Category Archives: Opposition parties

Potong Pasir residents ‘repented’…and a MRT station opens

Woodleigh MRT station was closed for 8 long years.

8 years later, SBS has decided to open Woodleigh Station to celebrate NEL’s 8th anniversary. Now wait a minute, which organisation worth it’s salt celebrates something that has only be around for 8 years? Call me a consipracy theorist, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

The People’s Action Party recently took back the opposition leader Chiam See Tong’s former stronghold of Potong Pasir in the recent General Elections after 20 years and less than 2 months later, Woodleigh MRT Station is suddenly operational.

For those who don’t know where Woodleigh Station is, the station, while only a few minutes away from the Potong Pasir MRT station, is located in Potong Pasir.

8 years ago, when Chaim was still in charge of Potong Pasir and  the North- East Line (NEL) was opened, SBS Transit was asked why Woodleigh wasn’t opened. The reason given to the public then was “the population in the area had been deemed insufficient to make economic sense to operate”.

Now 8 years later, Chiam is gone, PAP has taken over and SBS has decided that there is now a ‘sufficient population’ to take the train at Woodleigh Station.

I’m shooting in the wind here, but my guess is that the ‘sufficient population’ in Potong Pasir who are rejoicing over the opening of the station are the same population who, to borrow LKY’s words, ‘repented’ and decided to vote for the PAP instead of the opposition.

Whether SBS was strong-armed  in to opening Woodleigh Station or not, my guess is as good as yours.

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More does not always mean better

Debra Soon discusses whether the changes to the NMPs and NCMPs scheme will improve the quality of debate in Parliament with her guests Alvin Yeo, a PAP MP for Hong Kah GRC, Goh Meng Seng, the Secretary General of the National Solidarity Party and Dr Gillian Koh, Senior Research Fellow from the Institute of Policy Studies on Talking Point

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Tyrannical government at it’s best

Parliament on Monday passed laws ensuring at least 18 people not from the ruling party will enter Parliament after the next election. The House voted 74 to one in favour of the amendments to the Constitution that would increase the maximum number of Non-Constituency MPs from six to nine and entrench the Nominated MP system.
The three-hour-long debate included a prolonged exchange between Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, who presented the Bill, and the two Workers’ Party parliamentarians Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim.
For the uninitiated, in Singapore, we have a system in Parliament called Nominated MPs, whereby those who are nominated are given a chance to speak but are not allowed to make decisions.
I fail to see how increasing the number of NMPs will help to improve the political system. Worker’s Party’s chairman Sylvia Lim, who is also an NMP,  highlighted the many limitations of NMPs:
Sir, in addition, there are serious limitations to NCMP seats and it is important to highlight to Singaporeans these limitations.
Besides not being able to vote on critical matters, we are considered as lacking in official capacity to represent the people. This was brought home in 1997 when Mr JB Jeyaretnam, who was then NCMP, filed a Parliamentary question asking whether any directive had been given to government departments not to reply to letters sent by him as NCMP. In the exchange which followed, the Home Affairs minister reiterated the fact that NCMPs do not represent any particular constituency and therefore the government departments would only respond to letters by elected MPs or grassroots advisers on behalf of residents in those areas.
I have my own experiences of this reality.
I have been doing house visits in Aljunied GRC for several years. The residents have raised certain concerns to me which I have highlighted in Parliament as issues, where appropriate. However, I have no official capacity to write letters on their behalf regarding their specific cases though I very much want to.
In addition, an NCMP has no physical base. Under the Town Councils Act, the incumbent MP will be in charge of the town council which controls the use of common space. As for the community clubs, these are in the hands of the People’s Association.
It is next to impossible for an opposing candidate to be allowed to use a space to organize activities or dialogues.
We have applied for permission to use spaces in PAP wards and received expected rejections.
On the other hand, ruling party hopefuls in opposition wards are appointed advisers to grassroots organizations, thereby apparently  having status to liaise with HDB and other government departments on behalf of residents.
Sir, it may well be that the PAP wants complete dominance with non-PAP voices provided through the NMP and NCMP schemes.
But what would happen if the PAP starts to falter or be corrupt? A good political system is one which can provide sustainable checks on the ruling party through the people having real bargaining power through the presence of elected opposition members.
This will serve as a strong incentive for the ruling party to perform and pay heed to the people’s desires.
Elected opposition members are a manifestation of a challenge to the ruling party not just in Parliament but on the ground.
It is not in the national interest to promote a system where the survival of the country become so intertwined with the fate of one political party that the people are left hostage.
Instead of worrying about the MPs’ debating skills, the Prime Minister should worry more about whether each of his MPs has the support of the people which an SMC system will automatically cure.

