On 28 September, the Singapore Democratic Party unveiled their manifesto for the upcoming general elections (GE) in the form of a book entitled, The Way Forward.
The manifesto is a declaration of the SDP’s visions and policies for Singapore which includes the party’s policies on housing, healthcare, cost of living, education, and more. The manifesto is available for purchase for S$39 as part of SDP’s fundraising for the upcoming general elections. It can also be downloaded for free from the party website.
Speaking at the launch event, party chairman Dr Paul Tambyah noted that the upcoming election could potentially be a ‘watershed’ similar to the 2011 GE. Acknowledging the disappointment in the 2015 results, Dr Tambyah reassured the crowd that the SDP’s strong performance in the Bukit Batok by-election in 2016 showed that 2015 was a ‘one-off event’.
Speaking about the manifesto, Dr Tambyah said “As you know the world is changing rapidly and we believe that the current government is rather slow in ideas as to how to deal with the vulnerable and changing world. And so what we have here is ideas for the future of Singapore, the next generation of Singaporeans.”
He said the manifesto deals with issues that are important to Singaporeans and is guided by the core principle of the party: rights before riches, people before profit, and wisdom before wealth.
Commenting on the ruling party, Dr Tambyah illustrated that it is crucial for members of alternative political parties to get a seat in parliament.
He said, “As we have seen in the last few weeks and months, the PAP has actually taken draconian steps – they have changed the laws and they have now made it possible for ministers to make wild allegations which get dutifully carried in the mainstream media. Sometimes they get a small little comment from the person who is accused in the seventh or eighth paragraph.
And so it’s very important that enough members of the alternative parties – in particular, the SDP – get into parliament so we can deny the PAP a two-thirds majority.”
Dr Tambyah wrapped up his speech by highlighting that the SDP aims to implement a system which will allow each individual Singaporean to have a chance to live life to their fullest potential, and the way forward is outlined in the party’s manifesto.
Also speaking at the launch event was Young Democrat (YD) Naresh Subramaniam who said he joined the SDP because he believed in the party’s values and philosophy of speaking up for the underdog, and the party’s emphasis on putting people first. He also noted he and his fellow YDs are proud to help build the SDP into a party of and for the future.
Finally, Mr Ben Pwee, who joined the SDP earlier this year, remarked on the party’s policies. Mr Pwee, a former government official in several ministries, provided a quick run-down of the book before encouraging members of the public to reach out with their comments and feedback of the policies outlined in the manifesto, noting that the party wants to encourage dialogue.
He also pointed out that SDP’s policies are comprehensive and detailed, crafted to serve the long term interests of Singaporeans and Singapore. “As a party, we do not believe in short term quick fixes,” said Mr Pwee.
Mr Pwee later also explained that he decided to join the SDP because the party is able to articulate its national visions and policies very differently when compared to the other party’s he’s been a part of – the Singapore People’s Party and Democratic Progressive Party. He noted that the SDP has a vision for both the constituency- as well as national-level.
A vision for the long-term future of Singapore
Taking questions at the end, Secretary-General of SDP Dr Chee Soon Juan said that the SDP hopes to continue to bring the message to Singaporeans that democracy is indeed important for Singapore, and despite the climate of fear, the party will continue to push ahead.
Responding to a question on what the results the party hopes for in the upcoming GE, Dr Chee noted, “We’re fighting in elections not in a democratic system, but in a very authoritarian, anti-democratic one. So for us to look ahead and talk about results, I think we’re missing the point.”
He articulated his hopes for Singaporeans to look beyond just the next elections but to the years and decades ahead. “A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation. And that is what we’re all about,” he said.
As for what the party expects to be different in the next election compare to previous years with the new generation of PAP leaders, Dr Chee said “this 4G generation of leaders that have become very dislocated from society.”
He continued, “Many of these present gen of ministers have had it good all their lives and they think that every Singaporean lives like them. And that’s where the problem is and that’s where we come in.”
He further explained that Singapore cannot continue the way it has for the past 50 years. “If we think that our past holds the key to our future, then we are in a lot more trouble than I think we are. Because we are living on past successes and we are not bold enough to look at a changing and changed world,” he noted.
Touching on the often-commented idea that democracy is a liberal, western idea, Dr Chee cautioned, “We’re beginning to find out that without democracy, without openness, without the ability to dissent, question, challenge authority, you cannot become a creative and innovative society.”
The challenge now, he said, is to make sure that in the coming decade or two, Singapore puts together a society filled with people who are is able to take the lead, instead of just a few select individuals from within the ruling party.
“This present model cannot go on, not if we want Singapore to survive and thrive in the years ahead,” he warned.
On how the party managed to combine and translate the different views of its youth and senior members into a comprehensive policy proposal, Dr Chee emphasised that when the distinctions between the party’s Senior, Women, and Young Democrats is an artificial one.
“When we come together, the lines are very blurred and there’s a meeting of minds in that we know what we really think is important for Singapore,” he noted.
Using the example of climate change, Dr Chee also said: “I think it would do well for us in the older generation to pay heed and really listen to them [the youths] and find the urgency in these matters as well.”
Later, a question was also raised about the challenges in forming an opposition coalition. Dr Chee simply noted that discussions are ongoing and that “it’s a work in progress”.
Finally, a question was asked about why the SDP chose to include the Genuine Progressive Indicator (GPI) in its economic policies.
Dr Chee explained that the current GDP is an “unsatisfactory” indicator of a society’s well-being as it only looks at growth in terms of dollars and cents. On the other hand, the GPI takes into account other factors such as the carbon footprint of society and how that impacts the nation as a whole.