The PAP, or rather Mr Lee Kuan Yew, has tried -- and is still trying -- to define what the opposition in Singapore is and how it should function. He wants to see a "constructive" opposition. By that, Mr Lee means that the opposition should play the game within his rules and accept the PAP's dominance in Singapore's politics. Anyone working outside this definition is labeled "destructive". The late J B Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan are examples.
From reviewing the input of Singaporeans through the years, however, we have crystallised five essential features that Singaporeans feel an opposition must possess in order to function effectively. We then show how the Singapore Democrats have stacked up against these criteria.
1. Proposing alternative ideas
Voters want the opposition to not just criticise the Government but to articulate clearly its own alternative policies.
To this end, the Singapore Democrats have not been found wanting. In 1994, we published Dare To Change which outlined our major policy areas. These alternative ideas were subsequently refined and elaborated in various publications, including our newspaper The New Democrat.
These ideas are also spelt out in this website. The clearest demonstration yet of our commitment to providing credible alternative ideas was during Budget 2009 where we made several policy proposals (see here), some of which were even taken up by PAP MPs.
2. Asking hard and necessary questions
One of the most important roles of an opposition is to check the government and hold it accountable. The SDP does not shy away from this role. We have questioned the PAP on various issues ranging from the acquisition of Shin Corp to the strategy of promoting Singapore as a tax haven to our ill-advised investments in Western banks.
3. Speaking up on important issues
Through the years Singapore Democrats have emphasized heavily on issues that matter to the people such as the cost of living, minimum wage, retirement income, distribution of wealth, and poverty in Singapore.
Readers of this website will agree that we have repeatedly spoken up on these matters. What we have added is that without political rights and freedoms, these economic concerns will not be heeded by the Government.
4. Not dormant in between elections
The opposition is often accused of coming alive only when elections are called. This cannot be said of the Singapore Democrats. Again, readers of this website will see that we have been organising campaigns and forums, visiting students, meeting with residents, doing research, reaching out to Singaporeans through the Internet, and so on.
We have been hard at work in between elections. Unfortunately Singaporeans know little about our work because the media refuses to report our activities. We therefore rely on the Internet and on our supporters and friends to help us spread the word.
5. Calling for reform
In a one-party state like Singapore, it is simply not credible for the opposition to pretend like we are operating in a democracy. The opposition must work towards political reform to bring about a system that is transparent and democratically accountable, one that would encourage citizens to actively participate in the public process and allow them to vote freely and fairly.
In the first part of this post, we listed out the criteria by which Singaporeans say they measure the credibility of an opposition party, chiefly that the opposition must: One, be able to propose credible alternative ideas; two, speak up on issues that matter to the people; three, ask the hard and necessary questions; four, not become dormant in between elections; and five, foster opposition unity.
As we have spoken at length on the first two criteria, we will not dwell on them in this post. Instead, we focus on the latter three measures and examine how we strive to live up to our own expectations as well as those of our fellow Singaporeans.
Asking the hard questions
One of the most important roles of an opposition is to check the government and hold it accountable. A checks and balance system is one of the key strengths of the democratic system.
Without a strong opposition to ask the hard and necessary questions, the government is not compelled to reveal information crucial to the public. Left on its own, no ruling party will volunteer information. Transparency is the casualty.
In this regard the Singapore Democrats have not been found wanting. We have consistently been asking the hard and necessary questions on various issues.
Take for example, the acquisition of Shin Corp to the strategy of promoting Singapore as a tax haven to our ill-advised investments in Western banks where billions of dollars have been lost.
But because the SDP is not represented in Parliament, we are unable to pose such important questions to the Government and hold its feet to the fire. As a result the ruling party has been able to get away with much.
This is why the PAP goes all out, fair means or foul, to ensure that the Singapore Democrats are prevented from getting into Parliament.
Not dormant in between elections
The PAP has always accused the opposition of going to sleep in between elections and coming alive only to contest the polls. In other words, the PAP says, the opposition is lazy and incompetent.
Of course, it doesn't mention the myriad of rules and regulations the Government puts in place to ensure that opposition parties are prevented from actively engaging in the political arena in between elections.
Be that as it may, the Singapore Democrats have not allowed the obstacles to keep us inactive. Despite the PAP's best efforts, we have been doing everything we can to strengthen ourselves as well as to empower Singaporeans.
In the past, it was easy for the PAP and its media to paint the SDP in such negative light. With the advent of the Internet, however, such an underhanded tactic is harder to carry out successfully.
Our readers can attest to the fact that we have been organising campaigns or forums, visiting students, meeting with residents, doing research, and so on. We have posted these activities on this website to keep you updated.
Nonetheless, it is hard for our news to reach the wider public because the mainstream press continues to censor of much of what we do and say, leading Singaporeans to think negatively of the party. (See here)
In the spirit of the SDP, however, we will not let the adverse conditions defeat us. We have a mountain to climb but we will be resolute in overcoming the adversity and bringing democracy to our shores.
Calling for reform
In a one-party state like Singapore, must not bury its head in the sand and pretend as if we are operating in a democracy. Even though we will get knocked hard by the ruling, we must always sound the call for reform.
Failure does not come when we get knocked down, it comes when we give up trying. We must not give up trying to reform the system and fighting for our political freedoms. We don't have to this at the expense of bread-and-butter issues.
Surely the opposition can campaign on these two areas in tandem. After all, political rights and economic rights are two sides of the same coin. Talking about the latter while ignoring former is naive at best.
We need to teach the people how to fish instead of constantly asking the government to provide more fish. We need to empower the people and work for change so that the people become the masters, not remain as the PAP's servants.
Indeed the opposition must work towards bring about a system that encourages citizens to actively participate in the public process and one that allows them to vote freely and fairly.
Of course, championing reform will attract the wrath of the PAP. But if the opposition in an autocracy cannot call tell the emperor that he has no clothes, what good is it to the people.
We have been able to do these things even without a presence in Parliament. Imagine what we can achieve if we are voted in. Support the Singapore Democrats. If you believe in what we are doing and want to see more of such proactive opposition, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't wait until the elections are called, by then it will be too late. Contact us now. (1 July 2009)