by: Benjamin Cheah/
On the 6th of August this year, the Singapore Democratic Party (“SDP”) organised a dinner to celebrate National Day at the Gallery at Fort Canning. Dubbed the “Singapore Day Party”, its name was a play on the SDP acronym. Dr Chee Soon Juan, leader of the SDP, said that the dinner let people ‘have a bit of fun’, ‘celebrate’ and ‘commemorate’ Singapore. However, the dinner was primarily a political event. It began with a recital of the National Anthem and Pledge, after which SDP member and civil activist Dr Vincent Wijeysingha made his opening remarks.
The PAP’s reward has not been earned
Dr Wijeysingha opened with his thoughts on the General Elections. He said he experienced ‘a feeling of mission, a sense of determination, a sense of hard work’, and ‘a true sense of gotong royong’ (‘sense of community’) during the elections. Referring to this spirit, Dr Wijeysingha said that this is the Singapore ‘we the people have built up’, and ‘not the PAP alone’.
He said that the PAP ‘have had their reward’, talking about the media’s focus on their million-dollar ministerial salaries, ‘lavish houses’ and ‘grandiose motorcades’. Then he spoke about the poor and disadvantaged he met on the street and the families the SDP is helping in its community service program, and said the PAP’s ‘reward had not been earned’. He said, ‘we would only truly celebrate...when none of our brothers and sisters have (sic) been left behind.’
Dr Wijeysingha said that the SDP was a party ‘that does (sic), but also thinks’. He brought up the SDP’s alternative economic strategy, shadow budget, and its soon-to-be-published recommendations on ministerial salaries and healthcare plans. He added that the SDP’s subcommittees were ‘working hard’ to carry the party to the 2016 elections.
Saying that the party ‘salutes community’ and ‘celebrates humanity’, Dr Wijeysingha said the dinner reaffirms the party’s commitment to the civil liberties of ‘every Singaporean whose birthright was written into a cheque that the nation’s bank hasn’t cashed’.
He said that the guests have chosen to ‘stand on the side of the Singaporean people’, to ‘reaffirm our dedication to the human rights of each and every man, woman and child’, because we believe ‘without an assurance of dignity, without an assurance of equal access to the full range of services and rights’, our nation ‘cannot grow up, cannot face the future that is to come’.
Dr Wijeysingha concluded the speech by thanking Dr Chee for his leadership, saying that Dr Chee had expanded political discourse and pushed back the out-of-bounds markers, making the ‘watershed’ elections of 2011 possible.
Speaking on issues of conscience
Taking over from Dr Wijeysingha, Mr Tan Jee Say opened his speech by thanking his supporters. A former SDP member, he outlined his reasons for running for President instead of remaining in the opposition.
Firstly, a ‘non-PAP President’ would provide ‘real checks and balances on the excesses of the PAP government’. He said that the PAP’s ‘control over Parliament is virtually absolute’, as the PAP can introduce new policies or change the constitution and the opposition is ‘completely ineffective’ to stop the PAP from doing so. Mr Tan contrasted this with the President’s veto power over five key areas, and his ability to provide moral pressure in other areas by speaking up.
Mr Tan said that he disagreed with Law Minister K Shanmugam’s stance that the President could only speak on the advice of the Cabinet. Mr Tan said that the ‘mission of the elected President’ is to provide checks and balances, adding that the President ‘would not be doing his duty’ if the President does not speak up when the government ‘crosses the line’ or fails to deliver on their promises. If elected, Mr Tan promised, he would not ‘betray the people’s trust’ and would speak up for the people.
Mr Tan also disagreed with Mr Shanmugam’s comment that a President who speaks up might ‘confuse the people’. Mr Tan pointed out that PAP members of Parliament have disagreed with the government in past debates, like those on casinos and foreign workers. These MPs have not confused the people, he said, and neither would he. Mr Tan said he would not ‘abuse (his) speaking rights’, saying that his first approach would be to speak ‘privately and confidentially’ to the Prime Minister. However, on ‘very fundamental issues of conscience’, Mr Tan said he would ‘reserve the right to speak up’ if he feels the people’s concerns are not addressed.
His second reason for running for President was that the campaign would ‘raise the profile of all non-PAP forces’, which would aid the opposition’s outreach campaign to prepare for the next general elections. Mr Tan said that the opposition cannot have a low profile for the next five years, and must ‘seize every opportunity’ to reach out to the people.
His third reason was to show Singaporeans that the office of President is neither a ‘shoo-in’ nor a ‘preserve’ for the PAP. He said that the office ‘is not theirs but right, but must be fought for and earned’.
Finally, Mr Tan wanted to ‘signal to all young Singaporeans’ that ‘the highest office in the land’ may be attained by those who ‘dare to dream the biggest dream in serving their country’.
Tan Kin Lian: Independent and Non-partisan
Mr Tan Kin Lian, remarking on the previous speech, promised to give a ‘more measured’ speech. Calling himself ‘independent and non-partisan’, he said he would be ‘very happy’ to give a speech if invited by the PAP, or any other opposition party. Mr Tan said that he had received support from members of the SDP and National Solidarity Party, and even members of the PAP cadre – albeit in their personal capacity.
Mr Tan spoke about his campaign goals. Firstly, he would be ‘the voice of the people’. Secondly, he would be independent of the PAP. Thirdly, he would ‘perform the important roles of the President in safeguarding the reserves and other duties’.
Mr Tan also disagreed with Mr Shanmugam’s stance on the President not speaking without government approval. Mr believed that the President ‘has as much freedom of speech’ as any other citizen. He added that a constitutional lawyer could not find anything limiting the President’s ability to speak to government approval.
Mr Tan shared five key values he feels are embodied by the SDP. They are honesty, fairness, being positive, courage, and public service. He said these are values embodied by Dr Chee in his speeches, and would guide him in the future.
SDP may endorse candidates
Speaking to TOC at the sidelines of the dinner, Dr Chee said that the SDP invited every potential Presidential Candidate to the dinner. However, only Mr Tan Jee Say and Mr Tan Kin Lian could attend.
When asked if the SDP would endorse any candidate, Dr Chee said that the party would wait until the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) awards the certificates of eligibility. However, he did not rule out endorsing any suitable candidate after PEC confirms who can contest.
Part 2 is HERE.