Why I joined the Opposition

It has been just over a year since I joined the Workers’ Party as an ordinary member. Although I declared months ago in the “About Me” section of my blog that I am a WP member, this will mark my first full blog post about my involvement with the opposition.

It has been just over a year since I joined the Workers’ Party (WP) as an ordinary member. I must say that the past year has probably been the most exciting and eventful year of my life, and there is every indication that the year ahead will top that. Although I declared months ago in the “About Me” section of my blog that I am a WP member, this will mark my first full blog post about my involvement with the opposition.

I wasn’t always an opposition supporter. I have no history of oppositionists in my family and most of my friends and teachers from school days knew me as someone who always followed the rules and did not question authority. Many, therefore, have expressed surprise that I have taken the plunge into opposition politics.

I first got interested in current affairs during my undergraduate days at the University of Southern California in the United States in the late nineties, where I majoring in electrical engineering. Although the level of political apathy on campus was still high compared to that of previous generations of students, it was enough to help me to see that what happened in the political realm had a huge impact on everyone’s life, including my own.

I brought my interest in politics back to Singapore when I returned in 1999 to serve my National Service. Back then, I used to think that being part of the PAP government machinery was the only way to effect positive change in Singapore. This was a reason why I made a drastic career switch from my first job as an IT consultant to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 2005. It was also why I had volunteered for more than seven years as a youth leader in South West Community Development Council, which I have since resigned from.

Ironically, it was during my time in the civil service that my eyes were opened to the reality that Singapore needs a stronger opposition in order to ensure better governance for our future generations.

The civil service is generally a very well-run organisation, with many intelligent, competent and committed officers at all levels of the hierarchy. As a political desk officer in MFA, I had the privilege of interacting with a diverse array of officials—fellow policy officers, protocol officers, management support officers, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, ministers, and officers from other ministries like the Ministry of Trade and Industry and IE Singapore.

I made a number foreign visits during my stint in MFA, usually staffing ambassadors and ministers in small delegations. This gave me an opportunity to have lots of personal interaction with them and get a sense of how they thought about issues away from the glare of the media. I remember occasionally even getting into debates with them, sometimes over the PAP’s lack of commitment to democratic principles and fair play. During one such debate, over drinks on evening in a foreign capital, I recall the wife of the ambassador turning to my director and telling him, half in jest: “Don’t suppress that idealistic spark in him!”

Fortunately my director didn’t suppress my idealism, not that I displayed much of it after that—it is generally not career enhancing to have a reputation for being too idealistic in the Singapore civil service, where hard-nosed pragmatism is a prized asset. But I realised that despite its efficiency and professionalism, the civil service can only help fulfil the political objectives of the party in power. It cannot change those objectives, because it has neither the power nor the mandate to do so. Policy directions are set by politicians in the ruling party. (By policy directions, I’m referring to issues like whether or not Singapore should provide a universal social safety net for needy Singaporeans, not whether the Public Assistance grant should be $360 or $400.)

My friends in the PAP tell me that it is more effective to change Singapore from within the PAP than from outside. I believe that changes to the finer details of policies are possible from within, but fundamental changes to the way the country is governed can only come if the top echelon of leaders in the party either radically change their mind, or are replaced. Neither is about to happen anytime soon.

The pace of change from within will be too slow to meet the challenges of this fast moving world. Our country cannot afford to allow our competitors to pass us by or for our income divide to reach dangerous levels, while we wait for some senior gentlemen at the top to pass from the scene.

The need for an effective opposition

The PAP has conditioned Singaporeans to see the political opposition as a destructive force in society. They routinely accuse the opposition of “playing politics”, engaging in “unconstructive criticism” and “opposing for the sake of it”. These are very untrue and damaging characterisations.

In the United Kingdom, where we inherited the Westminster Parliamentary system from, the official title of the largest alternative party is “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”. This implies that the opposition opposes the government—“Her Majesty’s Government”—and its policies, but not the state, as represented by the monarch.

Even while the PAP remains in power, there is a useful role for the opposition to play. The opposition can use its platform in Parliament to apply pressure on the government to change policies which are not serving Singaporeans well. As much as the PAP wants to portray itself as impervious to public pressure, the reality is that when they know that there is a real threat to their support at the next elections, they will have to bow to public pressure built up by the opposition.

This is the beauty of genuine political competition. Just like how commercial competition forces businesses to work harder, become more efficient and provide better services to woo their customers, political competition will force the ruling party to focus more on bettering the lives of all Singaporeans in order to earn their votes.

