The politics of fear versus the power of persistence

by James Leong

In what’s starting to look like a trend of venue organisers pulling the rug from under a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) event, about 200 people showed up at a hotel ballroom last weekend. Expecting an undercurrent of tension, I felt something different in the air that afternoon. I wondered whether it was the rare use of professional props, slides and videos, which was quite uncharacteristic of a resource-poor opposition party? Or did the party stick to their guns to address hot-button issues in a month-by-month format that injected calm and hope into the room?

SDP’s Secretary General Dr Chee Soon Juan’s opener came in the form of a simple question, “Why are you here today?”  As he spoke about the party’s values of wisdom over wealth, rights before riches and people before profits, I looked to the corner of my eye and noticed a well-dressed woman in her 40s next to me. She was sitting upright, leaning forward and clinging onto his every word. With every picture flashed of a suffering Singaporean left behind, she let out an audible “yes,” nodded her head and fought back tears.

You could tell right away that a connection was made. It was if she experienced an epiphany on what Singapore truly is and what it needs to be.

“Fear cripples and robs even the most educated of logic, reasoning and rationale”

Notwithstanding fiery speeches, growing resentment and even tears shed, I asked myself whether Singapore is truly ready for change? Didn’t the Reform Party’s Kenneth Jeyaretnam infamously tell us at the last General Election not to complain because we got the government we deserve? It’s an open secret that Singaporeans complain incessantly about the government but still vote for them at the polls. Elections in Singapore, no matter how it is played, will always be reduced to the fear of the electorate and the vote it produces. Fear cripples and robs even the most educated of logic, reasoning and rationale, and rears its ugliest head during election season. The best thought-through policies and reasoned arguments are no match for this fear.

I approached one of the SDP volunteers to share my concerns. He admitted he had no answer, but what he did say led to my own epiphany. “You see that woman over there?” he said, pointing across the room. “She’s my wife and she’s here today but it wasn’t always like that.”  He revealed that party work affected his marriage and caused many close to him to keep their distance. Dr Chee also shared how in the past people would literally choose a different path when they spotted him selling books from across the road. Today, he has people queuing to buy his books just so they can be autographed. When a member of the media questioned whether Dr Chee could be trusted, he responded by simply reiterating how he has been fighting for Singapore all this time and nothing has changed.

“Human values of kindness, compassion and equality became the party’s clarion call to unite”

If there were just one message the party was sending out that afternoon it was, “Like it or not, we are here to stay.”

Human values of kindness, compassion and equality became the party’s clarion call to unite, but more understated and palpable was the display of human resilience set against the mightiest of odds. Perhaps it is this indefatigable spirit to press on in the face of crippling law suits, bankruptcy, loss of income, and dignity that courage lives, breathes and speaks truth into the hearts and minds to those who choose to listen.

I see the woman in her 40s but now with her young daughter in tow. Our eyes meet and we exchange smiles. Her tears are now dry and there is a sense of awakening and clarity in her gaze. I’d like to think she is afraid no more, and I wish this too for the rest for Singapore.

This was first published at http://listenwithoutprejudice.org