by Rachel Chan
What could Singaporeans expect from the opposition party founded by the late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam? Would they try to raise anti-incumbent sentiment amongst the audience? Or would they spend more time outlining alternative policies?
It was a little bit of both.
The Reform Party rally, held at Speaker's Corner on a rainy Saturday afternoon, continually questioned the actions of the incumbent PAP. But it also managed to raise awareness on many of the alternate solutions available to the issues concerning Singaporeans – mainly the influx of foreigners, high ministerial pay, as well as the increasing income divide.
A high point came early in a speech by Alec Tok, one of the party members running for parliament.
“Do you see that white elephant behind you?” he asked. (He was referring to the sheltered stage about fifty meters away, where more than half of those who attended the rally were standing.)
“We are not allowed to use that! We are only allowed to be here. That is why we are standing in the rain. But if you can stand in the rain, than we can also stand in the rain!”
His speech highlighted the importance of improving the productivity of Singapore’s labour force – a key issue he posited is overlooked by the current administration.
This was followed by a speech by Kenneth Jayaretnam, the party leader. “I did national service, I was born here, and my parents were among the first citizens of Singapore,” he said. In his speech, Jeyaretnam carefully highlighted the areas of inadequacy in the current government, but made it clear that change depended on Singaporeans to take action.
“Don’t just go home and vent steam on the internet, and come elections day, get confused into voting for the incumbent for returning a fraction of your tax dollars!” Jeyaretnam told the crowd.
Nonetheless, there were reservations toward some of criticisms levelled against the PAP by the Reform Party. For instance, the vague descriptions of Jeyaretnam’s doubts on the quality of Singapore’s economic growth were not based on concrete facts and figures, but conjectures of transfer pricing.
“I would like to know how much tax these companies pay, how many Singaporeans they employ, what subsidies were given to them to come here, what prices are used to measure the value of their output. It’s possible that because they pay little or no tax in Singapore, that these companies use artificially high prices when they sell their group output to other group companies so as to minimize their tax bills… Whatever this accurses, the net effect may be to inflate our GDP statistics," Jeyaretnam said.
Be that as it may, Jeyaretnam raised some important questions to the audience on issues, such as affordable long-term housing, savings in CPF, as well as further promising a change on the foreign labour policy and a wider focus on development outside of economic growth.
For many, the rally on Saturday was an opportunity to listen to an alternative voice and possibility of change from the current norm. “I’m just here to look see,” said an elderly man, who refused to be named. Certainly, a fear of being seen as openly supportive of the opposition hung over the event. But beyond this fear, the rally seemed to be channelling voter disaffection over contemporary politics amidst a genuine craving for an alternate solution.
One of the most significant things that can be taken away from the rally was the goal of the Reform Party: they were not just aiming to provide an alternative voice in parliament, or reduce the majority of the PAP, but to form the majority government itself.
“We’re here to form the government, whether it should take one year, ten years, or a hundred years," Jeyaretnam declared.
But whether the Reform Party can do that will be up to Singaporeans to decide.
Rachel is a final year undergraduate majoring in English, Politics and Psychology at the Australian National University in Canberra.