I officially launched my book, Singapore version 2.0: Alternative proposals for a better Singapore, on Sunday 30 January at the Oxford Hotel. This was a joint book launch with my Workers’ Party colleague Yaw Shin Leong, who has written a Chinese book, 迈向政治发展与繁荣’ (Towards Political Development and Vibrancy).
A big thank you to all our friends, readers and media representatives who attended the event on a rainy Sunday afternoon!
This is the speech which I delivered at the launch.
Good afternoon friends, family members and readers. Thank you very much for attending our humble book launch today. Your presence means so much to us.
Just before the 2006 General Election, I remember reading a newspaper interview with a young Workers’ Party candidate named Yaw Shin Leong. He did not fit the stereotypical image of a Singaporean opposition party candidate. He was young, well-educated and carried an optimistic air about him. I don’t remember what he said in the interview, but reading about him and some of the other Workers’ Party candidates fielded that election seared in my mind that this party had something good going for it.
I never imagined at that time that five years later, I would be sharing the stage with Shin Leong, doing a joint launch of our own books. I consider it an honour to be his friend and party colleague. Shin Leong is one of two Workers’ Party members who actively followed up with me and eventually recruited me to join the party. The other was Eric Tan, who is the Party’s treasurer and chairman of the Eastern Area Committee.
Internet and politics
The 2006 Election was the first election that I followed closely. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I got a chance to vote. I remember being very eager to attend as many election rallies as possible. Unfortunately after attending just one rally in Yishun, I fell sick with a high fever, and could hardly get out of bed. Because I couldn’t go out, I had to follow the election on TV and by reading newspapers. Unfortunately, day after day, the only thing I would read about was James Gomez and nothing but James Gomez, and what all the big shot ministers were saying about him.
I tuned out and turned to the Internet. Back then, local political blogging was still at its infancy. And some minister had declared that political podcasts and videos were banned during the election period. I was therefore surprised to stumble upon a huge collection of election rally videos uploaded on a few blog sites like Singapore Election Watch. I was thrilled at being able to bypass the media filter and listen to what the opposition candidates had to say.
This was my introduction to the Internet as an alternative source of news. I liked what I read, and decided to start my own blog to express my own thoughts on political issues in Singapore. This was not the first time I was openly expressing my political views. Up until then, I had been an occasional letter writer to the Straits Times and Today newspaper.
Writing on my blog was a liberating experience. Unlike writing to the mainstream newspapers, I didn’t have to tone down my views just to get published. Of course, this didn’t mean that I just blurted out every thought that came to my head. There were instances where I wanted to comment on a particular topic or individual, but decided it wasn’t worth the potential trouble it might invite. However, hand on heart, I believe I have been true to my conscience and have written what I felt was important for my readers to know.
I didn’t expect to be able to reach out to so many people with just a simple blog. I have received over 200,000 visits to my blog since it started. But what I feel is particularly gratifying is the many people I have had the chance to be acquainted with in real life, as a result of my blogging. One of my most significant reader contacts took place in November 2006, when a guy named Andrew Loh emailed me to arrange a meet-up. He was starting a new group blog named The Online Citizen, with the aim of giving ordinary Singaporeans a louder voice. He wanted me to come on board to contribute articles as part of a volunteer writing team.
When we met at Starbucks in Raffles City, the first thing he told me was that he was a member of the Workers’ Party, but that this project was a personal initiative. That was the first time I had ever met anyone from the Workers’ Party. It was through Andrew that I was introduced to both TOC and the Workers’ Party. The rest is history.
About the book
My book is an edited compilation of my key blog posts, letters and articles to the press, and speeches over the past few years. I decided to put this together in a book in order to reach out to Singaporeans who prefer reading books to blogs.
I dedicated the book “to all my fellow Singaporeans—regardless of political affiliation—who are striving to carve out a stronger and better Singapore for current and future generations of Singaporeans”.
