Text of Speech Delivered at Hong Lim Park on 10 December 2011
Good afternoon everyone, I’m here to talk to you about Human Rights Day 2011. I will start with a bit of history. Human Rights Day was established by the UN to commemorate the Universal Declaration on Human Rights published in 1948. This set out a number of political and civil rights, many of which you have been deprived of in Singapore. It also set out a number of economic and social rights including the right to work as well as to education and health care. In 1966 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognised that these rights were interdependent. In other words that you could not assert your economic rights without your political and civil rights being recognised. This will be the theme of my address today. You will not achieve your economic and social rights without your political rights being restored. And that is what the Reform Party was set up for. To restore your political rights and to ensure a fundamental change in the way this country is run. So that government is for your benefit and not the other way round.
2011 has in many ways been a watershed year. People all over the world have demonstrated that the old ways of repression and authoritarianism will no longer be tolerated. In Egypt the people showed that getting rid of the dictator Mubarak was not enough. When the army tried to hang on to power the people came out on to the streets to force the army to bring free elections forward. In Russia, which some say has tried to model itself on Singapore, the share of the ruling party has slumped from 66% to below 50% in recent elections. Closer to home the Burmese army-backed government has decided it can no longer ignore the people and opened up to Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader. Across the Causeway, the Malaysian government has moved to abolish the ISA and introduce electoral reform after mass demonstrations and public unhappiness. Even in Singapore the recent parliamentary elections saw the PAP’s share of the vote fall to its lowest level since independence. The establishment candidate for the Presidency garnered barely a third of the popular vote. Authoritarian governments all over the world that fail to improve living standards fast enough yet try to retain the levers of power are increasingly under attack.
Here at home our government will tell you what a good job it’s doing on your human rights. It will claim that most of you have jobs-it doesn’t matter if because of the open door to foreign labour your wages have fallen below the level you need to live on! It will say that 87% of you “own” your own home-conveniently forgetting that its only a 99-year leasehold. Your property value would slump but for the government’s implicit but not legally binding promise to move you to a new and smaller flat in a higher rise block at some future date. Of course this is contingent on you not voting for the Opposition. Neither do you get to choose where you can live, particularly if you are an ethnic minority. It will say that you get a good standard of education at a low price. But it will omit to mention this is not free and not compulsory beyond the age of twelve as it is in most countries at Singapore’s level. Or that the government can alter the terms of your CPF at any time. It will also not tell you that your forced savings and the government’s large surpluses have been used to build up a huge stock of overseas assets that you will never get to spend. Little has been spent on education and health, but a lot on defence
The government will ignore the elephant in the room. This is that your fundamental political rights have been taken away. You are effectively disenfranchised through the GRC system. This is a violation of the principle that all votes count equally enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In 2011 40% of you voted for non-PAP candidates yet the result saw only 7% of the seats going to those candidates. Even the 60% who voted for the PAP cannot be said to have done so freely and fairly. In violation of the article in the Declaration that says everyone has the right to equal access to public service, the PAP have consistently threatened people who vote against them that they will be deprived of public services and amenities. Their property values will suffer. Such tactics were most shamefully used at Cheng San in 1997 to ensure a narrow victory for the ruling Party. The government still has the ISA, in violation of your right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. Singaporeans may joke about it but there is no doubt this is a real fear still. Even without the ISA a whole host of repressive laws prevent you from exercising your rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The media remains state-controlled even if it is given a corporatist face to try and make it acceptable to the West. The Reform Party has been blacked out by the state media because we are the Party that stands for radical change and that they fear most. And even without these laws the government retains huge control over your lives by being the monopoly provider of housing, public transport and dominating virtually every other sphere of economic activity. It doesn’t need to say anything but there is a very real fear still that exercising your political rights will hinder your career or destroy your livelihood.
Because you have lost your political and civil rights the government can afford to ignore you. Recently the Statistics Department published a report saying that median real incomes have risen in the past year for those in work because of the tightened supply of foreign labour. So they have admitted that their open door and lack of an immigration policy has hurt your living standards!
But change depends on you! You have seen what the brave people in other countries have achieved in sweeping away decades of repression and authoritarian rule. Nothing is going to change unless you make it. Hard as it may be you have to face down the fear. In the words of our founder, JBJ, who understood democracy better than most, throw off the shackles that bind you and wake up to your rights and responsibilities as free citizens. Don’t be fobbed off any more! This is a government that has created plenty of jobs (for foreign workers) while failing to raise your living standards and making many of you worse off! At the same time it has paid itself millions of dollars in salaries and given its members and supporters well-paid jobs in government-linked companies and quasi-government organisations. Claim back your rights! Come and support the Reform Party! We need fundamental change in 2016.