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Reform Party vows to educate, energise and empower the people. Selene Cheng reports.

Reform Party: We shall liberate the people

Selene Cheng

Cast off the slumber into which you have been led into for the last 10 years. Wake up to your rights as a human being, to your proper role as citizens of this country.

- Mr JB Jeyaretnam, at the inaugural dinner of the Reform Party.

About 500 people attended the inaugural dinner of the Reform Party at Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh yesterday. The dinner saw the presence of the more prominent opposition political parties in Singapore such as the Workers' Party (WP), the Singapore People's Party (SPP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

The dinner was kicked off by Mr Ng Teck Siong, chairman of the Reform Party, who gave a short introductory speech on the importance of democracy, and the need for political participation. In an elaboration on the same topic, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, 82, Secretary General of the new party, gave a speech on why political change was needed in Singapore. He emphasised that Singaporeans were unable to voice out their opinions on issues concerning them, such as the rising cost of living, ministerial salaries and Singapore's foreign labour policy, amongst others.

The respective leaders of the opposition parties were then invited onto the stage to receive garlands. It was a rare sight to see five of the leaders of the opposition parties in Singapore on the same stage, standing next to each other. Emcee for the night, Organising Secretary of the Reform Party, Mr Edmund Ng, said that "tonight is the defining moment in Singapore's history because things are going to be changed".

The dinner party's atmosphere was almost akin to that at a wedding dinner, with free mingling and high spirits among the guests. Spotted amongst the crowd was Mr Jeyaretnam's son, Philip Jeyaretnam. Notably absent was the People's Action Party, whose chairman, Mr Lim Boon Heng, and secretary-general, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, had been invited.

When asked about his thoughts at this occasion commemorating the launch of the Reform Party, SDP Secretary General Dr Chee Soon Juan said he felt “very encouraged that JB still had it”, in reference to Mr Jeyaretnam's passion and stamina for political reform at his advanced age.

He also said that he didn't think it was the number of political parties that counted, but what the existing parties, including the Reform Party, did.

“Without reform, with everything going the way it's been going for the past decade, nothing's going to change,” he said.

“I'm very glad to be here this evening. We'll do what we can to work with the Reform Party,” he said.

In a reply to the same questions, WP Secretary General Mr Low Thia Khiang said he wished the Reform Party well and congratulated Mr Jeyaretnam for gathering enough people and forming the party successfully.

Mr Low felt that any change in the political landscape depended not on how many parties there were, but on “how the people vote, and how the PAP [will redraw electoral boundaries]”.

For Mr Jeyaretnam himself, he said he hoped to “educate, energise and empower” the people, and “liberate them from their captivity” so they realised their “powers and responsibilities”. He said he felt encouraged that there were more people “coming forward [to participate in politics]”.

In response to a query on what activities his new party has lined up, Mr Jeyaretnam said that any updates would be done via the party's blog. He, however, mentioned that the party is open to “march...in procession, [and form] assemblies”.

“We want to take that on very seriously,” he said, adding that he was aware about having to apply for permits for such events but that they still “had to fight it”.

“If we apply for a permit, and it's not given, then we'll have to challenge it. We can't give up the fight.”

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For the videos of the event, please click here.

For more pictures, visit our Facebook group here and read also "JBJ - A phoenix from the ashes?" by Andrew Loh.

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