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Election reform effort needs everyone’s involvement – forum

By Andrew Loh

Chaired by the Singapore Democratic Party chairman, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, the election reform public forum at the Allson Hotel focused on getting Singaporeans from all persuasions to be involved in the effort.

The speakers were Mr Chia Ti Lik, Mr JB Jeyaretnam, Mr Jufrie Mahmoud and Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Mr Tan Tarn How, a researcher with the Institute of Policy Studies who was scheduled to be a speaker as well, had “asked to be excused” from the forum, according to Dr Chee.

“Extra-legal, extra-parliamentary” action

Lawyer and member of SG Human Rights, Mr Chia kicked off the forum by focusing his speech on how changes to the election process in Singapore could be effected. “The system is skewed towards whoever is in power”, he said. To seek reform only when one comes into power is the “senseless” way to go, he added.

Thus, he suggested that “extra-legal, extra-parliamentary” means be adopted to attain the goal of reform. Mr Chia clarified that he was not advocating illegal action but that his use of the word “extra” simply meant “outside”.

He also had some scathing remarks about other opposition parties and their MPs. Using terms like “PAP-approved opposition” and “opposition which the PAP is comfortable with”, Mr Chia said “we have to expose PAP apologists among the opposition” and “remind the electorate about these PAP-approved opposition”.

He did not name specifically the opposition parties which he was referring to.

Mr Chia had taken part in the 2006 General Elections as a member of The Workers’ Party’s team which contested East Coast GRC.

5 issues need to be addressed

Mr JB Jeyaretnam spoke about 5 issues which he is concerned about: the fear factor, freedom of information, transparency, funding for political parties and “the blatant intimidation of voters”.

“A government rests on the will of the people”, but “the PAP has been an illegitimate government since 1965”, he said.

Because of these 5 issues, “Singaporeans still harbour this fear of victimization”, and are starved for information, there’s no transparency in our elections, opposition parties are deprived of funds and there was blatant intimidation of voters during elections, he said.

The government has “fine-tuned” the system to produce a “determined” result, which is the return of the PAP to power in every election, says the veteran politician. To overcome this, the 5 issues needed to be addressed in any reform effort, he urged.

Reforming the local media

Mr Jufrie Mahmoud, who took part in the 1991 General Elections in Eunos, focused his address on how to free the minds of Singaporeans from government indoctrination. “When we call for reform, first of all, we should reform the minds of the people”, he said.

“The weakest spot of the PAP is the mind of the people. If they can control your mind, it’s a foregone conclusion that they will win”, he said referring to the People’s Action Party.

Mr Mahmoud then turned his attention to how the media is run in Singapore. “We have in the media so many apologists for the PAP”, he said. He urged that reform of the media should be the first thing which must be addressed.

Suggesting that perhaps “we should call for a campaign against the media”, Mr Mahmoud also urged journalists here “to do their part not for the opposition but for Singapore”.

Coming together

The Singapore Democratic Party’s secretary general, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was the last speaker at the forum. Moving away from criticisms of the PAP, Dr Chee instead spelt out ways through which election reform could be achieved. (See Dr Chee's speech below.)

Using the projector, he explained a 9-point plan of action.

1. Research best practices

2. Develop website

3. Publish training manual for poll watchers

4. Recruit and train poll watchers

5. Raise awareness

6. Seek support from bloggers

7. Seek international observers – UN, OSCE, IFES, ANFREL

8. Learn from overseas reform campaigns

9. Engage the PMO and the Elections Department

Emphasising that “reform of the election process is not a partisan issue”, Dr Chee called on “government officials, lawyers, women’s groups, youth organisations, journalists,” and opposition parties to come together in the effort.

“After half a century, we’re no closer to denying them a two-third majority”, he said referring to the opposition’s inability to dent the PAP’s number of seats in Parliament.

Although the other parties have declined his invitation to be involved, he said he is not deterred and that he will continue to invite them.

“I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for the opposition to come together in this”, he said.

“We are going to continue to reach out to them because in the first meeting of the first month, we are not going to get an all-encompassing body. But that should not stop us from taking the first step. Once we get that, we will continue to work with the rest, to make sure it becomes a national effort and that this does not discriminate against anyone or any party or any organization.”

Read also: "Opposition moots election reform group" by The Straits Times.

Below is the video of Dr Chee’s reply to theonlinecitizen’s (TOC) question on the prospects of an all-encompassing committee to head the reform agenda, (as mentioned by Dr Chee in an earlier interview with TOC), now that the other opposition parties have declined the SDP's invitation to be involved.

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Dr Chee's speech, Part One: (Special thanks to watchtowerv)

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Dr Chee's speech, Part Two:

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Dr Chee's speech, Part Three:

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