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Before we embark on a discussion about a political party’s competence, let us settle on a set of measures. The ones that we present here are those that Singaporeans have been talking about whenever the subject of political parties come up.
We begin with what competence is not. Competence is not about deciding that you are good and smart, and then telling everybody about it
ad nauseum. That’s not competence, that’s propaganda.
Competence is about listening to the people and addressing their aspirations and concerns. It is about serving the broad interests of society and humanity, not the parochial interests of a party or the individuals therein.
By listening, a political party finds ways on how to meet the aspirations of society by incorporating those views into its policies.
The Singapore Democrats have, through the years, endeavoured to do this. We have been listening to you and what you have been saying to us what you wish for our country and we made these the cornerstone of our alternative vision for Singapore.
To this end, we thank all of you for your valuable contributions to our development as a serious contender for government in the future.
Another measure of competence is how you deal with a crisis and learn from it to emerge stronger and better. It is well-known that the SDP was in the doldrums years ago when we went through the rancorous divorce with Mr Chiam See Tong.
One lesson we took away from that episode was that a party needed to be grounded on principles and a clear, well-articulated direction and vision. Members joining the party would become loyal to these principles and platform rather than to individuals within the party.
A well-defined set of values is also important. Teamwork, sacrifice and innovation are the bases on which the Singapore Democrats operate. We want to move beyond a party where members see it as a vehicle to achieve their own self-centred goals. The SDP values individuals who will subordinate their self-interests of power and fame to a collective goal of building a society where freedom and democracy reigns.
Our growth in recent years, especially the growth of our youth wing, is the best testament to our competence of turning crisis into opportunity. Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. We agree:
Competence is also about making lemonade when you are thrown a lemon. The PAP has time and again tried to crush us with its lawsuits and prosecutions. It has used the SPH and MediaCorps to repeatedly and relentlessly smear us.
The attacks have been debilitating, removing vast amounts of our resources. Faced with such a situation we could have done one of two things: Get bitter and fold up, or find ways to turn adversity to advantage.
We chose the latter. We didn’t complain. We just got on with the job of doing what we set out to do. We may have lacked resources but we possessed resourcefulness. Where we had little, we searched. Where there was no path, we made one.
We have relied on resourcefulness and resilience to build a future for ourselves. Thanks, in part, to the Internet we can report that we are making progress.
Make no mistake, we are not out of the woods. The PAP will continue to hit us and hit us hard through fair means and foul. But we will face up to these challenges and we will make our lemonade.
Competence is about thinking long-term and having foresight. Our end-all and be-all does not lie in this general elections. The SDP eschews immediate, short-term gratification. Instead we are committed to laying the foundation for success beyond 2010.
This does not mean we are not focused on this election. On the contrary, we will sweat every drop of sweat and exercise every fibre of our being to succeed at this elections.
But this is only the beginning of the build up of our grassroots network in preparation for future success. The end of this GE signals the beginning of the next one.
Competence is knowing that political rights and economic rights are two sides of the same coin. An opposition party in Singapore must know that to talk about bread-and-butter issues to the exclusion of fundamental freedoms such as freedoms of speech, of assembly and of the press is to dwell in fantasy.
This is why even as we focus on economic matters, we continue to advance the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly of our fellow citizens. Without political rights, we cannot have economic rights. For it is only when the people are empowered will their economic concerns be addressed.
Ultimately whether we are competent or not is something that Singaporeans will tell us. Competence does not mean that we won’t make mistakes. It means that when we do, we own up to it and learn from it.
In the meantime, we can only promise to climb the mountain of competence where, for us at least, the peak will always be yet to come.