Singaporeans need to elect “independent and diverse voices in Parliament” and deny the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a two-thirds majority, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah.
Speaking at the SDP pre-election rally at Hong Lim Park on Sat (19 Oct), he said that doing so “will prevent them from changing the constitution at will”.
“For example, they will not be allowed to impose a racial quota for Elected Presidency, but not for the Navy or Air Force just to suit their political aims,” said Dr Tambyah, in reference to Malay Singaporeans allegedly not being allowed to take up “sensitive” vocations in the Navy and Air Force, as reportedly illustrated by the late Lee Kuan Yew in 1999:
“We must not make an error. If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine-gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background. I’m saying these things because they are real, and if I don’t think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn’t think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy.”
Dr Tambyah emphasised that SDP does not know when the election will be held, as Singapore does not “have an independent election commission”.
“Many people ask us, ‘When is the election going to be [held]? In reality, we have no idea when the election is going to be … because we do not have an independent election commission,” said Dr Tambyah.
“The decisions on the constituencies are made by the highly qualified members of the election boundaries review committee, who in their day jobs report to the MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) minister, the MND (Ministry of National Development) minister, the Prime Minister and the Law Minister,” he pointed out.
Drawing attention to the political affiliation of the authority figures the members of the Election Boundaries Review Committee report to, Dr Tambyah said: “All of them are PAP Central Executive Committee members. Surely, that is not fair.”
Thus, Singaporeans need to elect “independent and diverse voices in Parliament”, as Parliament “is where Ministers are held accountable to us, the people of Singapore”.
While the SDP “has not hesitated to speak up for all Singaporeans” for the last 39 years, including for “the marginalised, the poor, the elderly and the sick”, Dr Tambyah said that the party has long drafted “constructive policy proposals which cover education, housing, healthcare, jobs, immigration, and other issues”.
“What these policies have in common is a set of values” that embody SDP, he said, which are “people before profits, wisdom before wealth, and rights before riches”.
“Unlike the PAP, we do not consider the pledge something aspirational. When we make a pledge, we make a promise, and we stick to these. And I think those who have followed the SDP for the last 39 years will know this for a fact, long before I joined the party,” added Dr Tambyah.
“Unfortunately the SDP will not be able to speak up and make real change for the people of Singapore until we are elected to Parliament,” he said.
“Despite all of the intimidation and gerrymandering, we still have the fundamental right to vote in elections every four to five years. We are not Hong Kong. We have the right to vote for our leaders,” urged Dr Tambyah.
PAP has become “insecure”, “tightening its already tight grip on the media and civil society”: SDP chairman Paul Tambyah
Dr Tambyah also alleged that PAP has become “insecure”, and is “tightening its already tight grip on the media and civil society” as a result.
He cited an excerpt from The New Paper former editor P N Balji’s book “Reluctant Editor”, in which Balji describes a “chilling” conversation between the editor-in-chief of The Straits Times and then-Minister George Yeo “over some mild criticism of a PAP MP”:
“The minister apparently told Leslie Fong, “Our MPs may be wrong, but the government will protect them at all costs”. To which the editor replied, “Yes, Minister, we know. It will be our blood on the floor.”
“We cannot continue with that kind of intimidation and the conformity that results … We need an independent media to cover important events and policies,” he said.
Dr Tambyah, however, predicted that a “nasty mudslinging campaign from the PAP ministers and candidates” can be expected in the next General Election, particularly with the enactment of new laws such as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
During an election, a senior civil servant appointed by the Minister will have the authority to exercise such powers under Section 52 POFMA in lieu of the respective Minister, as the Parliament is dissolved:
“In the coming elections too, unfortunately we can expect the nasty mudslinging campaign from the PAP ministers and candidates. This time, however, they are going to be protected by new laws which can only be activated by a Minister and not by an opposition candidate,” he alleged.
Alluding to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s recent remarks on renowned poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at’s poem “Singapore You Are Not My Country” in Parliament, Dr Tambyah said: “We have already seen the vicious personal attacks by a member of the so-called 4G leadership on a poet invited to lead a class for a group of less than two dozen students.”
“Now this is not someone who is a serious threat to the Minister’s multi-million dollar salary, nor is it someone working to cause him to lose another election. This is actually an award-winning poet and playwright, who is lumped together with neo-Nazis and jihadists,” he said, in reference to the ensuing backlash received by Mr Alfian after being thrust in the spotlight as a result of the Yale-NUS saga.
Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh and others’ defence of Alfian Sa’at signals that “Singaporeans will stand up to this kind of bullying”: SDP chairman Paul Tambyah
Mr Alfian was originally due to become an instructor for the cancelled “Dissent and Resistance in Singapore” programme at Yale-NUS, which was renamed “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore”.
In delivering his speech on the cancellation of the Yale-NUS programme and guiding principles for educational institutions in Singapore, Mr Ong quoted part of Mr Alfian’s poem “Singapore You Are Not My Country”, which was written over two decades ago in 1998, to give Parliament “a flavour of his thinking”.
Quoting Mr Alfian’s poem, Mr Ong read:
“Singapore, I assert you are not a country at all,
Do not raise your voice against me, I am not afraid of your anthem”
Later part of the poem says:
“…how can you call yourself a country,
you terrible hallucination of highways and cranes and condominiums
ten minutes’ drive from the MRT?”
“This is a poem, and we might concede some artistic licence. But Mr Alfian Sa’at continues this attitude consistently in his activism,” Mr Ong alleged.
Mr Alfian earlier in his explanation of his poem “Singapore You Are Not My Country”, highlighted that Education Minister did not quote the poem in full, in which it originally appears as seen below:
Do not raise your voice against me,
I am not afraid of your anthem
although the lyrics are still bleeding from
the bark of my sapless heart.
He elaborated that the context in which the line “I am not afraid of your anthem” appears “makes clear that I have grown up with the anthem as a Singaporean, that it bleeds from my heart, and that in spite of saying ‘I am not afraid of your anthem’ (bravado) I am actually afraid of hearing it and having it rouse patriotic feelings in me”.
“And I am afraid of this patriotic love because it is so involuntarily, it comes from a primordial and irresistible place from deep inside.
“I am afraid of these volcanic feelings because I want to protect myself from loving something too much,” Mr Alfian said, alluding to his love for Singapore.
“Just stopping on the word ‘anthem’ might suggest that I am somehow rejecting symbols of the state,” he added.
Mr Alfian also revealed that contrary to the allegations made in a Yale report on the cancellation, which he said painted him as “defiant and intransigent”, he was open to removing certain elements from the original programme itinerary and substituting such elements with others, in light of sensitivities arising from current developments.
Citing veteran diplomat Tommy Koh and the arts community who came to Mr Alfian’s defence, however, Dr Tambyah said that such a public defence by notable figures in Singapore society has given him “some encouragement that at least Singaporeans will stand up to this kind of bullying”.