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“Change is coming to Singapore!” : Reform Party

Benjamin Cheah

“We have 5 more days to make the biggest change of our lives!”

With these words, the Reform Party’s (RP) rally kicked off. The key message of the evening was voting to change Singapore for the better. The party brought up the late Mr Joshua Benjamin Jayeratnam, saying that his ‘spirit is still alive’ and that he was ‘a step ahead of his time’. The Reform Party said that it stands for ‘integrity, trust, and hope for a better future’.

The speakers consistently brought up the effects of increasing number of foreigners on Singapore. Mr Arthero Lim said, “By next elections, I may have to address you as…Chindiapore.” He claimed that the People’s Action Party (PAP) would ‘bring in more foreigners’, which would drive up housing prices and increase competition for places in schools.

Ms Ho Soak Harn said foreign workers were willing to work longer hours for lower wages, displacing the elderly and lowly-educated women who used to do menial jobs. In addition, Mr Frankie Low said  foreigners are competing with Singaporeans for jobs and housing. Criticising Mr Mah Bow Tan’s statement that ‘housing is not a make or break issue’, he charged that affordable housing was very important to Singaporeans. Mr Low said high HDB flat prices were “not sustainable” as “people cannot pay for a HDB flat”, adding that many people could not retire because most of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings were “tied up in their HDB flats.” Mr Kenneth Jeyaratnam summed everything up by saying Singapore’s economy was “built on importing cheap labour from overseas.”

The RP proposed a series of ideas to address these issues.  The party would “push for assistance for the elderly” workers who have been replaced. Ministerial salaries would be reduced, with the monies going to this assistance program. The party also recommended releasing more land for housing and pushing for smaller and cheaper 1- and 2-room flats. The minimum age for singles to buy flats would be reduced to an as-yet unspecified age, allowing singles to purchase these flats, with their housing loan small enough to be paid off in 15 years instead of 30 to 50 years. Above all, the party proposed to “reform foreign labour policy so Singaporeans come first.” The nature of this reform was not elaborated upon.

Labour issues were brought up as well. Mr Mansor Rahman criticized the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), saying, “You cannot let political men lead the unions.” He was referring to Mr Lim Swee Say, Secretary General of the NTUC and a Cabinet Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.  He said that “all PAP MPs (Members of Parliament) and ministers should resign from NTUC.” The RP would “fight” for the rights of trade unions and promote “socio-economic justice for workers.” Furthermore, Ms Ho said the party would push for more part-time jobs to help working mothers. This would allow working mothers to look after their children and spend more time with their families while still being able to support them. Employers would be provided with allowances and incentives to accommodate them.

Mr Rahman also spoke about Malay issues and security. In response to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim’s remarks on teaching Malay as a foreign language, he said that Malays prefer using Malay as a first language. Mr Rahman said Malays were “second class citizens” in Singapore; with the influx of foreigners, he added, Malays were now “third class citizens.” Mr Rahman also brought up Mas Selamat’s escape, criticizing the police and Internal Security Department for failing to secure and later to capture him.

“I want to make politics an everyday activity,” Mr Jeyaretnam said. He promised to scrutinise budgetary processes and question budgetary surpluses if elected to Parliament, adding that Singapore could invest in education, healthcare and infrastructure instead of investing money overseas. He proposed a new health insurance policy to replace MediShield and MediCare, so that everybody could afford healthcare.

The party would reform the Central Provident Fund system to allow members to withdraw their money at the age of 55. A minimum wage would replace Workfare, to be set at “a level that doesn’t damage businesses.” National Service would be reduced to 18 months, and later to 1 year, with “proper compensation” for National Servicemen. Foreigners who receive scholarships in order to become Permanent Residents and later citizens should either serve National Service or pay a special tax.

Special mention was made of Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s condolence letter to Mr Jeyaratnam. On Sunday, Mr Jeyaratnam said that the condolence letter, written after his father’s death in 2008, spurred him to enter politics. Mr Jeyaratnam said that Mr Lee noted that his father sought to “demolish” the PAP and therefore “had to be destroyed”, a point which Mr Lee said was not accurate. Mr Jeyaretnam explained that he was standing in politics “not to destroy democracy”, but to “build a better Singapore.” After the rally, when approached by a Straits Times reporter, he said, “If I had misquoted (Mr Lee), then it was an honest mistake and I apologise.”

The MC worked the crowd to a rousing finish. “Change is coming to Singapore!’ he declared.