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Increased political competition raises the bar for the ruling party

~ By Dr Chee Soon Juan ~

The more fearful Singaporeans are, the harder it will be for us to meet the challenges that lie ahead. While progress was made at the last general elections, there is still much fear when it comes to supporting the opposition.The SDP National Healthcare Plan has received many praises. Some of these have come from the establishment, many of whom indicated that the plan is worthy of serious consideration.

Unfortunately, these folks have not come out in public to support it. These individuals and organisations tell us in private that they cannot be seen openly supporting the SDP because of their employment status or the relationship that they are in with the Government.

This is a shame. For the first time in Singapore's history, an opposition party has come up with a healthcare plan that many people find better that the system that is in place. A group of healthcare and medical professionals have put-in much time and effort to study the state of affairs and put together a detailed policy proposal for Singapore.

And yet, many Singaporeans who are in positions of influence shy away from openly endorsing or even discussing it just because it is from an opposition party.

Such a situation makes it tremendously difficult for public opinion to build up and compel the Government to pay attention to the failings of its policies. The ultimate losers are Singaporeans themselves.

Why can't the proposal be discussed on its merits and if one feels so inclined, support it? The fact that it comes from an opposition party should be not be feared but, instead, celebrated because it signals the maturing of politics in Singapore; not to mention, it indicates a real choice at the polling booth in the next general elections.

For years, Singaporeans have lamented that the opposition has not been forthcoming with alternative ideas. When the SDP makes that breakthrough and produces a plan worthy of public support, few dare to do so openly.

Other examples are minimum wage and the Singaporeans First policy. The SDP was the first opposition to come up with such ideas for Singapore. And yet, few dare to openly help the party campaign even though they support such measures. 

Such a situation is reminiscent of the politics of old where fear silenced the entire society. This is not healthy for our nation as we go forward into a future of uncertainty beset by a host of problems that require honest and open debates.

The more fearful Singaporeans are, the harder it will be for us to meet the challenges that lie ahead. While progress was made at the last general elections, there is still much fear when it comes to supporting the opposition.

What can we do to change this? For a start civil society organisations, social-business entities like the Rotary Club, student and alumni organisations, universities, medical groups, hospitals, insurance companies, etc. can organise talks on healthcare and invite the SDP to talk about our plan.

The SDP's Policy Unit, now staffed by professionals knowledgeable in the various fields, will continue to put up credible policy plans over the next several months especially in the areas of the economy, housing and education.

To develop a mature, democratic and open political system, two factors are necessary: The first is a credible opposition party that is well-organised and offers workable alternative policies. The SDP is striving to be that party. The second factor is a people who must not be afraid to actively and openly support the party. On this we ask Singaporeans to do their part.

One without the other is like trying to clap with one hand.

Singapore is at a crucial cross-point. We either fall back to the way we have been for the last few decades and leave politics and policy-making exclusively to the PAP. Or we can claim back our right to speak out and support parties that come up with alternative policies that benefit the people and the country.

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