The People’s Action Party (PAP) seems to be running on the same old programmes as before, focusing on corporate welfare while ignoring the needs and aspirations of ordinary Singaporeans, said Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) chairman Dr Paul Tambyah.
In the fifth episode of the party’s “Ask Paul Anything” online series on Friday night (19 June), Dr Paul was asked by members of the public about where he thinks the ruling is heading with the country if they win the next general election (GE).
Dr Tambyah noted his disappointed that the PAP, who he thinks has a very high chance of winning the next GE, is sticking to its same strategies. However, he urged Singaporeans that one way to change that is in the polls.
“Well, we can deny them a two-thirds majority by electing quality alternative party MPs from the SDP and other credible opposition parties,” urged Dr Tambyah, adding “that way they cannot change our constitution at will.”
He added that if more than a third of parliament is made up of MPs from alternative parties, that would create a strong system of checks and balances that would strengthen the society. He also noted that this makeup would also more accurately reflect the will of the people as about a third of the population votes for alternative parties in every election.
Another question was about how the SDP would make it critical for the government to hear out their policy recommendations, to which Dr Tambyah responded that the current parliamentary system of democracy, which it has its faults, still allows for all members of parliament to raise questions that have to be answered.
“You know the ministers can try and run but they can’t hide as they say. They can avoid the question but you can ask the same question at the next sitting of parliament, you can rephrase the question, you can ask for details and the ministers can give you a written answer; but they have to answer and that’s the difference,” he said.
He added that ministers are not obliged to answer questions raised by journalists, activists or any other independent commentator. In parliament, however, the ministers have to provide an answer to questions from other MPs.
“So I think that’s the key. To have enough representatives in Parliament so that you can ask the key questions that Singaporeans are asking and so that we can get answers from the people that we have elected into Parliament,” explained Dr Paul as he reiterated the importance of electing more opposition politicians into parliament.
Specifically pertaining to the looming general elections, Dr Tambyah was also asked about his opinion on the state of opposition unity.
Dr Tambyah immediately stressed that the opposition is in fact united on a common goal of building a free and democratic society based on justice and equality, adding that he is optimistic about opposition unity in the upcoming GE.
However, he emphasised that unity is not the same as uniformity. He said, “Doesn’t mean we all have to wear the same uniform, we all have to sing the same song. And that’s the strength of a democratic society is that you have unity and diversity.”
Addressing the recent talk of “three-cornered fights” during the GE, Dr Tambyah added that unity also does not mean there is no competition. He added, “The reality is that the Singapore and voting public is a sophisticated one and they will be able to make their choices on their own.”
Holding elections now would be risky
Given that most of the world, including Singapore, is also still facing a global pandemic, there was a question on whether medical teams in the country are on standby in anticipation of a spike in COVID-19 cases due to mass voting.
Dr Tambyah explained that many in his medical fraternity are apprehensive about a resurgence of infections if people begin walking the grounds and meeting members of the community in the lead up to elections as they will likely encounter asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
The party chairman recounted that the SDP had long argued that the GE could be held off until Phase 3 of the government’s post-circuit breaker exit strategy when there are no more than one new infection per day from within foreign worker dormitories and outside. The next GE doesn’t have to be called until April 2021, Dr Tambyah noted.
He also explained that the voting process is also risky, highlighting the example of Wisconsin USA were there was a significant spike in new COVID-19 case after elections were held.
“So I think those of us in the medical community are apprehensive about what’s going to happen, not just at the lifting of Phase 2, but even worse that there’s an election campaign that’s going to be called,” lamented the party chairman.
“But I guess we have no choice if that’s the decision of the ruling party. We going to try and do what we have to do and try and protect the public health, even if that’s not their priority,” he added.