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Dr Chee Soon Juan focused on the arduous struggle of the Opposition in authoritarian Singapore at an international conference held last week in Budapest, Hungary. Dr Chee, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was in Europe from 19-23 March at the invitation of Liberal International (LI) an organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy and human rights.
The SDP leader was in Hong Kong for a five-day visit the previous week where he spoke at a public seminar organized by the City University of Hong Kong and also addressed the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong on the “State of the Political Economy in Singapore”.
At the Hungarian capital, Dr Chee addressed a packed hall, which included heads of state, ministers, and members of parliament from around the world. He spoke of the continued use of detention without trial, the control of the mainstream media, the suppression of the labour movement, the employment of vote-buying and intimidation tactics during elections, and the use of defamation suits by the ruling party to stifle democratic growth in Singapore.
The SDP leader called on the international community not to ignore Singapore in its quest to build a globalised and democratic world. He urged countries presently negotiating free trade agreements with the Singapore government “not to sacrifice human rights, freedom, and democracy at the altar of free trade” and to encourage the ruling party to practice good governance by respecting the rights of its citizens.
He noted that free trade and economic development cannot be sustained without freedom and political development. “However one looks at it, democracy makes good economic sense,” he said.
Pointing to the widening wealth gap and the plight of the poor in Singapore, Dr Chee added that without human rights, free trade served only to increase income disparity.
He also paid tribute to members of the Young Democrats, SDP’s youth wing, who had the courage to stand up for what they believed in and to resist social and familial pressures by joining the Party.
The SDP secretary general concluded his speech by calling on the international community to remind the Singapore government of the need to adhere to international standards of democratic governance.
“I gladly give up all my possessions, go to prison, and remain a bankrupt for the rest of my life if this is what it takes for me to bring democracy to my country. But I fear that even that may not be enough. We need your help,” Dr Chee said to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Chee also attended a luncheon hosted by the Taiwan Vice-President Annette Lu as well as a dinner reception hosted by the mayor of Budapest, Mr Gabor Demzky.
Dr Chee returned to Singapore on 24 March.