I joined the WP because I believe Singapore needs an alternative leadership that is capable of taking over the reins and steering our country to its next level of development, should the PAP stumble. This will ensure that Singapore will continue to prosper and thrive even without the PAP in power. I believe the WP has the potential to be that alternative government in the future, and I want to play my part to contribute to its growth and development. I hope to be able to help my party sharpen its policy proposals and broaden its outreach to Singaporeans who are not usually interested in politics.

I am under no illusions that the road ahead as an opposition activist will be long and fraught with obstacles, not to mention minefields. Many who have gone before me have paid a heavy price for their ideals. Some have lost everything they had, except their dignity. All Singaporeans are heavily indebted to these heroes, whether or not they realise it.

I hope I will not have to suffer political persecution like these heroes did, but I know many things are beyond my control. I therefore ask my friends and readers for their prayers and support, as I take my first of many steps in this long march towards building a better Singapore for all Singaporeans.

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Dear readers, thank you for all your kind comments and words of support. My team and I cannot fight this fight alone. We need YOU! Please click here to find out how you can join me in this cause.

Grassroots advisers are not accountable either

While opposition MPs have no legal obligation to carry out national programmes on the Government’s behalf, neither do the grassroots advisers, since they are just volunteers, and not paid officers of the Government. On the other hand, elected MPs are accountable to their constituents.

This was a letter I sent to the Straits Times on 28 October, which the paper declined to publish.

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I refer to the letter, “Advisers and MPs have different roles” (Straits Times, Oct 27), by Mr Lim Yuin Chien, press secretary to the Minister for National Development.

Mr Lim stated that “Opposition MPs cannot be appointed advisers, because they do not answer to the ruling party”.

The adviser to grassroots organisations is appointed by the People’s Association (PA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. The adviser therefore does not answer to the ruling party but to PA. It appears Mr Lim has confused a political party with a non-partisan statutory board.

Continue reading “Grassroots advisers are not accountable either”

Red carpet for (foreign) Opposition member

This is a press release from MFA today:

02/04/2009

His Excellency Gregory Hunt, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Urban Water of the Commonwealth of Australia, will visit Singapore as the 29th Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellow from 3 to 11 April 2009. During his stay, Mr Hunt will call on Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor. Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu will also host him to an official meal.

Mr Hunt will participate in a roundtable at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He is also scheduled to attend a PAP Meet-the-People Session.

Other elements of Mr Hunt’s programme in Singapore include meetings with senior officials at the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. He will also visit the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Singapore City Gallery, the NEWater Plant, the Marina Barrage, the Changi Chapel Museum and the Night Safari.

Now I’ve never heard of Gregory Hunt, but from the red carpet treatment he is receiving from the Singapore authorities, one would assume he is some really big, influential chap in the Australian government. Well, yes and no. Technically he is not a member of the Australian Government, because he is an MP from the opposition Liberal Party. However, as a Shadow Minister he is accorded a protocol level equivalent to a minister in the government, or close to it, hence the “His Excellency” honorific.

What is interesting to note is the honour the Singapore government accords to opposition MPs of other governments. From a realpolitik standpoint, it makes sense: These leaders could, in the next election, become government ministers if their party wins the majority vote. So it is important to cultivate them.

But it is in stark contrast to the disdain demonstrate towards our own opposition politicians. Perhaps it’s because our opposition leaders have yet to reach the stature of their counterparts in other developed countries. Nevertheless it still makes political sense for the PAP to treat opposition members as persona non grata so as not to give them any credibility with the electorate.

C’est la vie…

Asking Chiam to step down? Only voters should decide

Last Sunday, the Sunday Times published a report about Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong, “Recovering from stroke but Chiam is sharp and lucid”. By mainstream media standards, this was a relatively positive article about an opposition politician who has served his constituents well for over 20 years.

Today, a letter in response to that article was published, titled “Chiam See Tong should call it a day”. In it, the writer wrote:

History is awash with leaders who do not know when to quit, and I hope Mr Chiam will not go this way.

This also raises the question of whether there is any parliamentary rule to retire an MP who has suffered a stroke.

The issue is not whether an MP wants to carry on working. That is for Parliament to decide.

