting our alternative strategy.
The report was subsequently updated and expanded in 2002 in a 60-page publication entitled First World…For Whom? It focused exclusively on Singapore’s economy and labour. We examined the causes for the income disparity and the pros and cons of free trade as it relates to Singapore. Again we reserved a chapter just for our alternative ideas.
Dr Chee Soon Juan had written a few books in which he also devoted major sections to discussing the economy and its related issues such as social security, distribution of wealth, and healthcare costs. In all these, alternative policies were proposed. The latest of these books is A Nation Cheated.
The discussions in these publications have been condensed and highlighted on this website here, here and here. Readers will note that we have proposed alternatives and even distinguished them into proposals for the short-, intermediate- and longer-terms.
We have focused on the economic system more than on any other subject precisely because we understand the importance of the economy in a society like ours.
It is, thus, not fair to accuse us of just sticking to slogans without analysis and alternatives especially when it comes to this subject.
Another point that Mr Au made is that the SDP is too quick to translate these slogans into “street theatre of civil disobedience.” (See box; from yawningbread.org)
It should be pointed out that most of the books and reports cited above were published in between 1994 and 2002, years before we even raised the subject of civil disobedience. (Ironically, it was this inability to get through our message under the PAP-controlled system that persuaded our members and friends that civil disobedience is a necessary and effective tool.)
Our third and final point is derived from the first two. Mr Au concludes that because of our sloganeering and lack of a considered alternative, people tend to see our protests about the economy as insincere. And because of this insincerity Singaporeans don’t want to participate in them because they are wary of being used.
Having pointed out that we have indeed been putting in much time and effort to analyse and propose alternatives about the economic system, does this make Mr Au’s point moot?
But whether it does or not, we wish to make it as plain as we can: Our purpose of encouraging Singaporeans to come out and exercise their freedom of assembly is to empower Singaporeans, not the SDP.
People who make the effort and sacrifice to push for political freedom empower themselves. The beneficiaries, when society opens up, are Singaporeans themselves, not the SDP.
We seek only to encourage our fellow citizens to stand up for themselves. We do this by leading through example and taking the consequences ourselves. We do not seek to use anyone.
For those who don’t want to feel used don’t just not join our protests and stop there. Organise your own protests, and challenge the laws that deprive us of these fundamental rights.
We acknowledge Mr Au’s observation that Singaporeans know little about the SDP’s economic programme. But this is not for want of trying, there is only so much that we can do in a state that controls the media the way the PAP does.
(This reinforces our point that fighting for our civil liberties which include the right to a free media is just as important as fighting on bread-and-butter issues, if not more so. For without freedom of the press, how are Singaporeans going to know of our economic alternatives?)
Nevertheless, we have been preparing a series of articles to update the SDP’s economic proposals in anticipation of the coming GE to be posted on this website in the coming weeks.
We thank Mr Au for his comments and, as always, we take them in the spirit that they are given, which is to make us a better political entity.