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SDP celebrates National Day (part 2)

by: Benjamin Cheah/

On the 6th August, 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. This is part 2 of the report on their celebration.

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‘Things are starting to change in Singapore’

After dinner, Dr Paul Thambyah addressed the audience. During the General Elections, Dr Thambyah spoke about the state of healthcare in Singapore. He is currently a member of MARUAH, the working group for an ASEAN human rights organisation. Dr Thambyah said ‘many in authority’ are ‘trapped’ in a system that discourages people from ‘rock(ing) the boat’.

He mentioned journalists who privately support alternative views publicly ‘producing official spin’, and civil servants who ‘set aside their personal beliefs and convictions to toe the party line’ by ‘tweaking policies’ instead of addressing ‘the fundamental flaws which come from above’.

Dr Thambyah believed that the ‘fundamental flaws’ in Singapore’s system of government lies in ‘the corporatisation’ of Singapore. He cited how restructured hospitals ‘are expected to recover costs as far as possible’. He said that the authorities fear the ‘possibility of abuse when subsidies are provided liberally’, and pointed out that nobody deliberately falls ill to enjoy healthcare benefits.

He said that the possibility of abuse should not deter the government from providing free healthcare for children, equating healthcare to public goods like water, education, public transport and security. Dr Thambyah said that Singapore should be ‘less like Microsoft and more like Google’, in that the state should strive towards doing no evil and maximising the people’s welfare instead of maximising economic growth.

Dr Thambyah said that the ‘ultimate goal’ should be to evolve into a society in which every Singaporean matters. He said public monies should not be used to benefit ‘just a few high-flying scholars’ but instead every Singaporean. He praised the SDP’s economic plans, saying that the party wants to invest the national reserves in the people of Singapore to raise the standard of living for all. ‘It is now time for the government to trust the people’, he said. He added that ‘the ministers should recognise that they have their jobs’ because they were elected to their posts, and can be dismissed should they fail to meet the people’s expectations. He said that change is coming from the ground up, through the use of social media and political activists. He said that the Internet has ‘provided an unprecedented level of accountability’, ‘forcing’ ministers to justify their policies to the people ‘on their Facebook pages’.

But change must come from above too, he said. The highest office in the land, he said, should be for someone with ‘moral courage and leadership’ referring to Mr Tan Jee Say, or someone with ‘guts and an independent mind’, like Mr Tan Kin Lian. Dr Thambyah called Mr Tan Jee Say the ‘conscience of the nation’, and Mr Tan Kin Lian as an ‘independent voice who has the guts to speak up’. He said the SDP has ‘a clear stance on issues that matter’, such as how public monies should be spent. ‘One person who speaks up can be safely ignored’, Dr Thambyah said. ‘Ten thousand people speaking up cannot be ignored.’

Calling this the ‘new era in Singapore politics’, he said more and more citizens are questioning the authorities. He said that the people should not ‘sit down and shut up’. Their voices would be heard, and the people should start by choosing a ‘President who puts the people first’.

Auction – at the PAP’s expense

After Dr Thambyah’s speech, the MC’s conducted an auction to raise funds for the SDP. The first item was a ‘rare’ pink two-dollar note. Bidding started at one dollar, and was finally sold for one hundred dollars to Mr Tan Kin Lian. Other items included a lion head prop used in traditional Chinese lion dances, a picture of Dr Wijeysingha, a single Vanda Miss Joaquim in bloom, an autographed election poster, and a child-sized air stewardess unifor.

After the last item was sold, the display screen went blank. A short skit began. A man dressed in the old army field uniform strolled to the stage, followed by a petite woman carrying an army-issue backpack. This was a reference to reports of a soldier walking home with his maid lugging his backpack. The ‘soldier’ asked the ‘maid’ to open the bag and take out a special item for the auction; when she complained and dawdled, he told her to hurry up or she would not have the following day off. This scene referred to the campaign to encourage employers to give foreign domestic workers a day off.

The item turned out to be a National Day Parade fun pack. Soldier and maid marched on the spot, as excerpts from NCH Productions’ animated fun pack song from YouTube played on the screen (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQXDqjYnN5I). With the song and dance concluded, the fun pack was eventually sold for a hundred and twenty dollars.

The final item to be sold was a Kate Spade handbag. The sale was preceded by a screening of SINdie’s ‘Another Home’ video. Ms Tin Pei Ling’s lookalike from the video, Ms Mint Leong, posed with the handbag, imitating Ms Tin’s viral kawaii pose. The bag was eventually sold for two hundred and eighty-eight dollars.

Honouring Dr Lim Hock Siew

When the auction closed, the SDP held an award ceremony for Dr Lim Hock Siew. Dr Lim was arrested as part of Operation Coldstore under the Internal Security Act (“ISA”). Dr Chee felt that the honour was ‘a long time coming’ for a man of ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and ‘courage of his beliefs’. Dr Chee said that Dr Lim and his comrades ‘stood for a Singapore that used to care’, and Dr Lim is still ‘very passionate’.

There ‘must be some kind of truth and reconciliation’, Dr Chee said. He added that the honour of political detainees must be restored, and that he felt that the detainees’ stories should be told. In the future, the SDP aims to educate Singaporeans about the ISA and why a law that ‘gives the government carte blanche...cannot be good for any country’. Dr Chee said that ‘the ISA had its time already, if it ever was needed’. Should a law be needed to address terrorism, it should be a separate act, with built-in oversight and checks and balances.

Dr Wong Wee Nam spoke at length about his experiences with Dr Lim, referencing the article he wrote for TOC. Dr Wong then presented Dr Lim with a work of art, donated by an anonymous donor.

In Concluding

The award ceremony concluded with a presentation of awards to selected Marsiling residents. This was followed by a short skit, manned by members of the audience and directed by the MC. The evening came to a close with a sing-along session, covering ‘Count on me Singapore’, ‘Stand up for Singapore’, and ‘YMCA’.

Dr Chee said he hoped that younger Singaporeans could learn from the event, to understand that ‘not everything can be calculated in dollars and cents’, and that the pursuit of wealth must be tempered with compassion for fellow Singaporeans. Dr Chee said that if Singapore is going to be a ‘mature, thinking, intelligent, developed society’, Singapore needs to move away from equating the PAP with Singapore. The National Day celebration should be about the people, he said, not the government.

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Part 1 is HERE.