It is not for Parliament to decide whether or not an elected MP should be forced to retire against his will, if he has committed no crime. Articles 45 and 46 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore lay out the grounds for disqualifications and tenure of MPs. Among the grounds for disqualification are:

  • Being of unsound mind;
  • Becoming bankrupt;
  • Being sentenced to prison for over 1 year, or fined more than $2,000;
  • Taking up citizenship in another country;
  • Resigning or being expelled from his political party;
  • Being absent from Parliament sittings for 2 consecutive months;

Article 44 states the qualifications of MPs, among which are:

  • He is able, with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament, to speak and, unless incapacitated by blindness or other physical cause, to read and write at least one of the following languages, that is to say, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil;

This is the only point that could make him unqualified to stand for election at the next election. However, the Constitution does not state in Article 46 (Tenure of office of MPs) that persons who do not meet the qualifications set out in Article 44 cannot continue to serve as MPs in their current term.

In any case, Mr Chiam has demonstrated in Parliament during the Budget and Committee of Supply debate that he is able to speak, albeit rather slowly and painfully. Even if he is unable to speak due to his stroke, being able to read and write will still qualify him to run for office in future.

If he chooses to run for office again, the voters of the constituency he contests — not Parliament — should be the ones who decide his political fate.

I fail to understand what the objective of the writer’s letter is. Is it to demonstrate his sympathy for an elderly gentleman, or to have one of the three opposition MPs in Parliament removed? I don’t think Mr Chiam needs any sympathy from the writer. He has chosen to continue serving his constituents to the best of his abilities. No one is forcing him to continue serving while ill.

Regardless of one’s political affiliations, I think Chiam See Tong deserves to be greatly honoured for his years of unwaivering service to the residents of Potong Pasir, and his contributions to the cause of a responsible and respected opposition in Singapore.

(Photo from Blue Skies Communications: Chiam See Tong walks in to a standing ovation by over 1,120 guests at the ACS Founders’ Day dinner in March 2008. Click here to read my comment about ACS’ guest-of-honour invitation to Mr Chiam.)

Having a capable alternative party is in the national interest

Voices Editor
TODAY newspaper

Dear Editor,

I refer to the report, “Adversarial two-party system not for S’pore” (TODAY, November 17). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong felt that the two party system cannot work for Singapore and that we are much better off with one dominant party.

Mr Lee’s familiar argument is that because we are small and lack talent, if we split our talent into two groups, we will end up with “two second division teams”. This is akin to saying that it is better to put all our eggs in one basket, than to have two baskets with fewer eggs each.

I disagree.

While few would argue that the PAP has performed commendably over the past 40 years, past performance is no guarantee of future success, as investment advisors always caution.

Mr Lee said that if ever the PAP becomes ineffective or corrupt, many opposition parties will spring up to take on the Government.

Therein lies the danger: If the PAP ever becomes corrupt, there will be absolutely no time for a viable alternative party to suddenly “spring up”, since political organisations take years to build up credibility. Furthermore, a corrupt government with firm controls on the levers of power will tend to use that power to entrench itself, stifling any potential opposition from arising. This is because their corrupt leaders will know full well that they will face prosecution if anyone else takes over the government.

Singapore may then be left in a disastrous situation of having a bad government with no capable alternatives.

For a small city-state like Singapore with little margin for error in governance, this could spell an unrecoverable decline leading to our very obsolescence as a nation.

It is therefore in the national interest for a well-organised, competent and morally upright alternative party to emerge, so that should the PAP falter, there will another party to take over the reins of government at the next elections and ensure that our country continues to prosper with interruption.

Obviously I do not expect support for an effective alternative party to come from the PAP, since it goes against its partisan interests.

However, I hope more Singaporeans will realise that greater political competition can produce not just better governance now, but improved stability for our future as well.

Regards,
Gerald Giam

This was published on 19 Nov 08 in TODAY.

The fear of the opposition

I happened to sit next to an older relative at a wedding dinner recently, when our conversation turned to politics.

My relative wondered why I had not followed my parents to Australia, and mused that he was considering moving there too. When I asked why, he cited the fear of political instability in Singapore.

That remark surprised me since Singapore is seen by many to be one of the most politically stable countries in Asia. We have had no change of government – violent or otherwise – since 1959.

When probed further, my uncle said he feared the opposition taking over in a freak election. I assured him that given the current state of the opposition, the PAP government will not be under any threat of losing an election within his lifetime. More importantly, I told him I trust Singapore voters to be wise enough not to vote a lousy party into power.

