Singapore—The leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) openly declared in its kickoff launch that its aim is to deny the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Chee Soon Juan is pushing for a united opposition to do just that, and told Asia Times that he senses that change may be coming to Singapore’s political landscape, which is causing him to believe that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ‘is feeling very insecure.
’Rumors have been rife that Singapore’s next General Election (GE) may be called earlier than its due date in early 2021, perhaps even as soon as late in 2019.
Even though the GE has not yet been called, the SDP held its launch on February 23 and made their goal clear. If PAP loses its two-thirds majority, it will no longer be able to make amendments to the constitution. Moreover, it would ensure that the ruling party would be checked in an unprecedented manner.
Dr Chee acknowledged that achieving this will be extraordinarily difficult. The PAP has been the supermajority in Singapore’s legislative body since 1965 when the country gained independence.
He himself faced defamation suits from Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Ministers, who filed defamation cases against him, resulting in bankruptcy.
This meant that Dr Chee could not contest in the two general elections after 2001.
The SDP leader told Asia Times, “There’s losing in an open democratic fair fight and then there’s losing in a system that you know has been stacked against you. The whole state machinery is working against you, and when you are able to see it and discern it, then that really galvanizes me and makes me even more resolute.”
The SDP has fielded candidates in every GE since its founding in 1980 but has not won seats since 1997. However, there have been encouraging signs of greater support, even with Dr Chee getting almost 40 percent of the vote when he ran in a by-election three years ago.
Conversely, the PAP’s support may be waning, given that its leaders have had to be on the defensive lately, due to several missteps and lapses. Additionally, more and more voices in social media have been lifted up, asking for change.This is what may pave the way for changes in the political landscape, and is why Dr. Chee believes that PM Lee may be experiencing some anxiety.
He told Asia Times, “I think Lee Hsien Loong is feeling very insecure.”
He really doesn’t know how to handle the situation except to revert to what’s been tried, in the sense of clamping down on dissent. I won’t even say this is dissent, this is a diversity in views. I think that backfires.”
Prime Minister Lee’s own brother, Lee Hsien Yang, has not made it easier, seeming to support former PAP MP and opposition politician Tan Cheng Bock, who started his own political party in January, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
Dr Chee asked Dr Tan if he would lead an opposition coalition last year. He has emphasized time and again how important unity in the opposition is. “It is drummed into us that without the PAP, Singapore will go to the dogs. It’s been shown time and time again in surveys that [Singaporeans] want to see more opposition representation in parliament. If we don’t ever come together and remain disparate parties, there’s very little that we can achieve,” he told Asia Times.
For Dr Chee, one only has to look at Singapore’s neighbors as an inspiration for change.
“Whether we agree with what Mahathir is doing in terms of policies vis-à-vis Singapore, that is another matter. But it has made Singaporeans sit up and pay a little more attention. If that can happen there, why not over here?
As we grow, the perception of the opposition will change, in terms of our competence and in terms of being constructive. This is where I think the whole grassroots build-up needs to happen. Singapore will not disintegrate. We’ve got people who can come to the fore. I think the first step of responsibility is to convince people of our credibility.”