SDP unveils updates to its election manifesto, reiterates call for democracy

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
A limited hard-cover edition of SDP's coffee-table book 'The Way Forward', which contains the party manifesto for the upcoming general election, seen on 28 September, 2019. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Three areas that have been updated in opposition party Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) election manifesto this year include healthcare, education and economy, party members said at its launch on Saturday (28 September).

The updates outlined during the manifesto launch at The Colonial@Scotts include a call for a single-payer insurance scheme; lengthening school hours and scaling down syllabi to cut down reliance on private tuition; as well as replacing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) index with the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) to better gauge the efficacy of policies.

While the party’s manifesto – titled “The Way Forward” – has not been substantially revised from its 2015 version, it has been updated to reflect recent developments in Singapore, said SDP vice-chairman John Tan, in response to questions by reporters.

“Some of our ideas are being used by (ruling party) People’s Action Party, and so we can’t criticise them for lack of those anymore,” explained Tan. “As things develop over the last few years, we have to update some items as well.”

SDP media management head Benjamin Pwee showing the coffee-table book 'The Way Forward' on 28 September, 2019. (PHOTO: SDP)

Calls for manifesto feedback

During the launch event, various party members stressed its call for democracy and urged members of the public to share their feedback on its manifesto.

The manifesto is not a “statement in stone”, said SDP media management head Benjamin Pwee, who called on attendees to engage in a consultative “dialogue” with the party on its proposed policies.

“We want to (ask), ‘What does the (manifesto) means for you, as a heart-lander, as a 30-something in a young family, for someone going to university and for someone trying to make ends meet,’” he added.

“We are not here with...some ‘coupons’ or ‘quick-fix bandaids’. We are here for substantive change and a way forward. We want to make something that everyone can feel what the policy looks like at their level.”

SDP chairman Dr Paul Tambyah stressed the importance of allowing members of the alternative parties to get into Parliament.

“(In doing so), we deny the PAP of their two-thirds majority so they cannot suka suka (Singlish for doing as one likes) change the constituency,” he explained. “Freedom of speech and expression...is in the DNA of the SDP.”

SDP leader Chee Soon Juan listening to a question posted by a member of the public during the launch of the party's manifesto on 28 September, 2019. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)

Importance of democracy for Singaporeans

Party leader Chee Soon Juan described the electoral system in the Republic as “authoritarian and anti-democratic” and highlighted the importance of democracy for Singaporeans.

“Despite the climate of fear, we continue to push ahead...in the hopes that (Singaporeans) can see what a democratic future is like,” he said. “We are living on past successes and we are not bold enough to look at a changing and changed world.”

Noting detractors who have dismissed democracy as a “western liberal ideal”, Chee added that it is impossible to become a creative and innovative society without openness or the ability to challenge authorities.

“That is why we don’t find our J.K. Rowlings, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates coming from North Korea,” he said.

Therefore, he stressed, the challenge for Singapore within the next two decades is to put together “a society where people are able to take the lead, rather than a few selected individuals in the ruling party”.

“This present one cannot go on – not if you want Singapore to survive and thrive in the years ahead,” Chee added.

When asked about the headway made on the coalition between the opposition parties, Pwee described it as a work in progress and that the various parties have not reached the stage of aligning their manifestos.

In the SDP’s first walkabout for the electoral season last month, Chee had said that the opposition will not win the confidence of voters as long as they remain “disparate and remotely bunched”.

SDP leader Chee Soon Juan signs the party's coffee-table book containing its manifesto on 28 September, 2019. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)

Getting youth wing involved

Party members also reiterated its efforts in getting its youth wing more involved in reaching out to younger Singaporeans, by allowing them to take the lead in online initiatives and major events, such as its upcoming pre-election rally on 19 October.

Naresh Subramaniam, a member of SDP youth wing Young Democrats, noted that while youth wings are “key instruments” of any political party, a “disconnect” exists between the younger generation and senior members in other organisations.

“The Young Democrats are included and are allowed to take lead in many of the processes and party’s endeavours,” said Naresh, adding that the party will focus on environmental and other modern societal issues.

“A very healthy environment has been established where there’s an active exchange of ideas...We can rest assured that the new generation, focused and with morally upright individuals, will continue to hold up the SDP banners high.”

The SDP currently has around 70 members under its youth wing, more than double the number during the last general election in 2015.

“The Young Democrats are working on a video on climate change and are deeply concerned about the PAP's commitment towards renewable energy and reducing Singapore's carbon footprint,” said Tan, citing a 2012 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study where Singapore was reported to have the largest carbon footprint per head in Asia-Pacific in 2010.

A placard with the design of SDP's coffee-table book 'The Way Forward'. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)

Coffee-table book with manifesto

In conjunction with the party’s 39th anniversary, a coffee-table book version of its manifesto was also unveiled at the launch. The book has a first print run of 3,000 copies and is sold at $39 each, while a hard-cover limited edition – with a print run of 1,000 copies – is available at $200 each.

Dr Tambyah said that the funds raised will contribute to party’s efforts for the upcoming general election, which he believes has the potential of becoming a “watershed election” just like the 2011 election, in which an opposition party won a Group Representative Constituency for the first time.

More than 100 people, including the members of the public and media, attended Saturday’s event.

The party will next hold a pre-election rally at Hong Lim Park on 19 October, where speakers will touch on three topics: an impending nine per cent Goods and Services Tax, a possible 10-million resident population and the retention of Central Provident Fund savings.

Singapore’s next general election must be held by 14 April 2021.

An Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was convened last month, an indication that the next election could be held soon.

For the 2015 General Election, the EBRC’s report was submitted to the prime minister on 21 July in the same year, two months after the committee was formed. Parliament was then dissolved on 25 August, with the election held on 11 September.

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