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Many people have the impression that the Singapore Democratic Party is an activism oriented party. They are not wrong in having that impression. But some say that because of the activist approach, the party is wasting its time and energy.
We make no apologies for our approach because, looking back, it was the right thing to do. In this autocratic nation of ours, there is little political space for politics and civil society to develop.
Without freedom of speech how can the opposition have a political debate and get our message across to the people?
The PAP continues to dominate the political discourse and the opposition is at the regime’s mercy when it comes to public opinion.
Historically, many prime ministers and presidents started out as or have had to go the route of activism to bring about democratic change before being elected into office. Notable examples are Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Kim Dae Jung, and Benigno Aquino.
In the glaring absence of an active civil society and total absence of space for open discussion of national issues, both of which are extremely detrimental to fair political discourse, creating more space for people to come together and voice their opinions is the necessary first step to democracy.
Seeing this, the SDP could have done one of two things:
1. Sit and wait for a vibrant civil society to spring up miraculously or wait for the Government to suddenly wake up to a good mood and allow Singaporeans their right to free speech and assembly or
2. Put on its activist cap and start raising awareness among the citizens of their political rights as well as push the limits and boundaries to expand the political space.
Our choice was obvious. And because of the SDP leaders’ effort, we now not only have the Speakers’ Corner but also the Government relaxing the rules further, as a direct response to our activism, to allow demonstrations and protests at Hong Lim Park.
Today, we see a myriad of groups making full use of the space to champion various causes. The anti-death penalty campaign, the Lehman Brothers protests, the gay and lesbian pink-dot celebrations, the NTU student protest, the call by the disabled community for more subsidies, and even the boycott of the World Cup telecast by MioTV all made use of the Speakers’ Corner.
These events have opened up debate and discussion on the Internet which forced the traditional media to report on them and thereby pushing public discourse into new areas. The burgeoning civil movement made up of many aware and concerned citizens willing to speak up for each other and for important issues is evident. Hopefully, this will self-propagate and be sustainable.
With the elections looming, however, we now switch gears and focus on getting our candidates elected. We have in the past several months concentrated our efforts to formulating solutions and alternative ideas to the national problems confronting our country, since that is the reason for the Party’s existence in the first place.
We have been and continue to be at the forefront of bringing up issues like the influx of foreigners, cost of living, the floods, etc. Our videos continue to reach out to thousands of Singaporeans explaining the dangers of PAP policies and our solutions to these problems.
This picture is now emerging: We now have at least the start of an active civil society as well as an opposition party presenting a credilble challenge and alternative platform to the PAP. This did not come about accidentally.
It was the result of the tireless work and sacrifice of the activists in our party. (Incidentally, the PAP also refers to its members as “activists” although I’m not quite sure they really know the meaning of the term.)
There is still much to do. But the progress we have made thus far has not been insignificant. No energy and time was wasted if you take this bigger picture in perspective.
Jarrod Luo is the Hon. Secretary of the Young Democrats.