This is a report put together by some members of the audience at Friday (Political Dialogue @NUSS)’s forum who wish to remain anonymous.
Last Friday we joined a happy and well behaved crowd at a lively debate organised By NUSS as guest of the Reform party The debate titled, Fresh Challenges & The New Political Playing Field was debated by representatives from The PAP, WP, SDA, SDP and an NMP. Despite being open only to NUS alumni members and invited guests the auditorium was packed as we joined the 400 strong crowd in the audience. What a great night we had. Truly awesome.
The speakers spoke in alphabetical order starting with an NMP Mr Calvin Cheng who spoke about the changing demographic brought about by young voters and this internet generation. Interestingly Kenneth Jeyartenam later also spoke about this, bringing up the statistics for first time voters and those under 35 this coming GE. Whereas RP believes that will bring a new aspect to this election as that generation are not easily hoodwinked the NMP was of the opinion that they aren’t interested in bread and butter issues and furthermore there isn’t any new playing field.
Next MP Chris De Souza spoke for the PAP waxing lyrical about all the marvellous new highways byways and hospitals that the PAP has built or is planning. He also demonstrated with slides and statistics how Singapore has recovered from the economic crisis of 2008 whilst those poor lesser nations such as America were still languishing. There was no mention of lift upgrading projects.
Dr Chee Soon Juan spoke for the SDP, focusing on their alternative economic plan for increased egalitarianism . He gave a good talk as usual, evoking all the right emotions in his audience. His talk on the SDP manifesto was well received by the audience and whetted our appetite to see the full version in print.
Mrs Lina Chiam spoke for the SDA. in her first public debate. She started off hesitantly but spoke well in a down to earth way that the audience clearly connected with. She is to be admired for standing and not taking the easy life and this is in itself an indication of how robust the desire for plural democracy is in Singapore. It also bodes well for the democratic process within the opposition that they forwarded two Women speakers. The PAP we note, has only one woman minister after 50 years in government. Mrs Chiam threw light on her experience of the political playing field and the challenges facing the opposition gleaned from supporting her husband MP, Mr Chiam See Tong.
Ms Sylvia Lim, NCMP, spoke for the WP. She focused on the tilted playing field manufactured by the PAP and the need for an alternate voice in parliament. Amongst ourselves we felt this the same as asking for more NMPs and a rather disappointing argument for a party which is a veteran of so many campaigns. There is no denying that she spoke well and smoothly, as befits her experience as the Grand Dame of the opposition.
Kenneth Jeyaretnam spoke for the Reform Party. His speech can be found at:
He started by demonstrating how dysfunctional the political system is and therefore how skewed the political playing field. He went on to talk about the challenges. In complete reverse to the PAP speaker he felt that the playing field had changed whilst the challenges remained the same although worsened. His main thesis for a changed playing field was his experience that Opposition are beginning to move towards a manifesto based campaign style rather than a personality based one and that clear divisions can start to be seen between socialist agenda parties and the RP which has a liberal free market policy. He used the analogy that Singapore is often likened to a corporation but showed us how run by the PAP it is the worst type of corporation with no management accountability that dilutes its shareholders just as PAP increases our population. He said immigration was a hot button issue but wouldn’t be hot enough to burn if we had an accountable and responsive government. In the Q & A session Calvin Cheng wrongly referred to the RP as Libertarian and Kenneth quickly corrected him, briefly explaining the difference between Liberal and Libertarian and RP policies which make it at odds with a libertarian stance.
The Q&A session kicked off with;
“Would the PAP would consider reforming the political system so as to encourage more seats to be contested and for more Opposition MPs to be elected to Parliament?”
Chris de Souza answered first and proceeded to speak for so long that we thought the Q&A would be over before anyone else got to speak! Finally someone stood up and actually asked the moderator to get him to sit down! Despite speaking for so long he added nothing new. He pointed out how kind the PAP had been to allow alternative “voices” into Parliament in the form of NCMP scheme even though these were all candidates who were technically losers. (Mr de Souza, one of the MPs in the Bukit Timah-Holland GRC got into Parliament last GE through a walkover and therefore didn’t lose a single vote.) Sylvia Lim said that she had spoken in Parliament about how the PAP had introduced further antidemocratic “safeguards” whose aim was to make life difficult for an Opposition government should one come to power. These included an ostensibly “elected” president (but only candidates vetted by a government committee would be allowed to run). Kenneth pointed out that the system had been engineered to distort the will of the electorate as elaborated in his speech.
Minimum Wage Policy
There were quite a few questioners asking about the minimum wage policy. Chris de Souza tried to make some issue over whether minimum wage would apply to Singaporeans uniquely or both Singaporeans and foreign workers. He repeated the old arguments that it would create unemployment.
KJ spoke up for RP’s Minimum wage policy proposal saying it was necessary to stop the wages for low-skilled workers being driven down to the lowest levels in Asia. In response to the PAP’s argument about unemployment he said that the RP wanted to build a high-wage high-productivity economy, one like Switzerland rather than just pay lip-service to this as SM Goh did some years back when he talked about Singaporeans attaining a Swiss standard of living. If we lost those low wage, low value-added jobs that were largely done by foreigners to neighbouring countries he added, then so be it! As an interesting side note for historians: Dr Chee said that the SDP had been the first party to propose a Minmum Wage policy but Kenneth informed us that in the 1980’s he used to write the economic policy for his father and remembered being asked to write an article for the Hammer on Minimum Wage. People often criticised JBJ for being too focussed on Human rights and not on bread and butter issues and so it is fascinating to see that he had a handle on minimum wage policy even back then.
Other questions touched on why the Opposition could not unite to fight the next GE. KJ said that these continual calls for Opposition unity were misplaced as one could not expect parties with very different ideologies to unite. In his opinion the political playing field was changing and it was becoming increasingly manifesto based. Sylvia also agreed that it was difficult to ask parties with different agendas to Unite. KJ felt that calls for unity were designed to make the electorate think that the parties were all the same and therefore interchangeable. This would allow PAP to tar them all with the same brush and obscure the Reform Party’s radically different message of manifesto and policy-based politics.
A young woman in the audience said that her Social Science textbook failed to contain any information about Opposition parties. This caused a lot of merriment in the audience. She asked where she could get information on them and KJ pointed her to RP’s strong and growing online presence and listed our website, the VotingRp blog, our FB pages and our Twitter account as places she could go to for information.
At one point Chris de Souza tried to bring out that old chestnut again, that only the PAP had the competence and the policy experience to govern. Kenneth shot back immediately with, “that is what the Civil Service is for.” He added that RP possessed no inferiority complex about the quality of our first slate of candidates and the intellectual foundations of our policies and manifesto which were superior to the PAP’s.
Freak election result
Towards the end Dr. Wong Wee Nam asked what would happen in the event of a hung Parliament. Kenneth replied that he saw no reason to think that the Opposition parties would be unable to cooperate and form a government and pointed out the UK precedent where the Conservatives and Lib-Dem Parties, despite being sworn enemies before the election, had united to form a coalition government. Also the Malaysian Opposition parties had shown they could work together effectively despite vastly different ideologies.
The debate couldn’t have ended better for the Reform Party as Chris de Souza jumped in at that point.
Christopher de Souza:” It would be a sad day for Singapore if a freak result happens.”
Kenneth Jeyaretnam: “How could it be a freak result if it is the will of the people?”
This was met with a round of wild clapping and cheering and on that note the Q&A ended.
John & Jane Doe
Closed door again ah? Let the whole of singapore see la.....these are all issues pertinent to the nation's well-being. We are not that daft yet not to understand.