The Singapore Police and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had earlier rejected the SDP’s application for professional visit passes to be given to its overseas speakers to speak at the forum on the grounds of “public interest”. (Channelnewsasia) The authorities had only informed the SDP of the decision the evening before the event, although the application was made 2 weeks prior, according to Ms Chee Siok Chin who was the host of the evening’s conference.
The overseas speakers were from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which included members of the European parliament and the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats (CALD) which included a Cambodian and a Congresswoman from the Philippines.
The SDP is a member of the CALD.
In her opening address and expressing her “utter disappointment and dismay” at the government’s ban on the foreign speakers from speaking, Ms Chee told the audience, “Clean, affluent, efficient and modern Singapore is probably the only country in the world that professes to be democratic but prohibits international democrats from addressing the Singapore public.”
She then took issue with the GST increase and the recent hike in ministers’ salaries. Relating how some Singaporeans have told her that they regretted how they voted in the last general elections, she urged Singaporeans not to wait the next 4 years to register their disapproval for the “uncaring attitude of the Singapore government”.
“Why should citizens act only once every 5 years, when they go to the polls to cast their ballot? And even then, not every Singapore citizen gets to vote. Why can’t Singaporeans register their disquiet in a peaceful, lawful manner other than the one every 5 years at the ballot boxes?”
Urging the audience to participate in the acitivities of the SDP and to work together with them, Ms Chee said, “We must not let the PAP government disempower us. Singapore belongs to us, everyone of us in this room and every Singaporean on this island.”
After Ms Chee had spoken, the audience was asked to stand up for 45 seconds and to hold aloft the yellow piece of paper (which had been distributed before the start of the forum) to demonstrate their disapproval of the recent increase in ministerial salaries.
The audience obliged readily as press photographers clicked away.
In his short speech, Mr Tan gave a brief description of his experience of civil society and political participation in the United States and how he came to join the SDP. Having spent some years in the US, Mr Tan told the room that he had taken part in public protests and forums there. “There’d be Democrats and Republicans in the same room. They’d argue, and even look like they’re fighting! But when it’s all over, they’re friends. Now, why can’t Singapore be like that?”
After returning to Singapore, he got to know and met with Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee. His first SDP involvement was to be part of the Hong Lim park protest last year. “And I’ve never looked back since”, he added.
Following Mr Tan’s speech, Ms Chee read out a press statement from the ALDE-CALD delegation. (The release can be found here.)
Next to take the stage was the SDP’s secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan. Smartly dressed in his coat and tie, Dr Chee presented a slide show entitled “Singapore Success Story – A Fairy Tale Of The PAP”.
Taking aim at the government’s claims of economic achievements, including the issue of income disparity, Dr Chee questioned if Singaporeans are really reaping the fruits of their labour. Presenting statistics and figures of household incomes and wages of the lower income workers, Dr Chee asked if Singaporeans are as well off as the government claims.
He also showed how Singapore compares unfavorably with Hong Kong, particularly addressing the point which MM Lee Kuan Yew had made in parliament recently, namely that Singapore’s GDP is only one-third of its external trade.
Dr Chee also spoke on the Wee Shu Min saga and quoted excerpts from Ms Wee’s blog post. He asked if this is the kind of society we have become.
“Even if we have sterling numbers, what are we doing to society? What’re we doing for society? More than 50% of young Singaporeans want to migrate or live in another country!”
“In every aspect, tell me hand on heart, that the PAP has done a good job.”
Dr Chee ended with this message for the audience:
“I was born Singaporean, I grew up Singaporean and I will die Singaporean. But being Singaporean doesn’t mean I cannot speak up against the PAP. It is my solemn duty and I hope you will feel that it is yours too. To speak up for a country that we love.”
A question and answer session followed Dr Chee’s address.
The forum was indeed very well attended. Extra chairs had to be brought in for late comers who were standing at the back of the room. The local media, which I understand was alerted at the last minute that the forum was going ahead despite the authorities’ ban on the foreign guests from speaking, was there as well.
A check with the reception outside the room showed that the SDP paraphernalia, which was being displayed for sale, had almost sold out. These included specially printed t-shirts and Dr Chee’s various books including The Power Of Courage.
*Theonlinecitizen apologises for being unable to provide reports of the Q&A session because of technical hiccups in its recording.
CNN: Singapore restricts debate on ministers’ pay
BBC: Europe MPs ‘gagged’ by Singapore
Scandasia: Danish Politician Threatened With Arrest in Singapore
EU Business: Gagged Euro MPs slam ‘authoritarian’ Singapore