The Satay Club
Q: The opposition has managed to attract a large number of ‘well-credentialed’ candidates ahead of this General Election. Many have even observed that the opposition has done a better job than the PAP in terms of attracting quality candidates who represent a diverse range of views this time round (i.e. the PAP candidates are largely from the public sector and unions). In your opinion, why have more talented people stepped forward to join the opposition? Do you think the climate of fear and oppression that you have alluded to on several previous occasions has dissipated somewhat? Or do you feel that Singaporeans have become less apathetic and have undergone a political awakening of sorts?
CSJ: The Internet has certainly played a part in helping to disseminate information and facilitate discussion among the masses. This has led to people being able to come together in expressing their views even as they are prevented from gathering together physically.
With the Singapore Democratic Party we have seen individuals who read beyond the headlines showing interest in what we do and wanting to contribute to our effort to bring about a democratically accountable and transparent system. This is because of our strong online presence and a website that is dedicated to political discussion.
The climate of fear is still prevalent. We have many Singaporeans who have expressed interest in wanting to join the party and run for office but decided against it at the end because of fear and concerns arising from the family members.
Q: Do you feel that this will be a watershed election? If so, why? If not, why not?
CSJ: 'Watershed' might to too strong a word. But I think there is going to be a shift away from the PAP-centric kind of elections as witnessed in past elections. Again, because of the Internet, the PAP is unable to singularly drive opinion. Netizens are actively campaigning and making their voices heard.
Nonetheless, there has been a small but important change in the political psyche of the populace due to the growing influence of the Internet.
Q: You have previously been vocal about the need for a complete reform of the political system in Singapore. If, in this election, the opposition manages to wrest say 8 to 10 seats from the PAP, would you consider that as progress, or would it not make a difference to you?
CSJ: If you notice the trend the mass media run by the SPH and Mediacorp are actively playing down the SDP's news and proposals because the PAP does not want to see the SDP taking seats in Parliament.
This censorship will have a significant impact on how the public views the slate of opposition parties contesting in the elections which will disadvantage the SDP and affect the final outcome of the election results. If the SDP, which has called for a reform of the political system, is again kept out of parliament through undemocratic means then little will have changed.
Q: How do you feel about not being able to contest in the upcoming election because of your status as a bankrupt? What will be your role in terms of the overall SDP campaign?
CSJ: Of course I would like to be out leading my party in the battle but I have been prevented from doing so. But rather than despair about it, I am helping to put together a solid team of candidates and a party machinery that would get us into Parliament. If my colleagues get into Parliament to speak up for the voiceless, I would have succeeded in what I have set out to do.
Q: The SDP has sought to position itself as a ‘competent, constructive and compassionate’ party over the past few months and has been pretty vocal about ‘bread and butter’ issues, in addition to advocating the party’s traditional stand on human rights and civil liberties. Most notably, however, the SDP seems to have abandoned its stance on civil disobedience. Why has this been the case? Do you still feel that civil disobedience is the only approach with which the opposition can seek to achieve its goals of reform and transformation in Singapore?
CSJ: No, we have not abandoned anything. There is a time and place for everything. There is a time when we advocate and take the lead on pushing for freedom of assembly, But there is also a time when we concentrate on getting ready our party for the electoral fight.
At the end of the day, it will have to take pressure on all fronts - at the ballot box and at public assemblies, and by opposition parties together with civil society - before the autocrats will be compelled to yield to the people and return to us our constitutional rights of freedom of speech, assembly and association. Without our political freedoms we cannot effectively address the bread-and-butter issues.
Elections is but only one aspect of a democratic system. It will not make a government heed the voice of the people. Election rules are manipulated to ensure a ruling party's victory.
Q: What is your view on the NCMP system, given that there will be up to 9 NCMPs in the next Parliament? Will SDP members accept NCMP positions if offered them? Why or why not?
CSJ: The NCMP scheme is a diversionary tactic used by the PAP to ease pressure on it to democratise the system. We want to get into Parliament on the strength of the people's support, not some misguided machination by the PAP.
Q: What is your view on the comments made by the Prime Minister regarding there being ‘internal debates’ within the PAP, which were (quite emotionally) reiterated by Lim Boon Heng when he insisted that there was ‘no group think’ within the party – giving the example of his personal disagreements to the building of the two casinos?
CSJ: If a party policy so vexes a member to the point that it makes him express himself so emotionally, then he should take a principled stand and resign. In the UK Labour government ministers who could not agree with their government over the Iraq War didn't cry - they quit in protest.
Q: Lastly, in your opinion, how does the SDP team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC shape up against the incumbent team, given that it comprises a cabinet minister (Vivian Balakrishnan), an individual hotly-tipped to be a cabinet minister (Chan Chun Sing) and another potential office holder (Sim Ann)? Do you think that Dr Wijeysingha is of ‘ministerial calibre’, seeing as many observers seem to think so?
CSJ: We will field a slate of candidates in Holland-Bukit Timah that will be more than capable of replacing the existing PAP team. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has shown to be one of the poorer ministers that the PAP has produced. His bungling of the YOG and his uncaring attitude towards the poor make him a rather weak minister and MP.
Dr Wijeysingha has distinguished himself as a candidate and so has the rest of his colleagues whom we will field in the elections.
(16 Apr 2011)