Workers’ Party (WP) politician Yee Jenn Jong has revealed an interesting encounter with a resident that sheds light on how some may perceive the opposition. About a month ago, Mr Yee and his colleagues were carrying on with their block visits when they bumped into a father who was leaving Marine Parade Library with his sons.
The man struck up conversation with Mr Yee and the pair spoke about the work WP has been doing. Mr Yee recalled: “I remembered that conversation quite well as we had a good exchange about the work that WP was doing and our team’s contest in Marine Parade GRC in GE2015 and my contest in Joo Chiat SMC in GE2011.”
Last Friday (18 Oct), Mr Yee bumped into the same gentleman at the opening of a new facility downtown. At this latest meeting, the man told him that one of his sons had been greatly concerned about why he was talking to “bad” people who are “against the government.”
In a blog post published on Friday (18 Oct), Mr Yee said: “He told me today that one of his sons, still in primary school, asked him after we had left who we were. When the boy heard that we were from The Workers’ Party, an opposition political party, he asked, “Why are you talking to them? They are against the government and they are bad, right?”
“The gentleman added that he corrected his son and said that Singapore is a democracy and parties contest one another in elections. The winning team will get to form the government. There is nothing bad about that. I thanked him for setting the perspective correct.”
Calling the young boy’s initial perspective “scary,” Mr Yee said: “It is quite a scary thought though. So to the young boy, I was evil because I chose to be in the alternative camp. My fellow party members and all who chose to participate in the democratic process according to our constitution are deemed bad.”
Noting that the ruling party has created the perception that it is the only party that can take Singapore forward, Mr Yee pointed out that criticism against the alternative camp are magnified and those who are in the alternative camp are sometimes painted as “disruptive, unpatriotic, harbouring evil intentions for Singapore and more.”
Mr Yee is not the only opposition politician to face the discomfort some Singaporeans have about associating with members of the opposition.
Earlier this year, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman, Dr Paul Tambyah, revealed that a POSB branch manager was afraid to take a picture with him, in case he gets “marked” by the authorities. He said:
“I was a bit early for one of our SDP walkabouts in one of the town centres, and I saw a crowd gathering around the POSB branch. So, I went to see what was going on and found out there was a lucky draw for DBS or POSB cardholders. So, I duly showed my credit card and I won an umbrella.
“Just for fun, I asked the SDP photographer to take a photo of me receiving the umbrella from the branch manager. About 10 minutes later, the bank manager came up and asked us to crop him out of the picture. I asked him, ‘why?’ He said to me, ‘you must understand, I have a young family, I cannot afford to be ‘marked’’.
“I reassured him that this would not happen. I had been promoted and received tenure after being involved in politics with the SDP, but he would not be convinced so I had to ask the photographer to oblige.
“The manager seemed relieved. However, he said as a parting shot, when you guys come into power I’m sure everything is okay, but for now thanks for keeping me out of the picture’. I felt very sad, not just for him, but for every Singaporean who has felt this way.”
Dr Tambyah said that he wants to help make a change in Singapore and decided to join an opposition party after his many attempts to give feedback to the government failed. He asserted:
“The system will not change if it is too deeply entrenched and the cost of change is too high for those in leadership.”
In his latest blog post, Mr Yee said that he joined the opposition because he was concerned about the ruling party’s dominance and the lack of checks for the Government. He said:
“Prior to 2011, I was concerned that we were betting everything on one party assuming that the PAP will forever be competent and honest…I was concerned over the way policies were made. Obvious missteps have been made and the ruling party had refused to admit their mistakes. There were significant anger on the ground over various policies.”
Mr Yee, however, knew that “it would be impossible to have more of the alternative elected unless they are deemed sufficiently competent by the electorate.”
While acknowledging that the process of building a respectable alternative takes time, Mr Yee urged Singaporeans to overcome the fear of an alternative even as opposition politicians contend with the uneven political playing field imposed by the ruling party:
“The barriers have been set real high for the alternative because of constant tinkering of our constitution to entrench the ruling party and an iron grip control over the media, all apparatus of government, the economy through state-owned enterprises, the PA, trade unions and more, plus a great fear factor for capable people to come forward.
“All the more, the alternative has to be built up till there is one that is ready to take over if the people so chooses.”