National Day 2011 Message from the Reform PartyPublished: 9th August 2011
My Fellow Singaporeans,
Today we Singaporeans meet to celebrate our Nation’s 46th National Day. Today we can look back with excitement to a general election recently fought on a new political landscape. But today we must also look ahead with trepidation to challenging economic times on the horizon.
This election was exciting in many ways with the historic toppling of a GRC. But it also marked the introduction of a fresh political landscape for Singapore with the first new Political Party to enter the arena and contest an election in decades. With new and credible opposition figures coming forward as a result and with (almost) every single seat contested.
On National day it is common to look back at the journey we have taken and where we came from in order to measure how far we have progressed. Some of us were born and starting to grow up in the region before Singapore became a Nation. Others will have come here only recently. But most of us will be benefiting in one form or another from the hard work of the generation that founded Singapore through the sweat of their labour. Founding fathers like J.B. Jeyaretnam. JBJ, founder of The Reform Party, was the man who in 1981 first broke through a 16 year monopoly to give our Nation its first elected opposition Member of Parliament. He and the Singaporeans who voted for him put our Nation on the first rung of the ladder leading to true and fair democracy. A democracy and a way of government decreed in the National Pledge that will be recited today. A democracy still not realised.
JBJ often said that it was necessary to dismantle the GRC system, if we were ever going to break the stranglehold of the authoritarian (virtual) one Party state that is Singapore under PAP rule. In 1997 JBJ came close to doing it at Cheng San polling 45 % in a constituency where the Prime Minister felt it necessary to stand inside the Polling Station. That percentage of 45% was not bested until this year, 2011, with the historic victory at Aljunied. The length of time it has taken to topple that first GRC is a measure of how firm the PAP’s stranglehold still is and how far we still have to go before we have true and open debate in Parliament.
It is right to be proud of our success as a Nation but that hubris must be balanced with humility and we need to be ever mindful that not all of our fathers’ generation are able to retire in wealth and health. For every comfortably retired PAP minister with a lavish pension there are 100 ordinary, elderly Singaporeans facing daily financial hardship and a health care crisis.
When JBJ set up the Reform Party he broadcast in his inaugural speech the following message , “I appeal to all Singaporeans to cast off the slumber into which you have been led over the last 50 years, to wake up to your rights as human beings to your proper role as citizens of your country.” After his untimely death The Reform Party did not collapse but regenerated and to his appeal to Singaporeans to Wake Up! the Party added the appeal to Stand Up! By coming forward myself and standing I stated that my aim was to normalise democracy. I hoped to show by example that you did not have to worry that you would lose everything and be ruined for exercising your political rights. That ordinary and credible men and women could and should stand for public office if real change was to come about. That ordinary people needed to face down the climate of fear which has gripped Singapore since the PAP came to power.
And you did stand up. The 2011 election was the most exciting one for decades. It brought many new faces forward. Nearly 90,000 of you voted for The Reform Party, a new Party in its debut election, with a pioneering and sometimes difficult message. We were overwhelmed by your response and by the gratitude of an electorate who had been denied the opportunity of voting for so long.
However to this government it seems like business as usual. Despite 40% of you voting for change this translated under our rigged and gerrymandered electoral system into only six seats in Parliament for the Opposition out of 87. Before we get too excited about our new Parliament let us question why they do not feel the need to sit till October despite having gained the mandate in May. We are in the midst of a global economic crisis and our leaders are demonstrating breathtaking arrogance. No better proof could be given that Parliament is just regarded as a rubber stamp for the executive arm. The Reform Party wants to change this so that the actions of the government are held up to scrutiny by Parliament and the government is made accountable.
During the election campaign our leaders presented a report card to show how well they had done to justify their re-election. They spoke of a rosy economic future and the tremendous opportunities that lay ahead for Singaporeans. What really took the biscuit though was how they handed over a small proportion of the government’s surplus that year as a pre-election goody bag while paying Ministers and senior civil servants big bonuses. Despite the PM’s historic apology, and a few sacrificial victims who were due for retirement anyway, it appears that there is to be no real change in this government’s policies. And while the electoral system continues to deprive you of any real voice you will continue to get economic policies that are not in your interest.
Today we stand on the brink of a double-dip recession that I pointed out was likely some time ago. Singapore’s GDP fell last quarter and will almost certainly fall again in the current quarter which would constitute a technical recession. Today the government will continue to claim that the boom years are the result of the PAP’s wise economic stewardship and that the recessions to come are the result of global economic forces beyond their control. I have no doubt you will be reminded of the need to have a toughened hide in the future to take the risks of life with no safety net and to be grateful for the policies of ministers who may dance and sing on stage.
Minister Lim Hng Kiang said in May that the Reform Party was out of step even with the other Opposition Parties. And yet we have seen even the PAP now start to talk of Reform with a committee set up to review Ministerial salaries. Some opposition parties are now paying homage (belatedly) to JBJ with others picking up and subscribing to our pioneering message for pluralism, competition, accountability and transparency.
This National Day, do not be discouraged. The Reform Party was not out of step. We are just ahead of the times, living up to our name at the forefront of proposing better policies and now everyone is falling in with us. You have already shown the government that you are losing your fear and that you want things to change. JBJ told us that we have “rights as human beings” But he also reminded us that you have,” your proper role as citizens of this country.”
On this our 46th National Day we would like to extend our gratitude to all Singaporeans who have supported us over the last 3 years. You cannot shirk this role now and let things go back to how they were. Like long dormant shareholders in a company where an arrogant management has for too long had its way, it is time for you to wake up, speak up and even stand up. We are finally looking forward to emancipation 46 years after throwing off the Colonial Yoke.