Lisa Li / photos by Kirsten Han
Mr J.B Jeyaretnam was never far from everyone's minds at the Reform Party's first rally at Clementi Stadium, which saw a crowd of more than a thousand. "Wake up to your rights as a human being!" the MC thundered, echoing Mr JBJ, independent Singapore's first opposition politician and founder of the Reform Party (RP). "If you want alternative voices, go to the other political parties," the MC added, "We intend to be the next government!" The crowd cheered.
This brand of gung-ho ambition was evident in the speeches of RP's West Coast GRC team, comprising Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Mr Kumar Appavoo, Ms Ho Soak Harn, Mr Frankie Low and Mr Andy Zhu.
The first speaker was Ms Ho Soak Harn. She thanked RP members and volunteers, before moving on to familiar problems - crowded trains, jobs going to foreigners instead of Singaporeans, increases in rent and housing prices, GST increases, silence on Temasek losses. "No more!" she declared. "We don't need a government where the rich and elite come first, and everyone else comes last!"
Ms Ho also told the crowd that RP wants to measure progress differently: not by the profits of casinos for example, but by whether people can get a job, pay the bills and have money to save, by being able to help residents forced out of homes. The party wants an education system that is not about rote learning, but about creativity, one that develops a child to his full potential, she added.
The second speaker, Mr Frankie Low, spoke of the inadequacies of the CPF scheme and assistance for the elderly, as well as Singapore's immigration policy. "Why do we need 6.5 million people?" he asked. "Are there enough jobs for all?" He questioned if the ministers understood the impact of their "mindless and hasty" policy, given that they "don't need public transport, and get VIP treatment in hospital". There were "too many too soon" due to lack of restrictions, infrastructure was inadequate, and PRs did not have to do National Service, he pointed out. The RP's solution? To give PR status to only the talented who can add value to Singapore.
RP's Secretary-General, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, started on a humble note. "I hope I can earn your respect," he told the crowd, adding that "competition in business leads to innovation and productivity; competition in politics will lead to better, and more intelligent politics."
He pointed out that RP was the first to talk about the "hollowness of our performance", that Singapore's increase in GDP was due to cheap foreign labour even though real wages did not increase. It was only after the RP highlighted this that that the Government started on the Productivity Bill, focusing on raising real income for Singaporeans, he said.
Mr Jeyaretnam also listed some of RP's plans. They would not bring down housing prices, but would build smaller flats for smaller families; they would also get HDB to release more land, introduce private sector competition to HDB, and give people the right to buy freehold HDB flats (instead of the current 99-year lease), thus allowing them to get the rise in value if a private developer wanted to buy the land.
RP would also push for reform in CPF policy to let people decide what proportion of their income they wanted to save; they would also introduce a universal healthcare scheme, so that Singaporeans would not need to worry about exhausting their savings on healthcare.
The party would ensure minimum wage, reduce GST for essential items, have a more rational immigration policy, and push for Temasek and GIC to become more transparent, and have it put on the stock exchange for Singaporeans to own shares of it. They would also cut down National Service to one year without compromising on its effectiveness.
The PAP had accused the opposition of wanting to "run the reserves into the ground", but Mr Jeyaretnam pointed out that Singapore had $15 billion reserves - surely enough to fund some investment in education and healthcare. There would be transparent budgetary planning with RP, he added.
Mr Jeyaretnam summed up RP as a liberal party which believes in the market. It wants lower taxes, and foreign investment, and the removal of restrictions on the press to encourage innovation and creativity. He said unions should be democratically run, "with safeguards to prevent strikes without ballot of all union members being taken."
"We aren't going to be in government this elections, but we do intend to be the government one day," he declared. "Singaporeans who want reform and change should join the RP!"