'Trust is about what you do': Singapore Democratic Party holds pre-election rally at Hong Lim Park

SINGAPORE — The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) highlighted the rising cost of living as one of its main bugbears with the government during its pre-election rally at Hong Lim Park on Saturday (19 October).

The opposition party’s secretary-general, Dr Chee Soon Juan, even cited the issue as one of the major reasons why Singaporeans have lost faith in the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

“Trust is not what you say, it’s what you do,” he said repeatedly in his 20-minute speech, during which he accused the PAP of having broken the promises it made to voters during the 2015 General Election (GE).

“When he was Environment Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan said in August 2015... that there is no need for an adjustment of the water price,” said Dr Chee.

“Just months after the GE, the new Environment Minister, Masagos Zulkifli, announced that water price would be increased by 30 per cent,” he added, noting that Masagos also went on to “lecture that the consumer must feel the full price of water”.

Dr Chee also cited the impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax, town council fees, transport fares and university fees as examples of how the cost of living in Singapore has gone up.

The four-hour event, which organisers claimed drew some 2,000 attendees at its peak, also saw speeches from eight other SDP members as well as musical performances, a children’s play area, face-painting and merchandise booths, as well as an aerial performance involving parrots.

A video montage featuring well wishes from other opposition party leaders – including Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim and Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock – was also played several times at the rally. In it, Peoples Voice leader Lim Tean called greater cooperation among the opposition parties.

Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore after his speech, Dr Chee said the aim of holding such a carnival-like rally was to introduce a bit of “levity” so as to get younger people engaged with political issues.

“Political rallies needn’t always be this very buttoned-up kind of deal... It needn’t be very intimidating and threatening, because all these decades here it’s always been like, ‘Oh my gosh, politics’ and everybody is so afraid of it,” he said.

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah speaking on Saturday (19 October) night. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
SDP chairman Paul Tambyah speaking on Saturday (19 October) night. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

‘We are not Hong Kong’

Festivities aside, it was the SDP members’ speeches – on topics ranging from Singapore’s population to workplace bullying and the withholding of Central Provident Fund monies – that were the highlight of the evening for those in attendance.

Taking the stage before Dr Chee, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah warned that “the PAP has become more insecure” and is “tightening its already tight grip on the media and civil society”. He also called on SDP supporters to deny the PAP its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

“This will prevent them from changing the Constitution at will. For example, they will not be able to impose a racial quota for the Elected Presidency, but not for the Navy or Air Force, just to suit their political aims,” said Dr Tambyah, adding that unlike in Hong Kong, Singaporeans “have the right to vote for our leaders”.

Echoing this sentiment, Dr Chee said the job of a “responsible opposition” in Parliament is to act as “an effective watchdog on behalf of the people”.

Others speakers on Saturday included SDP vice-chairman John Tan; central executive committee members Damanhuri Abas and Khung Wai Yeen; party treasurer Bryan Lim as well as SDP members Min Cheong, Alfred Tan and Robin Low.

The rally was also the latest in a string of SDP events held since the party launched its pre-GE campaign efforts in February. The party began conducting walkabouts in August and unveiled its updated election manifesto in September.

Local band Thambi K Seaow was one of three musical acts that performed at the event. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Local band Thambi K Seaow was one of three musical acts that performed at the event. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

Rally a ‘fresh approach’

Among the attendees on Saturday was 42-year-old community educator Zara Md, who arrived at 4pm with her family. She described the rally as having presented a “fresh approach” in reaching out to people by raising issues in a “light-hearted manner”, adding that the mini-concert which would “gel well with the younger generation”.

Assistant manager Venga Kurusamy, 56, said that he came to the rally as he wanted to see what the SDP had in its manifesto.

“Chee Soon Juan’s speeches are always inspiring as they raise issues such as cost of living and CPF. I will pass the message to my circle of friends, for them to be aware of the coming elections and to vote wisely,” he said.

Related stories:

COMMENT: Slow and steady SDP

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

Singaporeans have 'lost a lot of confidence' in PM Lee, says SDP chief Chee Soon Juan