He countered by pointing out that even when the opposition had fielded “criminals” and slipper-wearing candidates, they were still able to garner 20 to 30% of the vote.

I explained, from my limited knowledge of electoral sociology, that in every election, there will be at least 20% of voters who are hardcore oppositionists and will vote for anyone who ran against the ruling party candidate. In Sembawang GRC where I live, 23% still voted for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) team sans party chief Chee Soon Juan, even though it was running against a relatively strong PAP team helmed by the likable and Chinese-speaking Health Minister, Khaw Boon Wan. That was the largest margin of victory for the PAP in that election.

However the gulf between 23% and 50% — the latter being the percentage necessary to win a seat outright — is huge. Even in the most closely contested constituency of Aljunied GRC in the 2006 General Election, the PAP’s 55% win against the Workers’ Party would be considered a landslide in most other democracies. Consider the UK’s Labour Party, which won the 2005 election with just 35% of the popular vote. Put in this perspective, the PAP’s 66.6% overall percentage in 2006 was a blowout victory.

My uncle admires the PAP for what they have achieved, not just for Singapore, but for him personally. Growing up in a one-room flat, and now living in a private apartment, he has seen a dramatic improvement in his standard of living over the past 40 years. He reserved stinging criticism for some of his peers who “live in bungalows” and are still so ungrateful as to grumble about the government.

I cautioned him that past performance is no guarantee of future success, as investors always say. Just because the PAP has governed well in the past, does not mean that it will continue to do so for eternity. My uncle agreed that no country has had a particular party govern forever.

In the short term however, he was supremely confident that the PAP’s recruitment process will ensure that only top-notch candidates are presented in each election. In contrast, he said, the opposition was happy to take anyone who had a degree and was willing to pay the election deposit, even if they had no “track record”.

“What is your definition of a track record?” I asked him. Many of the new PAP MPs don’t exactly have a very long resume either. Nevertheless, he was sure that with the many interviews they had undergone with party leaders, coupled with the background checks, PAP candidates would definitely meet the necessary criteria for political leadership.

I asked him if he would consider voting for a non-PAP candidate if he or she were more “qualified” than the PAP candidate.

After initially saying he would, he later reasoned that it would be impossible for an opposition candidate to be as qualified as his PAP opponent. Firstly, the PAP’s recruitment process would throw up only the best men in the country. Secondly, anyone worth their salt, who genuinely desired to serve the people and make Singapore a better place would join the PAP instead of the opposition.

He was of the view that a capable person would be “out of his mind” to join the opposition, and that people who joined the opposition did so only out of self-interest or ulterior motives. Why else would someone want to oppose such an “excellent” government? Apparently, joining the opposition in and of itself indicated a character flaw.

He dismissed the possibility that some principled individuals joined the opposition because they could not see themselves joining the PAP due to fundamental disagreements with the latter’s style of governance. He also did not see the price many opposition members paid for their political beliefs as worthy of much respect.

Our heated discussion went on and on. In the end it was time to go home and we had to agree to disagree.

What the opposition fails to see

While I was slightly dismayed to hear these words from an educated senior citizen like my uncle, I have no doubt that he represents a significant constituency of citizens who have a “rags-to-riches” story to tell.

His point of view is particularly instructive for our opposition.

From my past conversations with many opposition members, I get the sense that many of them joined because they felt a need to “check” the ruling party — nothing else. And many of them think that just because they are not the PAP, and they shake a few hands and show up on Nomination Day, voters will choose them over their rivals.

This is a recipe for defeat — again and again, election after election.

What they fail to see is that the “swing” voters (i.e., those who may vote either way on Polling Day and who effectively decide the outcome of an election) are largely voting for a party to form the Government, not individuals who merely snap at the heels of the PAP behemoth.

Therefore, to win their vote, the opposition parties have to prove to these voters that they are competent and honest enough to lead the whole country, not just their ward, and will not end up flushing half a century of progress down the drain.

The opposition has two crutches that it always falls back on: One, that the unlevel political playing field created by the PAP makes it impossible to mount any significant challenge to it; and two, that good people do not step forward to join their parties.

These are both true to a great extent, but it should not stop the opposition parties from improving themselves internally, so as to present a more professional face to the voting public.

People want to hear different, and better ideas from the opposition on how to run the country, not just gripes about every little fault of the PAP.

It is not unusual that many Singaporeans hold the opposition to a higher standard than they do for the ruling party. After all, the opposition has no track record of successfully running a nation, and therefore has to prove they are twice as good as their PAP opponents before they will earn the vote.

