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Historian and filmmaker slam Ong’s views about one-party system as being Singapore’s winning formula

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Speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS) Singapore Perspectives conference, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung expressed that Singapore’s formula for success is hinged on a one-party system. He added that a multi-party system is unsuitable because it ran a major risk of slowing down decision-making and nimbleness while navigating an “ever-changing world and environment”.

Historian Dr Thum PingTjin has slammed Mr Ong’s views on multi-party system as “regrettable and shocking ignorance of Singapore’s history.”

“We WERE a multi-party democracy in 1965. In 1963 General Election, the PAP won 37 seats and 46.9% of the vote; the Barisan Sosialis won 13 seats and 33.2% of the vote; and the United People’s Party won 1 seat and 8.4% of the vote. Between 1966-67, arrests, detentions, and resignations steadily reduced the opposition presence in Parliament, leading to the first PAP sweep of Parliament in the 1968 elections. If not for multi-party democracy, Singaporeans would not have had the opportunity to elect the great first generation of PAP leaders in 1959; and as Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted in his autobiography, the PAP left-wing (who subsequently became the opposition Barisan Sosialis) forced his team to raise their game and to hold themselves to a higher moral and professional standard. Our success was founded in our period of vigorous multi-party democracy in 1955-65.”

While filmmaker Martyn See pointed out that Mr Ong himself is the son of a man who believed in multi-party democracy. Mr Ong is the son of one of the 13 Barisan Sosialis MPs elected in the 1963 General Election.

Ong Ye Kung’s father, Ong Lian Teng, is 2nd from left in this photo from 1966.
Barisan Sosialis MPs posing outside Parliament House with a banner proclaiming the death of democracy, after resigning their seats on Oct 8, 1966. They are (from left) Mr Koo Young, Mr Ong Lian Teng, Mr Tan Cheng Tong, Mr Chia Thye Poh and Mr Poh Ber Liak.
picture credit: ST

“Mr Ong Lian Teng, who died in 2009 aged 74, was once a firebrand leftist politician and one of the 13 Barisan Sosialis representatives elected in the crucial 1963 General Election.

He was among the group of Barisan MPs who took their party’s struggle to the streets. They marched to Parliament House with their supporters to hand in their resignation letters on Oct 8, 1966.

As the picture above shows, they posed behind a black banner with the seven Chinese characters – guo hui min zhu yi si wang, meaning ‘parliamentary democracy is dead’ – outside the chamber’s building before riot policemen dispersed them.

The elder Ong was an active Chinese community leader in rural Singapore in 1961 when he joined Barisan, a breakaway faction of the PAP which came into power three years earlier.

The camp led by leftist trade unionist Lim Chin Siong was opposed to the PAP’s founding secretary-general Lee Kuan Yew and company over Singapore’s merger with Malaysia and other ideological issues.

Mr Ong was one of the few remaining Barisan MPs who boycotted Singapore’s first Parliament session after its independence in August 1965 to resign his seat, claiming that parliamentary democracy was dead after a series of government arrests just before and after the 1963 elections.” (http://singaporerebel.blogspot.sg/2011/04/1963-death-of-two-party-democracy-in.html?m=1)

Dr Chia Thye Poh, a political detainee who was nominated for international Nobel Peace Prize had previously described the dangers of a one-party rule.

“Under the PAP rule, there is no genuine parliamentary democracy. In essence, it has been practising a one-party rule. It seems to want to remain as the sole, dominant party, with other small parties acting as marginal opposition and “sparring partners” for new PAP MPs. The opposition parties will never be allowed to grow strong. Before past elections, potential opposition candidates had been arrested; so were some of the elected opposition MPs who were arrested after the elections. The GPC (Government Parliamentary Committee) feedback unit and introduction of “non-elected MPs” are merely improvements on the one-party rule. There is always the danger of one-party rule slipping into one-man rule, and worse still, into dynastic rule. The PAP government does not like critical newspapers or publications, and is intolerant towards sharp criticisms. They seem elitist and arrogant, regarding themselves as the best and the most suitable to rule Singapore. And they rule it with iron-handed policies.” (http://www.thinkcentre.org/article.php?id=247)

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