By Howard Lee
The Singapore Democratic Party had an early launch in its campaign for the next general elections, as it announced a slew of activities that it plans to undertake to increase public awareness of the choices for Singaporeans made available through SDP’s policy proposals.
“We are asking Singaporeans to consider alternative policies we believe to be right for Singapore,” said SDP’s secretary-general, Dr Chee Soon Juan, addressing more than 100 members of the media and party volunteers at the launch event. “These policies will be our central thought for the next general elections.”
SDP member Dr James Gomez, who leads the party’s policy development team, outlines some of the party’s key policy recommendations since GE2011, noting that the party had on average rolled out a new policy paper once every six months.
These include recommendations on ministerial salaries, healthcare, housing, population and employment management, the Malay community, and education.
Vice-chairman Mr John Tan, who elaborated on the line-up of the party’s activities as part of SDP’s 35th anniversary this year, also said that the party will launch its economic policy paper to address issues like pension funds, income inequality and transparency, and also propose solutions for them.
“We want to sell Singaporeans another way of doing things in Singapore, and that they don’t have to be tied down by the PAP,” said Dr Chee, referring to the ruling People’s Action Party. “We must not get blackmailed, that if the PAP goes down, Singapore goes down with it. PAP is PAP, Singapore is Singapore. It is the height of arrogance for anyone to suggest that one equals the other.”
Dr Chee criticised the PAP government for coming up with policies that are “thin on logic and substance”, and called for Singaporeans to support the SDP so that it can be “your voice in Parliament”, the party’s slogan for the next elections.
In preparing for the next GE, party member Mr Bryan Lim made a call for Singaporeans to support the SDP, not just in votes, but in helping the party get organised and connect better with the ground to garner feedback and spread SDP’s messages.
Mr Lim said that the SDP has planned for up to 44 campaign activities, which includes house visits, town halls, walkabouts and block parties, with 25 January scheduled as the party’s first walkabout for the year.
He called for volunteers to help with the constituency committees which will drive the SDP’s outreach to residents. “We need volunteers to educate residents about our alternative policies… and why putting SDP in Parliament will improve their lives,” he said.
Media also tried asking Dr Chee which constituencies SDP plan to contest in the next general elections, if Dr Chee himself would be contesting, and if so which ward.
The questions elicited some snickering from the audience at the event, as Dr Chee divulged little, only indicating that the party has been active in the wards it contested in GE2011 – Bukit Panjang, Holland-Bukit Timah, Sembawang and Yuhua – and has also been walking the grounds in Tanjong Pagar.
Nevertheless, Dr Chee was confident that SDP would be able to field the same calibre of candidates as it did in GE2011 for the next GE, if not better.
“If you look at what happened since the last elections,” he said, “no person without substance would have been able to come up with the policies that we have.”
Speakers at the launch event also constantly referred to the one-sided portrayal of the party in mainstream media. This reporter took the opportunity to ask if SDP plans to produce a policy paper on media regulations.
Dr Gomez noted that it is a policy area of concern, but said that initiatives by civil society might be better positioned to effect change.
“I think not all policies would need the party to take the lead and form,” he said, “because if there is a nucleus in a civil society movement, such as FreeMyInternet, I think we should be willing to support civil society. Policy formulation need not always be the purview of political parties. Civil society is on many occasions the front-runner in initiating policy change.”
Dr Gomez also indicated that the party would be willing to help and cooperate with civil society in this matter, and given that civil society has taken social media as its main domain, such a ground-up initiative would be more appropriate.
Dr Chee added that while the party would not be coming up with a separate paper on media policy, it will be incorporating aspects of that in other papers, such as the up-coming economic policy paper.
“If we want to talk about Singapore being more dynamic, being able to compete on an international level on ideas and innovation, we cannot have a media that continues to be controlled by the PAP,” he said. “That is why in that paper, as you will see, we have said that the media must be informed, if one is going to drive Singapore forward.”
He also encouraged journalists to make the change, as encouraging open and fair debate on issues is not outlawed. Not reporting on policy alternatives available for Singaporeans is less about doing the ruling party a favour, but instead doing Singaporeans a disfavour.
“It is not you versus us, the media versus the opposition,” said Dr Chee. “We are all Singaporeans, and if we go down, all of us go down together. It is in your interest to cover us.”
Line up of activities for SDP’s 35th anniversary in 2015
- January 2015 – SDP’s GE2015 campaign kick-off.
- February 2015 – Launch of SDP’s economic policy paper to address and propose solutions for CPF, income inequality and transparency.
- March 2015 – Launch of book on Dr Chee Soon Juan, written by Dr Chee’s associates and friends, to present a side of him not told by mainstream media.
- April 2015 – “35 Years – A Look Back” event, to showcase SDP’s past achievements and events that shaped the party. Includes an exhibition with photographs and items.
- May 2015 – Launch of SDP’s manifesto for the coming general elections.
- June 2015 – Launch of SDP’s town council management manifesto, to outline concrete plans to manage the constituencies that that party wins.
- July 2015 – Organisation of SDP members and volunteers into constituency committees. Include development of plans and ground strategies.
- 1 August 2015 – Anniversary dinner to celebrate SDP’s 35th year since its founding.
- October 2015 – SDP pre-election rally(s) at Hong Lim Park to introduce potential candidates and issues for the general elections.