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UK General Election Debate Round 1

Ok. I know I’m a week late in posting this, but better late than never.

A little background information of this debate:

The debates run without a break for 90 minutes and are broadcast weekly by ITV, BSkyB and the BBC over three successive Thursday evenings starting on 15 April.

Each debate, through the questions selected, is to focus on a set theme for the first half of the debate: domestic, international and economic affairs, before moving on to general issues.

During each debate the leaders will be asked questions not known to them in advance, but selected beforehand by the broadcasters, and asked either by the audience, or via email.

Key figures of the debates are, the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, the Leader of the Opposition and Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third largest political party in the UK.

After watching this debate, which was Britain’s first attempt of live debates, I was struck by how actively Nick Clegg and David Cameron are involved in the country’s affairs.

Which led me to wonder why we don’t see this happening in Singapore. It would be a breakthrough if Singapore does a similar debate. But honestly speaking, with the state of the opposition here, it would be a live massacre by the ruling party.

Perhaps Singapore’s opposition parties can pick up a thing or two from Nick Clegg and David Cameron when watching the debates.

Stay tuned to this blog for round two and three.

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An unbiased interview

Singapore’s freesheet newspaper, TODAY, interviewed Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary General of The Reform Party, one of Singapore’s opposition party yesterday.

Kenneth Jeyaratnam

It is an unusual move because the mainstream media very seldom grant interviews or carry any reports which is in favour of opposition parties or opposition leaders. I must applaud Loh Chee Keong for taking an unbiased stand when interviewing Mr Jeyaretnam.

This interview has some importance because it introduces Mr Jeyaratnam and his party to otherwise clueless Singaporeans who depend on the mainstream media for their news.

Although Mr Jeyaratnam’s  ‘introduction’ comes a year late (The Online Citizen did a somewhat similar ‘introduction’ in April 2009), it is still not too late to introduce Mr Jeyaratnam to the general population with the General Election round the corner.

Here is the excerpts from his interview titled, I am my own man: Kenneth Jeyaretnam :

LCK: Why did you enter politics? Was it what your father expected of you? And is the JBJ legacy a boon or a bane to your own political career?

KJ: My father had always hoped that one of us (Kenneth or his younger brother Philip Jeyaretnam) would follow him into politics … My father’s legacy is not really an issue any more because I’m seen as my own man.

When we did our walkabout with the Singapore Democratic Alliance last Sunday, I was sitting with my members at a table (at the void deck of a block of flats) and a guy at the next table said: “Hi Kenneth, how’s it going?” People do come up and approach me now.

LCKYou had previously kept a low profile. Were you prepared for the media scrutiny?

KJ: I’m ready for any scrutiny – I’ve got nothing to hide. Obviously, it’s an uphill struggle to get your message across in the mainstream media. But because of the rise of the new media, we’ve been getting our message across … but we have to be in control of the content.

One of the things I’m concerned about is that we don’t put out anything that is potentially libellous, inflammatory or seditious, that could lead to potential legal problems.

LCK: You have spent a large part of your life overseas. Will that count against you getting elected? Can you relate to the average Singaporean?

KJ: Let’s get it straight: Do you think that I left Singapore by choice? I couldn’t get a job here.

I had a “double first” (first-class honours in two separate subjects) from Cambridge. After I graduated in 1983 – which was two years after my father was elected into Parliament – I wanted to return to Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore rejected my application after one round of interviews. A lot of financial institutions and banks also rejected my applications.

Anyway, I’m not here to whine. I’ve succeeded in London. I’ve built a successful career in the financial sector and in hedge fund management. It has given me a perspective of seeing how an open, democratic society operates.

People find me approachable, proactive, capable – even though some people say I speak with an English accent.

‘The party was in a bad state’

LCK: It’s been almost a year since you took over leadership of the Reform Party. What was the experience like?

KJ: When I was elected as secretary-general, it was actually a bit of a shock because I found the party was in quite a bad state. It was like a drifting, rudderless empty vessel. Morale had dwindled, the number of members had decreased and there hadn’t been central executive committee meetings for about four or five months …

But since then, the responses I’ve gotten have been much more than I expected. We’ve definitely created a watershed in Singapore politics. For the first time, you’ve got an Opposition party that is perceived as economically competent, credible, and proposing alternative policies that could really make a difference or change Singapore.

LCK: With your brand of politics, are you trying to appeal to the intelligentsia?

