by Jewel Philemon/ photos by May Lin
The stage was set, the players were ready and the atmosphere was electrifying. Reporters lined the sides of the stages, snapping shots and shooting videos. The core SDP supporters thronged near the stage while the public swarmed the field beside Commonwealth MRT Station, eager to hear from a party that has grown from strength to strength in the recent months. My team and I were among the thousands that swarmed the rally grounds and we were not disappointed.
The line-up of speakers for the night:
Ms. Teo Soh Lung - Lawyer, Former ISA detainee
Mr. John Tan – Social Psychologist, obtained his Masters from the University of Wisconsin
Mr. Sadasivam Veriyah – Former Teacher, served in the grassroots organizations of Ayer Rajah Constituency.
Mohd Isa Abdul Aziz – Former civil servant, current Business Development Manager for an Australian Oil and Gas company.
Mrs. Michelle Lee – Read Government and Economics at the London School of Economis, worked in the Monetary Authority of Singapore, currently an English and Literature teacher.
Mr. Alec Tok – Read Biology and Mathematics at NUS, obtained his Masters in Fine Arts at Yale University’s School of Drama. Owns his own theatre company.
Mr. James Gomez – Senior Academic at Monash University, Visiting Scholar at Keio University, founder of the NGO: Singaporeans for Democracy.
Mr. Jarrod Luo – Read Biomedical Science and Microbiology in the University of Queensland. Currently a young entrepreneur.
Mr. Tan Jee Say – Former Principal Private Secretary to then DPM, Goh Chok Tong. Currently an investment advisor, working in international banks.
Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha – Received his PhD from Sheffield University. Currently the Executive Director of the NGO: Transient Workers Count Too.
Dr. Ang Yong Guan – Served as a Psychiatrist with the Singapore Armed Forces for 17 years before retiring the rank of Colonel. He is currently in private practice.
The Influx of Foreign Labour
Among the major issues brought up was the influx of foreign labour, which the SDP proposed to tap on only if there is a real need. Mr. John Tan questioned whether there really was insufficient talent in Singapore and told the crowd that “Singaporeans have talent, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” Mr Mohd Isa likened the influx of foreigners to a betrayal of the older generation, which sacrificed much for a better future for future generations.
The Ruling Party’s Absolute Power
Other speakers questioned the almost absolute power which the PAP holds in parliament and over the nation. Mr. John Tan lamented that the PAP leaders had forgotten to be servants of the public, but rather, are now the masters. He added that when “times are good” the government laps up the credit, but when “times are bad”, the average Singaporean gets the blame for not working hard enough. Mr James Gomez also touched on the inequity of the PAP’s power. He quoted Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong as saying that ministers would serve two terms, and he agreed with SM Goh, urging that the PAP leaders who had been serving above and beyond the two terms should step down. Former Principal Private Secretary to SM Goh, Mr Tan Jee Say, noted that the PAP had claimed credit for the building-up of Singapore. “Gratitude is not servitude!” he responded. He added the ministers had already rewarded themselves in the form of bonuses and higher salaries. After which he thundered “You owe them nothing!” - to a deafening roar from the crowd.
Creativity Among the Speakers
Other candidates were even more creative in the speeches. Entrepreneur Jarrod Luo began his speech by telling the crowd to “vote for PAP”. He continued, saying that if citizens wanted to work all their lives, if they wanted to have no say over their families and country, if they wanted their retirement fund to only reach their children after they are dead, then by all means, vote for the PAP. Dr James Gomez, on the other hand, slammed Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan for his controversial comment on sending the elderly to Johor Bahru. Dr. Gomez stated that he was starting “Operation Johor Bahru” with the aim of sending the PAP there. Dr Gomez also voiced his belief in the passion of the citizens and a growing fear within the ruling party.
Recounting from Experience
Candidates like Ms Michelle Lee and Mr Alec Tok drew from their working experience in their speeches. Ms Lee urged against putting “all the eggs in one basket”, arguing instead that diversification was key in reducing risks. She also denounced the ruling party’s notion that the country would come to a standstill should the opposition be elected, calling it scare tactics. Ms Lee reassured voters that the civil service is such that the system would still run even if the opposition were to form the government. Mr Tok, as a man in the Arts scene, recounted the time when the Royston Tan gangster-themed flick, 15, first came out. He noted that the government wanted to heavily censor it, thus showing their ignorance of the true, prevailing issues in the film that reflected the young in Singaporean society. These issues, he said, still carry on today because of the ruling party’s ignorance.
Dr Ang Yong Guan drew from his experience as a psychiatrist, telling the crowd that he would be dealing with issues more intimate to the society. He regaled the delighted crowd in his speech in English mixed with dialect, connecting well with the people and drawing excited responses from those in the crowd. Dr Ang also lamented the “complacency at the top” of the PAP government, leading to a society that is “kiasu and kiasi”.
The Star of the Show
Perhaps the most popular candidate was Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, whose entrance was marked by a massive roar followed by the crowd chanting his name. He graciously wished the PAP the best of luck, and hoped that the best man or woman will win. He also assured the people that the SDP’s only aim and agenda was to help Singaporeans ask the hard questions in parliament, and to “step into a future with no one left behind”. “I have no other agenda than your agenda,” Dr. Wijeysingha told the euphoric crowd.
If this first SDP rally is any sign, the crowds would only swell further in the up-coming week. Such is the strength of SDP’s slate of candidates that impressed many people in the crowd tonight. It is clearly the SDP team’s message that the public is responding well to. As Dr Wijeysingha summed up for the folks in Commonwealth, “All Singaporeans deserve to be happy and fulfilled. We are not just economic digits!”