It is my hope that our opposition will shift to a higher gear soon, and that more good men and women will join them. The next election is due by November 2011. With the economy heading south, it is likely that the Prime Minister will call for an election much earlier than that (since a poor economy generally favours the PAP over the opposition).

Time is running out, and the people’s hopes are slowly getting dashed. Can the opposition turn things around and dispel people’s fear of their success?

This article was first published on The Online Citizen.

Past performance no guarantee of future results

Straits Times Forum, 26 July 2008:

Opposition yet to show it can deliver, unlike PAP

I REFER to Wednesday’s letter by Mr Alvin Tan, ‘JBJ must be careful if he wishes to espouse Singapore’s cause’.

I admire Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam for his fighting spirit. Even though he is 82, he is still actively engaged in politics. I hope he will retire graciously.

I welcome an opposition, provided it is constructive and helps Singapore make progress.

I have been through six or seven general elections. At each one, the opposition candidates always seem to have the same agenda. They criticise government policies and fight for freedom of speech, but they say nothing about how to help raise national productivity or revenue.

The People’s Action Party Government has given us a well-run system. Because of this, all my siblings have at least 10 years of education, they own Housing Board homes, and their children can have a tertiary education and hold stable jobs.

This is what we want for our future generations.

I would like to recount an incident in the 1960s, when I was a secondary student.

I had the opportunity to meet then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at the official opening of Outram Hill Community Centre. He had walked from Outram Road up Outram Hill. The moment he offered me his hand, I did not hesitate to shake it.

I had the feeling then that Singapore was in good hands.

Voting for the opposition now, in the light of what the Government has promised and fulfilled, would amount to dismantling what it has achieved, and moving backwards.

Lee Choon Wah

As investment advisors point out: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

I agree that the Opposition has till now not been able to offer plausible solutions to the problems we face, or will face in the future. However, Singaporeans need to be careful not to simply dismiss the need for an opposition, just like the PAP does.

If anything, the best buffer against Singapore’s future slide is a capable and honest opposition that can take over the reins if the PAP should fail — and it will fail eventually, just like the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians did. (Obviously it is inappropriate for me to compare the PAP with the greatness of the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.)

On opposition politicians

The Straits Times asked for my views of four Singapore opposition politicians. The article appeared in today’s Insight (login required).

This was my full response to ST:

Low Thia Khiang – Sustainable development

Low seems to be approaching opposition politics with the aim of “sustainable development”. Together with Sylvia Lim, he appears to be very slowly but steadily building up a political party that is respected by Singaporeans, avoiding anything (read: lawsuits) that could derail the party. This has made the WP the opposition party with the most broad-based support in Singapore.

Unfortunately the “softly, softly” approach is seen by many as weak and ineffective. He seems to be more content being a “check” (holding the government to account) than a “balance” (coming up with sound alternative policies and visions) to the ruling party.

All this could change if he and Ms Lim commit themselves to recruiting more leaders into their fold. Already, they have managed to assemble a small but solid team around them. But time is not on their side and the expectations of Singaporeans of them are higher than they seem to realise.

Chiam See Tong – Mr Nice Guy

Chiam’s sincerity is his greatest strength. He is probably the most respected of all opposition politicians in Singapore. His residents see that he genuinely cares for their welfare. However, he has in the past surrounded himself with the wrong people who ended up playing him out. With his poor health hindering his effectiveness, it would be sad to see his party take a bow together with him. Unfortunately this is where his party seems to be headed.

J.B. Jeyaretnam – Unappreciated

JBJ is a man who was ahead of his time. Being the first opposition MP since independence, he raised many pertinent issues in Parliament and kept the Government on their toes. Unfortunately, the press failed to report what he said, and he was often painted as harsh critic of the Government and little else. Had he been in Parliament today, he would surely have been much better appreciated, if not by the mainstream media, then by bloggers.

Chee Soon Juan – Rebel who’s lost his cause

Chee is a politician who would be more effective as a political activist. Feel free to quote from my two recent blog posts on Chee:
http://singaporepatriot.blogspot.com/2008/05/politicians-and-activists-both-have.html
http://singaporepatriot.blogspot.com/2008/05/chee-should-quit-politics-and-start.html

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What JBJ actually said at his Reform Party press con

While our local press dutifully reported about the press conference held by JB Jeyaratnam about his registration of the Reform Party, it appears they only reported the “constructive” stuff he said, but none of the 1 hour of criticisms of the PAP.

