Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan outlined the SDP's ideology of building a caring and fairer system which puts people first at the recently held party conference.
Many people have asked why the our party places so much emphasis on policy-making. After all, they say, only a small fraction of the electorate reads the alternative policy papers that we put up. And those who do read them co-opt the ideas therein.
But if we did not spend the time and effort to put up such position papers, how do we know what we are fighting for? And if, we don't know what we are fighting for, how can we ask the people for their support?
Are we just opposing for opposition's sake or are we truly fighting to make the life better for the people and to make tomorrow brighter for them and for our country?
In order for us to make such policies – and more importantly policies that cohere, not just scatter-shot policies in knee-jerk reaction to the PAP – we must know what we, as a party, stand for. We must have a vision for our people. Only then can we develop a set of holistic and sound policies for our nation's future.
So what exactly do we stand for?
To answer this question, we must go back to examine the Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew has created. That society is undergirded by the philosophy, in Lee's own words, that "no one owes you a living”, "whatever you earn, it’s yours”, and "there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
These words appeal to our basest instincts and rob us of that most essential of human qualities—our ability to care.
Such thought, channeled into policy, has had more than half-a-century to work itself into our culture, and the results are not promising. We have the largest income gap amongst developed economies with all the attendant social, economic and moral ills: Citizens who are highly distrustful of each other, people who find little joy and pride in the work they do, and youths who don't bat an eye even as they see the elderly clean up after them at hawker centres.
Want fewer births? Pay women to undergo tubal ligation. Want more births? Give tax incentives to couples to have more babies. Want good cabinet ministers? Pay them million-dollar salaries. Want our children to have strong character? Reward them with cash.
Our healthcare system runs on the basis that the richer you are, the better and more prompt your medical treatment is. Elite schools offering special academic tracks charge school fees upwards of $300 a month. Our public housing system allows flats to be sold in excess of $1 million.
When we monetise things that we shouldn't, especially in circumstances where societal values are involved, we bring about harmful outcomes. Our moneyed society wreaks a pernicious effect on the public spirit: Despite having the most number of millionaires per capita in the world, Singaporeans are the least happy people; despite rated one of the best places by foreigners to immigrate to, more than half of Singapore citizens indicate they want to emigrate; and despite having a compulsory National Service, more than a third of our youths say that don't feel any loyalty to this country.
Something has gone very wrong in our society. We must change it. We must adopt a different development paradigm and go down a different path. We can, and must, appeal to our better angels.
This is where the SDP can serve our nation. At the core of our message is that we, the people of this island-nation, are all in this together and if we don't look out for one another, we descend into a society that is at once brutal and unevolved. It is a society devoid of humanity and one that we, for our own sakes, cannot afford to become.
We believe that the role of a good government is to care for citizens who need assistance and then getting out of their way when they are up and running.
This is the philosophy upon which the SDP has built our foundation and it will be the basis upon which we will continue our work. Indeed, our alternative policies are predicated on this belief that a government must care: care for the elderly who are so poor that they have to stand in line queuing up at temples just for something to eat, for that woman working two jobs just to feed her family, for the retiree who doesn't earn enough to pay for his cancer treatment.
Our ability to care will lend courage needed to question authority and to build a capacity for collective reasoning and debate that will allow us to shape our future in ways that will fulfill our aspirations and happiness.
We must stop indoctrinating our people with slogans like "no one owes us a living". Rather, we should inspire them to care for humanity. We must demonstrate to our young ones that by uplifting those around us, we ultimately uplift ourselves and our self-worth.
The only way that we can achieve this is to ensure that money and monetary incentives do not become the be-all and end-all of the way we live. The problem isn't what we aspire to, it is what we are willing to sacrifice in our effort to obtain material wealth that we should be careful about. For this will determine how happily we live.
The danger of placing money at the centre of our national life is that we abrogate our moral responsibility and devolve our decision-making to market norms. We blur our moral vision when we see everything through the lens of profit. The danger is that we become blinded by the things we want and blind to the things we really need.
Such a way of life may bring us material progress (but even this will slow down as our economy finds it difficult to regenerate itself) but the good life, the one that brings us genuine contentment, security and happiness will elude us. We need a fundamental rethink of how we pursue wealth and, more importantly, to what end.
What I have just described forms the bedrock of our Party's philosophy and core values. It is everything that we stand for, everything that we believe in, and everything that we have sacrificed for.
It is enshrined in our Party's constitution. And unlike the PAP's constitution, ours is alive and something to which we remain true. What do I mean? Take a look at the PAP's objectives as stated in their constitution and you tell me how much of it is kept:
(a) To preserve, protect and defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Singapore.
(b) To safeguard the freedom...of Singaporeans through representative and democratic government.
(c) To forge a nation of Singaporeans;...to infuse into Singaporeans a sense of national identity and to bind them together by patriotism and commitment to Singapore.
(d) To build a dynamic society...which also has compassion...
(e) To achieve the optimum in economic development...to provide equal opportunities for all Singaporeans to strive to fulfill themselves...
Now compare this to the objectives in our constitution:
- To eliminate all forms of authoritarianism; to uphold democratic principles and institutionalise democratic practices.
- To build an economically stable and progressive nation based on the free market system where...direct Government participation in business is minimised.
- To foster a vibrant and dynamic society based on pluralism and diversity; to replace elitism; to remove policies that discriminate; to do away with regulation that stifles innovation...
- To restore a proper system of checks-and-balance in the polity and to ensure the independence of the judiciary; to respect human, civil, and political rights of Singaporeans...
This is the reason why we, the SDP, has kept our constitution alive by building our alternative policies around its objectives. This is why our alternative policies on ministerial salaries, healthcare, housing, population and ethnic minority are coherent, not ad hoc and piecemeal.
A party that truly believes in the people, one that seeks to put people before profit, wisdom before wealth and rights before riches is one that will be on the right side of history.
This is who we are, this is what we stand for and this is what we must strive to uphold. It is what keeps us united as Singapore Democrats and it is what is going to help us succeed as a Party and, most importantly, it is what is going to bring this Republic of Singapore a better future.