You can’t fight for democracy on bended knees

May 19, 2006
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

For the past seven days, the Singapore Democrats have been in here 9Sam’s Alfresco Coffee Shop) taking jabs, upper cuts and even a couple of left hooks. Several more embraced us and gave us a hearty “Fight on!”

I’d like to do a quick round up of some of the more memorable moments.

Playing by the rules

Some of you felt that the SDP needed to soften its image, keep a lower profile, adopt a different direction altogether or do all three. In other words, don’t clash head-on with the PAP. Play within the rules.

Yes, we said. But please, pray tell, what are the rules? The PAP changes them like it changes underwear.

First they introduce the GRC system, then they say that political videos are banned, then the threaten voters with upgrading, then they increase the candidate’s election deposit by almost 170 percent, then they give out money during elections, then they require nominators to be present at the Nominating Centres, then they outlaw podcasting, then they require the candidates to pay for security…what next? Electronic voting?

Yes, electronic voting. When that happens, we will not need counting agents anymore because there will be nothing to count. All the votes will be reduced to binary bits and bytes, and tallied by a computer program. Scary, isn’t it?

Can we at least get an independent body to make the rules where contesting parties have a say instead of leaving everything to the PAP? How dumb does the PAP think we are, anyway? (Pretty dumb, actually, if you consider the fact that they’ve been winning ten elections on the trot – hands down! And the way things look presently another ten in the years to come if we don’t do anything about it.)

This is why the Singapore Democrats are yelling to whoever will listen that we’ve got to get the rules governing democratic elections down pat. That means making sure that the newspapers won’t print 7 pages of we-love-you type of reports for the PAP and one ok-so-you’re-contesting page for the opposition. It also means ensuring that the people can assemble in between elections not just to go for RC walk-a-jogs but to stage meaningful and peaceful protests.

Without reform the opposition will still be getting dragged from pillar to post even when the MM is 120 years old.

Without reform we will never be able to stop the kind of talk that Mr Lee Hsien Loong makes about “fixing” the opposition and “buying” support.

Without reform we would never be able to look our children in the eye and tell them that we stopped them from reciting the lie in school everyday that we are building “a democratic society, based on justice and equality.”

Using Nonviolence

So what do we do? The SDP suggested that we take a serious look into the use of Nonviolent Civil Action and, if need be, civil disobedience to persuade the PAP to refrain from bullying the opposition and the people.

Cries of “Our situation is different from that of other countries”, “Singaporeans are too immature”, “We can’t achieve democracy overnight” immediately went up from some forumers.

We explained that NV Civil Action is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Activists in every country and society need to look at the circumstances in which they operate and tailor the principle of NV (which is essentially the proactive use of peaceful means to achieve a political/social/economic goal) for their own needs.

The Singapore Democrats continue to have faith in our people and that Singaporeans do care about values such as justice, political rights, and information free-flow. This is not conjecture because 40 years ago, Singaporeans demonstrated that they cared about freedom and democracy when they sacked the British colonialists from the island.

It is the PAP, after it took control of the country, that drummed into our heads that we are a useless people who would degenerate into incompetent “lumpen masses” without PAP control (to quote a certain Mr Lee).

On the point about achieving democracy overnight, the SDP would be the last to say that the reform effort can be carried out hurriedly. As Rome was not built in a day, so democracies cannot be delivered express. Strategies need to be thought out, activists need to be trained, and people need to be made aware. This will take much time which is all the more reason for us to start now.

‘Now’ means 27 May 2006. It’s the day when the SDP will organise a workshop to draw up an action-agenda that will chart out a Road Map for Democracy in Singapore (please see other announcement in other post). We hope to see you then.

Thank you

We promised we would stop making a nuisance of ourselves after seven days and we will keep to our word and take leave of this forum. It has been wonderful meeting you even though we have not seen a single face or shaken a solitary hand.

On behalf of Charles Tan, Chee Siok Chin, and Gandhi Ambalam, I thank all of you for coming into this thread and making our political lives that much richer. We hope that we have done the same for you.

Our only regret is that we have not been able to respond to all of your posts or have done so inadequately. For that, please accept our sincerest apologies. Perhaps we will find another opportunity to exchange our views.

But even as we leave cyberspace, we will be here in real space to continue to speak up for you. We ask that you make our fight less lonely by coming forth and joining us in our struggle.

Throughout the week our message to our fellow Singaporeans has been: Have courage. You cannot fight for democracy on bended knees! We carry this message with us into the future.

Yours truly,

Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democrats