It’s pathetic that even Channel NewsAsia’s report is based on a report filed by AFP. Can’t we even report about our own country?

Here’s the AFP report:

A tough-talking new political party vowed on Friday to fight what it called the “enslavement” of Singapore after nearly half-a-century of rule by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

“Our people have been enslaved all this while,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, 82, interim secretary general of the Reform Party, told a news conference.

He said Singaporean society has been “castrated” and its people left powerless by an executive that holds “absolute power.”

For Jeyaretnam, a rare voice criticising the PAP over the past decades, the party’s formation marks his full return to politics after emerging from bankruptcy and being reinstated as a lawyer.

“We now in the Reform Party are not going to play pussy-foot with the PAP,” he told reporters at the close of a lengthy address which outlined what he sees as the country’s social, political and economic problems.

“I think it’s time now to ask questions and hold the PAP to account,” he said.

Party officials said they held the news conference a day after filing documents to register their party.

The opposition plays only a marginal role in Singapore but Jeyaretnam made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament. He was then secretary general of the Workers’ Party.

The lawyer was disbarred when he was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages to members of the PAP, including former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

During his bankruptcy, he was reduced to hawking his self-penned books outside city subway stations.

Last year Jeyaretnam paid 233,255 Singapore dollars (now 172,578 US) to clear his bankruptcy, which had prevented him from running for political office, after help from friends and his prominent lawyer son.

He was also reinstated to the bar and has resumed legal practice.

On Friday, Jeyaretnam said he did not care whether Singapore’s “obedient press” reported his comments — which continued for 80 minutes.

“Some things have to be said,” he stated as he began the speech.

He said Singapore, which prides itself on having ‘First World’ status, faces a widening gulf between rich and poor.

Government leaders earn millions but many families survive on one or two thousand dollars a month (605-1,1210 US), yet nobody speaks up, he said.

“There is, I don’t have to tell you, a fear culture in Singapore,” Jeyaretnam said. “It’s a total enslavement of the people.”

He said the party’s registration documents contained the names of only 10 people — and even attracting that many was not easy.

“People are still afraid,” he said.

Asked whether his news conference in a hotel meeting room was being monitored by police, he replied: “I’m sure that it is.”

Jeyaretnam said he hopes not only to reform the structure of the Singapore system but also people’s way of thinking, to rouse them from a PAP-induced “slumber.”

Jeyaretnam said that, if he is physically able, he will stand as a candidate in the next general election due by 2011.

He called for a complete overhaul of the electoral system, which he said places opposition parties at a disadvantage. The PAP won all but two seats in last year’s polls for the 84-member parliament.

The country’s leaders say its tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped it achieve economic success. Thousands of foreign firms are based in Singapore, one of the most politically stable countries in the region.

The leaders dismiss criticisms from human rights groups who have said the government uses libel laws to silence critics, saying they have to protect their reputations.

Jeyaratnam spoke at a table with two other party officials beside him. To their left stood a white board which carried only two words in blue ink: “Reform Party.”

The best is yet to be for Singapore

Today is the 122nd Founder’s Day of my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School. I’m particularly thrilled to learn that MP for Potong Pasir, Mr Chiam See Tong, who is an old boy of the school, has been invited to be Guest of Honour at the annual Founder’s Day Dinner.

This honour is usually extended to illustrious alumni who have excelled in business or public service. It is therefore unsurprising that ACS would choose to honour a man who has dedicated a good part of his life to serving Singaporeans an Member of Parliament. Mr Chiam entered Parliament in 1984 after he soundly defeated the PAP’s Mah Bow Tan with a 60% majority of votes.

What is unusual in the Singapore context is that ACS has invited an Opposition MP as Guest of Honour at this important occasion. Most high profile organisations in Singapore wouldn’t touch an Opposition member with a ten-foot pole, much less give him such a seat of honour.

I’m proud that my school has overcome this climate of fear. It speaks volumes about how the image of the Opposition has improved since the last General Election. Then again, this is a school which has also produced many opposition candidates and is known to produce independent thinkers like Tan Soo Khoon, Dr Geh Min, Eunice Olsen, Colin Goh and Lee Kin Mun (mrbrown)

Happy Founder’s Day to all ACSians! The Best Is Yet To Be and To God Be The Glory!

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