KJ: We appeal to all sections of Singapore. I went on a house-to-house visit in West Coast GRC recently in a low-income area. We got a very enthusiastic response there … there haven’t been elections there for 20 years.

We appeal to the professional classes because of our economic policies and perceived economic competence. We definitely appeal to most Singaporeans who think there should be more opposition in Parliament – that we need to move towards a two-party system.

LCK: Rising property prices is one area that the Reform Party is concerned about. How would the party do things differently from the Government?

KJ: There’s a conflict of interest in the Government’s role as the owner of 79 per cent of the land and the provider of housing … they have a vested interest in seeing property prices rise. We’ve said that we would like to see more private sector competition with the HDB in the provision of low-cost housing.

I don’t think this would lead to lower quality because first, you have a regulator to ensure that standards are maintained. Second, competition usually leads to higher quality.

LCK: If you get into Parliament, do you see yourself as a full-time Member of Parliament? What would your priorities be?

KJ: I’m already a full-time politician and I’ll certainly devote the major part of my time. Being an MP is not the ultimate objective, because every political party’s objective should be to get to be the government and that’s what I’ll be working for.

The PAP may be against the two-party system but it’s inevitable, as we have seen in Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. The problem with the one-party system is not corruption – at least not in Singapore because the Government is not corrupt – but it leads to a society closed to new ideas, with too many “yes men”.

‘We are fairly united’

LCK: What is your take on the state of Opposition unity here?

KJ: You can’t force Opposition unity but I think it will definitely happen. That’s the basis of our purported alliance with the SDA (Singapore Democratic Alliance) – it would not be to just fight an election but to coordinate our actions in Parliament.

We don’t all have to agree on exactly the same policies, but we all have the same objective, so it would be wrong to talk about Opposition disunity. We are fairly united.

LCK: If you team up with the SDA’s Chiam See Tong to contest a Group Representation Constituency, wouldn’t you find yourself in the shadow of a veteran Opposition figure?

KJ: Mr Chiam is much-loved and respected by his constituents. He has done a great job in Potong Pasir. But let’s be frank: In a democratic country, if a party has failed for 25 years to expand its base beyond one seat in Parliament then I think the leaders would have been voted out.

Mr Chiam and I share the same view that the purpose of a political party is to form a government. He has spoken many times about the Opposition forming, not at the next General Election but by the election after that, to be in a position to be seen as an alternative government – which is something the Reform Party has also said.

I can’t comment on our election strategy. It’s completely shocking that we haven’t seen the boundaries … that is grossly unfair to the Opposition.

LCK: What do you hope Singaporeans see Kenneth Jeyaretnam as?

KJ: I hope that I’ll be seen as somebody who transformed Singapore politics – I hope that doesn’t sound too arrogant – and who made (participating in politics) seem like a normal and patriotic duty, rather than something to be shunned or avoided out of fear.

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Why can’t Singapore’s opposition parties remain united?

Instead of slugging it out with the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Parliament and arguing about government’s policies in the public sphere, opposition parties in Singapore are fighting amongst themselves.

1st match: Chiam See Tong vs Dr Chee Soon Juan

The feud between both of them can be traced back to the 1993 election. According to the Singapore Democratic Party website. the feud started when Dr Chee was sacked by NUS and went on a hunger strike:

Dr Chee was sacked by the National University of Singapore where he was a Lecturer. Dr Chee went on a hunger strike as a mark of protest. He was subsequently sued by his department head, Dr S Vasoo, faculty dean, Dr Ernest Chew, and secretary, Ms Janice Chen, when he disputed his sacking.

Mr Chiam first supported Dr Chee’s action but later changed his mind and called for the Party to censure the assistant secretary-general (Dr Chee was elected to the post in February 1993). None of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) members supported Mr Chiam’s motion whereupon the Party leader tended his resignation, citing that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues.

A few of the CEC members, including Dr Chee, tried to persuade Mr Chiam to remain as secretary-general. However, Mr Chiam stated that he would do so only if he could be granted the power to appoint and dismiss the Party’s cadre members. He also wanted the removal of Mr Wong Hong Toy as vice-chairman.

Under the Party’s constitution a simple majority of the CEC was needed to appoint cadre members, not any one individual leader. The CEC did not have the constitutional power to accede to Mr Chiam’s demands. A few weeks later, Mr Chiam gave a speech at the Singapore Press Club attacking the Party’s leadership. It was only then that the CEC voted to expel him.

