By Dr Vincent Wijeysingha
On Saturday last, I participated in a television forum that enabled some of the opposition parties to showcase our policy programme and to debate the governing party on its record.
That the PAP needed to send a full minister to represent it and another party member is testament to the crisis of confidence it is facing and its deep unease over its own policies.
No doubt including the SDP in that programme was the result of our highlighting from this website the now glaring attempt by the governing party to keep the SDP from engaging with the people of Singapore.
The advent of the Internet means that the old-fashioned policy of censoring its opponents is no longer tenable.
The long decline
Why do I bring this up? Because if we are to understand the challenges facing the PAP, and therefore the real dangers of it continuing unchallenged in Parliament, we should look at some history.
When Mr Lee Kuan Yew entered politics, he gathered around him a group of highly effective men. People like Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S Rajaratnam, and Dr Toh Chin Chye.
These men were his equals, and in many ways, his betters because they were able to think through and implement policies that endured while he was their front man, selling their philosophy - and silencing their opponents.
In the mid-eighties, all the old guard started their exit from government leaving him in sole charge of a new group of younger ministers.
That has now left us with a Cabinet that is not even able to take action on mundane matters such as flooding, the rate of inflation, the social effects of the immigration policy, the galloping cost of living, or even to propose alternative solutions and creative approaches to the economic problems of our time.
Why? Because in positing himself as the sole arbiter of policy in the PAP, Mr Lee disabled the capacity of his younger colleagues to think for themselves. Witness Mr Yaacob’s response to the floods last year; Mr Wong Kan Seng blaming everybody else for the escape of Mas Selamat; Mr Tharman’s Budgets of recent years, destitute of anything but to throw money at old problems; Dr Balakrishnan’s failure to spend within the YOG budget (not to mention his arrogant parliamentary statements on raising Public Assistance for the poorest of our poor) and the inability of the Cabinet as a whole to control Mr Lee’s misguided statements about the Malay community.
Sometime last year, Mr Lee lamented the failure of the bilingual education policy. Numerous teachers I have spoken to on the ground have told me that they could have offered that same appraisal 15 years ago. Apparently, in Singapore, no policy is assessed until Mr Lee searches his soul.
The top-down approach he inculcated at all levels of the administration and public life has started the rot. Few in the public sphere has the capacity to face the problems we are now experiencing. No one has the capacity to speak up. The only leader of any substance in the PAP, Mr Lee is now a man literally without peer.
The way forward
Enter the SDP. Over the last 20 years, Dr Chee Soon Juan and his hardworking colleagues, with whom I now have the privilege to serve, have built up a coherent philosophy and policy framework, contained principally in our two key documents, alternative economic programme, It’s About You: Prosperity and Progress for Every Singaporean, and financial policy, Empowering The Nation: Shadow Budget 2011.
Our philosophy is contained in three simple words: Competence, Constructiveness, Compassion.
The CNA forum allowed me to offer the people of Singapore our vision. If I performed at all well, and may I thank those who have kindly complimented me, it is because, to quote Isaac Newton, I have stood on the shoulders of giants.
I have also tried to speak on behalf of the less fortunate, whom the SDP has never ceased to place at the centre of its philosophy. If I was at all coherent, it is because our party is coherent.
I am first and foremost, not a leader. Neither is the SDP. We aspire to serve. The electorate leads. You say where you wish our community to go. You tell us the kind of society you want.
And utilising the expertise that we bring from our professional lives and the research that is a hallmark of the SDP way, we propose and facilitate the resources and structures that will get us there.
In the wake of last Saturday’s forum, I ask you, my fellow Singaporeans, to help the SDP to help you. You can contribute in so many ways: work behind the scenes on logistics, do research and data collection, make available your vehicles for the many errands we have to make.
And you can donate money to fund our posters, leaflets, transport and rally equipment. Chee Siok Chin and I made this video last week. But it bears repeating. Standing for elections costs a lot of money.
In 1994, the British Labour Party lost its respected leader, Mr John Smith, to heart disease. May I quote from Mr Smith, who once said, “The opportunity to serve our country, that is all we ask.”
I ask you to join us for this election campaign. Singapore deserves our service.