Opposition parties won't win voters' confidence by staying 'disparate and remotely bunched': Chee Soon Juan

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan (left) and SDP chairman Paul Tambyah (centre) at a media doorstop on 4 August, 2019. (PHOTO: SDP)

SINGAPORE — As long as the opposition remains “disparate and remotely bunched”, they will not win the confidence of voters, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Chee Soon Juan on Sunday (4 August).

Addressing the media at Yuhua Village Market and Food Centre, Chee reiterated the SDP’s readiness to work hand-in-hand with other opposition parties – including Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s newly formed Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and the Workers’ Party – despite their differences.

“Those differences are minuscule when you compare it to the common stand, the common goal that we must have in providing Singaporean voters an alternative that they can have confidence in,” he stressed.

Chee also said that the party will look to expand the number of seats that it can contest for the next general election (GE), although that is dependent on how the electoral boundaries are drawn and discussions with other opposition parties.

When asked by reporters about the progress of the coalition between the opposition parties, Chee said that the various parties, which he did not name, have been constantly in touch.

“We will have more to tell you when things are more solidified,” said Chee, echoing Dr Tan’s comments in July on a possible “loose alliance” between opposition parties.

Dr Tan said then that he had been approached by several opposition party members on whether he could take the lead in forming a bigger force to challenge the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

“There’re a lot of personalities involved. But it’s not impossible. I hope that I can convince all of them to come together,” the former PAP Member of Parliament added.

SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan (second from right) together with party members seen during their walkabout on 4 August, 2019. (PHOTO: SDP)

Online push to engage young S’poreans

Chee also spoke about the party’s bigger push online and getting its youth wing more involved to reach out to the younger Singaporeans.

“This is where I think it's going to be an important battle ground – and that's winning the hearts and minds of the younger generation of voters,” he stressed. “We are seriously considering fielding young faces (at the upcoming general election).”

The SDP’s new online initiatives include the production of podcasts and videos, such as an episodic digital talkshow series called “Slack and Discuss Problems”, which was launched last Friday across the party’s social media platforms, said Jufri Salim, 36, the head of the party’s Young Democrats youth wing.

The first episode of the talkshow focused on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) and upcoming episodes will feature topics such as consultative governance.

In a bid to further engage younger Singaporeans, the party also plans to introduce video blogs, or vlogs; convene focus groups to discuss youth-related issues; and produce training videos for new and existing members, he added.

The feedback for their online initiatives has been positive so far, with a “drastic” increase in reach across its social media platforms, Jufri noted.

This is also due in part to more Young Democrats joining the party, he said, adding that the party now has around 70 members under its youth wing, more than double the number during GE 2015.

For the party’s upcoming pre-election rally held at Hong Lim Park sometime in September or October, the Young Democrats will be “heavily involved” in its planning and preparation, added Jufri.

One of the party’s new members, Min Cheong, who comes under the Women Democrats segment, said that the party hopes to be able to come up with solutions addressing issues concerning younger Singaporeans, together with the general population.

“Some of the issues that youth are particularly concerned about are job opportunities, cost of living, particularly and especially with regard to housing, affordability of property, as well as some of the global issues such as climate change,” said the 34-year-old marketing and communications executive, who joined the SDP in 2011 as a volunteer and became a member this year.

Party believes in freedom of expression

When asked about how the party would have responded to the controversial video by social media personality Preeti Nair, better known as Preetipls, and her brother Subhas, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah stressed that the party believe in the freedom of expression and that Singaporeans are mature enough to police themselves.

“What we do also believe is that you cannot brush issues like discrimination under the carpet. You know, we have always stood for a more just and equal Singapore,” added Tambyah.

On Saturday, the SDP announced that for the upcoming GE, it will be contesting in the same five constituencies as it did for GE 2015: Holland-Bukit Timah and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRCs as well as the Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang and Yuhua SMCs.

That year, the party fielded 11 candidates and secured a 31.23 per cent share of the valid votes in seats contested, making it the second-best performing opposition party.

Chee himself ran in the 2016 Bukit Batok by-election, pulling in 38.8 per cent of the votes cast and losing to the PAP’s Murali Pillai. Singapore’s next GE is due to be held by 15 April 2021.

In its first walkabout for the electoral season on Sunday, led by Chee and other party leaders including Tambyah, the SDP aimed to visit areas within the five constituencies.

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