“If I were a citizen of Singapore, I would want to speak and vote freely. And this would be what I would demand from all political parties”, says Mr Hans van Baalen, Member of European Parliament and the current President of Liberal International (LI), the worldwide federation of liberal and progressive organizations and political parties.
Mr van Baalen, is in Singapore at the invitation of its LI partner Singapore Democratic Party for the Council of Asian Democrats and Liberals (CALD)-LI Mission to Asia titled “Fortifying Liberal Democracy and Partnership in the Region”.
“The parliament cannot be the ‘rubber-stamp’ of the government. For it not to be so, the opposition must be voted into parliament, so that they can question and also correct the government”, says Mr van Baalen.
“Singapore is an important country but it is not a free country; for the economy and politics continue to be under the dominance of the ruling party. Although Singapore looks much civilised from the outside, it does not have free and fair elections; and to force this to happen, the opposition, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and free citizens must work together”, he insists.
He believes that the opposition parties and independent candidates must find common platforms to work together. “The common objective of the opposition should be to challenge the dominance of the PAP (People’s Action Party).”
“Of course opinions and ideologies will differ between political parties. But to me the differences are not so big,” he continues. “The opposition alliance between parties and individuals, should work together to ensure that there are no walkovers in any constituency”, he says.
“The people should decide if they want a multi-party or two-party democracy, but my personal opinion is, a two-party system will be the most efficient, at least until Singapore develops as a mature democracy.”
Mr van Baalen then cited the example of Chile which is a multi-party democracy now, but it happened because in 1985 eleven opposition parties (with differing political ideologies) banded together against a strong-armed government led by Augusto Pinoche, to bring about a much needed change.
“Only this (opposition alliance), will force openness and democracy”, Mr van Baalen says. “If not, they (PAP) will fail to change”.
Mr van Baalen has also a “friendly advice” for the opposition in Singapore. “Look for forces of change within the PAP, especially the young leaders and work with them. This will be the beginning of a very good model for Singapore.”
Democracy is not chaos and it is not contrary to Asian values. This is a message the opposition has to continually and strongly emphasise to the electorate, believes Mr van Baalen.
Mr van Baalen says that he invited the PAP for a dialogue but was refused. “Never has any government refused us discussion. This proves that the government is very insecure. The governing party has got to change or loose significance”, he adds.
Mr van Baalen believes that the PAP should rightly be playing a prominent role to bring about change, but in the absence of this, only the opposition alliance can bring about the much needed change.
“To this end, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and Liberal International are always ready to help when asked. We will support the democrats for change”, he promises.
Report by: Ravi Philemon