“Unrealistic” to hope for reform with PAP – Chee Soon Juan

The Online Citizen catches up with Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Secretary General Dr Chee Soon Juan for a post-GE interview.

During GE2011, the SDP did not win any seats but saw the highest climb percentage-wise in votes. Were you satisfied with the outcome for the SDP?

A political party’s objective is to win seats in parliament. Any time it fails to achieve this is obviously a disappointing outcome.

But we are not deterred because the political system we have in Singapore is not a democratic one. We don’t have a media that give all contesting parties a fair shake when it comes to election coverage. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated very clearly before the last elections: “Not all opposition parties are the same…And I think there’s a difference in the way they approach politics and the way we approach them.”

Netizens will recall that the SDP was repeatedly excluded from Channel News Asia’s programmes when other parties were invited and we had to protest our exclusion before we were invited, even then under ridiculous conditions, on Talking Point.

The media gave the SDP little coverage despite the fact that we were all over the Internet as well as on the ground in our campaign. We held two pre-election rallies, conducted house visits and walkabouts on a weekly basis, produced an alternative economic programme, published a shadow budget, produced countless videos, launched The SDP Promise and the list goes on. But our coverage on the mass media did not reflect this reality.

SPH journalists have intimated to me that there is a more pronounced bias against the SDP than other opposition parties.

After years of targeting the SDP, and then giving us minimal coverage during the hustings, is it any wonder we did not get more than what we polled? For these reasons, it is difficult to conclude that the election results is an accurate reflection of the views of an informed electorate.

Despite this, as you mentioned, we were still the best performing party. This is because we knew what we were up against and we relied on the Internet to get our message across. Our members and associates performed heroically, never complained and just got on with the job of getting our message out to the voters. The results showed.

Did you think the New Paper’s report on your alleged desire to stage a protest march after an SDP rally affect the outcome in anyway?

Whenever the press run such biased reports, they always negatively affect our effort. But that’s nothing new, they have been doing this for years and they have been getting away with it.

But things are beginning to change with the advent of new Internet tools. We will continue to use them to explain to the people what we really are about. The state media cannot continue to smear us with impunity. The new media has made an impact and they are slowly changing Singaporeans’ views about us.

This elections saw 40% voting against the PAP and 6 seats going to the opposition. Do you think it’s a good outcome?

Any time the opposition makes gains electorally, it’s a good thing. But, as I said, we must remember that we have a system that is undemocratic and under the control of the PAP.

The PAP will continue to treat different parties differently according to which party it likes and which it doesn’t. The PAP has not hidden the fact that the SDP is the opposition party that it doesn’t like, and has done everything to marginalise and demonise us through biased media coverage.

Under such a system, real and meaningful change cannot occur. The only way that Singaporeans are going to see real change is when a democratic opposition gets into Parliament.

If real change is going to come, the PAP must not be allowed to dictate what the voters get to read and watch about the various opposition parties. We are confident that given fair media coverage, the SDP would be in Parliament to make the necessary changes Singaporeans so desperately want and need.

What do you think of the PAP’s efforts to change itself so far, post-GE?

If the PAP has changed then they’ve done a pretty good job of masquerading it. Yes, some ministers are no longer in the cabinet but these changes are purely cosmetic. It is unrealistic to hope for reform from within the party. The party culture is so autocratic and entrenched that the earth would stop revolving first before we see meaningful change there.

The media are still completely in its hands, our reserves are still tied up in the hands of the few, and the Singaporeans still labour under an economic system that exploits them.

What are SDP’s plans for the next five years?

We will double our efforts to speak up for our fellow Singaporeans. We will not forget why we got into politics in the first place, that we are here for the people, we are here to serve them. We want to see a compassionate system that genuinely cares for the people.

Our Community Services Subcomittee is doing great job reaching out to the folks who are in most need of help. Our GO! (Ground Operations) team is also busy preparing for our ground work. And, of course, we will continue to come up with alternative ideas and solutions that we have become known for.

What do you think the upcoming Presidential election will be about? What should Singaporeans expect from the next President? (The interview was conducted before the start of the Presidential Elections – Ed)

The President’s first obligation is to the people of this country who will elect him, not the government of the day. We hope to hear the candidates make their stand on this matter clearly and without equivocation during their campaigns, and that they will remain true to this promise whoever is elected.

One of the roles of the President is to safeguard our reserves. This can only be done if the people know how much the reserves are and how they are being used. In other words the next president cannot continue in the mode of the President S R Nathan where the people’s reserves are operated without transparency and he makes no attempt to keep the public informed.


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