Although at the time of writing, I was already a Workers’ Party member, this is not a political manifesto, but a series of commentaries by an ordinary Singaporean, for my fellow Singaporeans. I did not set out in my blog or my book to be a PAP critic. It just so happened that they were the ones in Government and were doing many things which I felt were wrong for this country. But more than just criticizing, I wanted to share some ideas and policy proposals which I believe could improve the lives of Singaporeans—economically, socially and politically.
Joining the Workers’ Party
This is the approach I have taken even as an opposition party member. I did not join the Workers’ Party because I hate the PAP and have suffered a grievous personal injustice at their hands. I joined because I wanted to contribute in an area where it was most needed.
Of all the public institutions in Singapore, the one which I feel is in the greatest need for development is our political opposition. Over the years that the PAP has been in power, it has done everything it can to cripple the opposition and prevent it from flourishing. From detaining political opponents without trial, to suing and bankrupting opposition members, to muzzling the free press, to tinkering with the electoral system and electoral boundaries, to controlling almost every lever of power in our country. But the greatest damage the PAP has done to Singapore’s political development is creating a culture of fear in our society. This fear is particularly damaging to the opposition, because it prevents many moderate, well-educated and well-meaning potential candidates from stepping into the political arena, for fear of negative repercussions.
I am not immune to such fears. I had carefully considered my decision to join the Workers’ Party. I mulled over my decision for over a year before making the commitment two years ago. There were two key considerations when deciding on my political participation: One, what am I doing this for; and two, what will happen to me when I do it?
The answer to the first question came when I recalled the story of Esther, the Jewish queen of the Persian king Xerxes. Xerxes was manipulated by his political advisor and had issued a decree to exterminate all Jews in his kingdom. Queen Esther was in a position to persuade him to change his decision, but was hesitant to approach him. In the end, her cousin Mordecai told her: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Now I’m not in the business of rescuing Jews, but there are parallels I saw with Singapore. If the young people of Singapore remain silent, and our generation does nothing to effect change in our political system, I fear that our country will eventually perish. The system of political control without proper accountability cannot last forever.
The past five years have seen a tremendous awakening in many quarters in Singapore, thanks in large part to the freedom of information that the Internet provides and its ability to facilitate the mobilisation of like-minded people. We are here in Singapore not by an accident of chance, but for such a time like this.
Everyone who contemplates entering opposition politics will have to seriously consider the second question: What negative things will happen to me when I throw my hat in the ring?
Contrary to popular belief, taking part in opposition politics in Singapore is not an automatic ticket to jail and bankruptcy. There are hundreds of us who go about our regular political outreach activities without getting into any trouble. I often get asked if I will lose my job if my employers find out about my “Batman job”. I have been open with my employers about my political involvement, and I am grateful that they have continued to judge me on my performance at work, and nothing else.
Will you join us?
To all my friends and readers who are here today, and those who will watch the video and read my speech online: There is no better time to step forward and be counted than now. The future of our country is at stake. Things might seem okay on the surface, but our political foundations are very weak.
PM Lee once said that the two-party system cannot work for Singapore and that we are much better off with just one dominant party. He also said that if the PAP ever becomes ineffective or corrupt, many opposition parties will spring up to take on the government.
Well, political parties cannot spring up just like that. Like any organisation, it takes time and a lot of hard work by many good people to build them up. The time to start building up alternative parties is now, not later when MM Lee has left the political scene. When that happens, you will find many opportunists from both the ruling party and opposition scrambling to fill the void. By then you might find yourself crowded out by them, and will have little influence over the direction of the parties.
So my appeal to you is this: If you have a passion for politics and you love people, don’t wait any longer. Step forward and be counted. You don’t have to join a party immediately, but talk to Shin Leong or me to find out more; come participate in some of our activities to see things for yourself; and then tell your friends and family about your experiences.
Before I end, I would like to acknowledge the many people who have made the writing of my book possible. My wife, Elena, who has been a constant source of support and encouragement. My dad and mum, who helped proof read my book and have done so much to help me despite their reservations about their son participating in opposition politics. Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of the Workers’ Party, who kindly wrote the foreword to my book. Lastly, I want to thank the thousands of readers of my blog and those who have bought my book. You have made all my writing efforts worthwhile!
Thank you very much.