By Dr Wong Wee Nam
It is no good for democracy for a country to be run by a monolithic political party. Neither is it good to have a ragtag army of small political parties running around unable to provide a coherent alternative, let alone forming a government.
It is for this reason that for the past one year, I have been trying to get the opposition parties to try to come together to work out a common plan to contest this coming general election. To this end, I roped in Mr. Bentley Tan to help.
For a start, we decided to get the various parties to meet informally and without a fixed agenda to feel things out. The first meeting at a local hotel was called on 24 April 2010. Mr Tan Kin Lian, as a non-partisan, was also invited by us to help us moderate.
The response was encouraging. SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan came, so did SPP’s Sin Kek Tong, NSP’s Sebastian Teo and USD’s Jaslyn Go.
Kenneth Jeyaraetnam turned down the invitation because he thought such a meeting was unnecessary. The PKMS were not invited because there was no clear leadership at that time. The Worker’s Party did not respond.
It was a cordial meeting and there was a general consensus that some kind of opposition cooperation and unity should be worked at. Each party agreed that they would discuss the meeting with their respective CECs and invite the three of us (myself, Bentley and Kin Lian) to clarify our ideas before their committee before we
could move on to have the next meeting and have a definitive agenda to discuss more concrete things.
SDP’s CEC called us up first and after a thought-searching session, they said they would support a second meeting. NSP met us next. Though they had some misgivings, they were also in support of a second meeting.
We did not hear from SPP and when we called Mrs.Lina Chiam, she told us to wait until after their Annual General Meeting where a new CEC would be elected.
Subsequently, the Reform Party’s demands to join the SDA were Wickedly Leaked out and this had caused some internal problems within the SPP. Any talk of opposition unity received a stunning blow and Tan Kin Lian decided he did not want to be involved further.
Later when I met Tony Tan Lay Thiam of Reform Party over lunch, he fully supported such unity and cooperation idea and urged me to try again. Indeed, Tony may be a young politician but he can see a bigger picture than many more experienced ones.
However, this unsuccessful exercise was not a waste of time for me. From it, I gain a better insight to the people involved, or not involved, and it also reinforced my image of Mr. Chiam as a selfless politician.
I have known Mr. Chiam for twenty years. We first met when I wrote to the SDP, of which he was the then Secretary-General, to complain that they had not honoured my subscription to their newsletter, The Democrat. He immediately called me up to meet him for coffee. We met at the Pizza Hut in Jalan Jelita and he offered me his party membership straightaway. I told him that we had just met and how could he trust
me? But then, that is Mr Chiam. He has only one political opponent in his mind and everyone else could be his ally.
This attitude was to be reinforced again in 1997 at a Chinese New Year’s gathering hosted by him. I told him he needed to have a Barisan Nasional kind of arrangement amongst the political parties to fight the PAP. He immediately went to form the Singapore Democratic Alliance. In spite of misgivings by many others, he even invited the PKMS, a party that not many like to be associated with at that time, to join.
Unlike many political leaders, Mr. Chiam does not just pick people who think like him and exclude people whose views do not match his. Yes, this is Chiam. He has only one political opponent and everyone else is free to be his ally.
This is why I had no difficulty in getting him to agree to the meeting on the unity and cooperation of the various opposition political parties that Bentley and I had arranged.
He may have fallen out with his protégé Dr Chee Soon Juan for nearly twenty years. The painful scar still remains till today. Yet that has not prevented him from agreeing to sit down on the same table with the latter for the sake of opposition unity or saying “I agree with Dr Chee…” at the TOC's Face-to-Face Forum.
Amongst the opposition political leaders, he is the only one I would consider a true statesman.
What then is my wish for the coming year? Below is the photograph I have taken this year. In the coming year, I just hope I have many more opportunities to take such photographs.
The views expressed in this article is the author's own.
This article is written for sgpolitics.net and theonlinecitizen.org. Please provide link to either website if you wish to re-publish the article.