The Press Club had extended a similar invitation to Dr Chee to counter Mr Chiam. Knowing that the PAP-controlled media had every intention to fan the flames, Dr Chee declined the invitation. But when he subsequently informed the organizers that he would speak but on the Party’s alternative policy ideas instead of the altercation with Mr Chiam, the Press Club withdrew the invitation.

Mr Chiam sued the CEC for wrongful dismissal and won. He remained with the Party until the 1997 general elections when he resigned to form another party.

Mr Chiam went on to form the Singapore People’s Party and together with the Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS) and the Singapore Justice Party (SJP), they formed the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

Fast forward seven years later.

In a 28 February 2010 interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Dr Chee claimed that in the 1993 dispute, he had pleaded with Mr Chiam to stay on in the SDP.

A few days later, after reading the interview, Mr Chiam’s wife, Ms Lina Loh contacted Lianhe Zaobao herself to rebuff Dr Chee’s claims that he wanted Mr Chiam to stay. She said:

If he really wanted to keep Mr Chiam, he coulld well reject the position of the Secretary-General or object to his expulsion when the CEC moved a motion to do so.

She went on to explain her decision in coming out to defend Mr Chiam:

I am only saying the truth for my husband to let the younger generation to understand Uncle Chiam, I need to step forward to clarify that he did not abandon SDP, when we were forced to leave, we were in so much pain in our hearts.

Dr Chee felt that the response from Ms Loh was a ‘personal attack’ on him as she was accusing him of ousting Dr Chiam. He responded in kind by writing ‘An open letter to all opposition supporters’.

He wrote that he bear no grudge against Mr Chiam and that he was misunderstood:

At the Reform Party dinner in 2009, I approached Mr Chiam to wish him well.

I attended his 25th anniversary dinner as an MP because I bore him no grudge and I was hoping the same from him.

The Singapore Democrats had even organised two public forums in 2008 and 2009 where we invited all the opposition party leaders, including Mr Chiam, to see how we could cooperate. We also invited him to our 30th anniversary dinner.

I did all this in the hope of burying the hatchet with Mr Chiam.

Unfortunately today’s outburst published in the Straits TimesLianhe Zaobao and My Paper where Mrs Lina Chiam made a host of personal attacks against me were untrue. It has poisoned the well again.

This must stop. I have been demonised by the PAP and its media for long enough. I have been accused of ousting Mr Chiam which is a blatant lie. Records will show this.

I have refrained from answering my critics on this matter because I was hoping that the past would remain where it belongs, and that we can look ahead and focus on our fight for a democratic Singapore.

Depending on the developments over the next day or so, it may be necessary to set the record straight over the episode of Mr Chiam’s departure from the SDP.

I say “may be” because even at this late stage I am hoping that something can still be done to avert any open clash with Mrs Chiam. Suffice it to say that the ball is in her court.

I want to put a stop to the lies propagated by the PAP and the media that I had entered the SDP and ungratefully usurped Mr Chiam’s position as leader. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many details that hitherto Singaporeans do not know because they have been obscured or covered by the SPH in the past.

Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away from a fight. But there comes a time when one has to turn around and face one’s accusers and say “No more.”

2nd match: Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS) vs..itself

Since 2006, PKMS has been split into two groups which have been at loggerheads with each other.

The police have been called in several times in the past over previous bust-ups involving PKMS leaders. The party’s leadership dispute was also brought before the Subordinate Courts.

Things came to a head in 2009.

The two factions got into a brawl outside its office building in Eunos. Four men had to be taken to hospital with head and arm injuries, with one of them warded in intensive care with a fractured skull.

Police arrested a total of 21 people, two of them women, for rioting with dangerous weapons in relation to the incident, which happened around noon.

Those arrested, who include the four taken to hospital, are aged between 27 and 69 and were all PKMS members. Weapons such as hammers and screwdrivers were said to have been used in the fight.

This is the sorry state of the opposition parties in Singapore.

Amidst trading barbs in the mainstream media and declaring war on each other, one wonders if they realised that the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) is still in power and laughing at all the drama.

But that is some light at the end of the tunnel. Opposition parties like The Workers’ Party of Singapore and the newly-formed, Reform Party are quietly going about with their activities and working the ground.

We need to have opposition parties to keep the PAP on their toes and make sure that PAP does not forget its responsibility to serve Singaporeans.

In order to do that, opposition parties must remain united and take the fight to the PAP instead of fighting among each other. But judging from the two episodes highlighted above, they still have a long way to go.

It is also important to note that the mainstream media chooses what it wants to report. Putting opposition parties in a bad light is part of the ruling party’s propaganda.


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