Click ‘Play’ to listen to the 2h47min audio recording of The Online Citizen‘s Face to Face Forum.
“This forum is actually an opposition one because the PAP failed to turn up,” 16-year-old Kenneth Lin told New Asia Republic. “The opposition parties were much more open to sharing their sentiments and there was much less awkwardness too,” he observed. Kenneth was among the 350 participants at a rare get-together involving key figures from Singapore’s political opposition circle, organised by The Online Citizen last night at the Quality Hotel.
Titled “Face to Face Forum”, the event was Singapore’s first Town-Hall style Q&A with Singapore’s political leaders. The Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and the Reform Party (RP) were represented by their secretary-generals Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam respectively. The National Solidarity Party (NSP), Socialist Front (SF) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) were represented by their secretary-generals Mr Goh Meng Seng, Mr Chia Ti-lik and Dr Chee Soon Juan respectively.
The Workers’ Party (WP) was represented by Central Executive Committee member Mr Gerald Giam. Mr Giam is a fresh face in local politics. Formerly a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he is currently a senior consultant at a global technology consulting firm. He was elected into the Worker’s Party Central Executive Committee in July 2010. Prior to joining the Workers’ Party, Mr Giam was already an active participant in the local political blogosphere.
“I encourage all Singaporeans especially young people of my generation to not give yourself the excuse to not step forward. It is very easy to blame the defamation laws. All of us have to play that part to step forward and use whatever little space you have. Go start a blog. That’s what I did 4 years ago and this is where it got me,” the former editor of The Online Citizen told the audience.
During the forum, the party leaders articulated their party positions over a broad spectrum of topics. There were shared consensus on the role of HDB in affordable housing, the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the income inequality in Singapore. Dr Chee emphasised that the HDB ought to be a non-profit venture while Mr Jeyaretnam stressed that the HDB should go back to being supplier of cheap affordable housing to the lower 30% of income strata..
Mr Goh also added that it would be impractical to privatise the HDB. “For sustainable usage of the land, we need to recycle the land. It is not feasible to privatise the HDB because the government has become the biggest landlord in Singapore. If it is going to be privatised, how are you going to cost it? Do you still follow through the purpose of land recycling by having a 99-year lease?” said the National Solidarity Party Secretary-General.
Mr Chiam added that the PAP government is making a lot of profits from selling HDB flats. He thinks the PAP is out of touch. “They started off as socialists, but now they are capitalists. Only advice I can give is vote for the opposition,” Mr Chiam said. Mr Chiam also described the ISA as “very dangerous and arbitrary”.
While the panelists were unanimous on the abolition of the ISA, both Mr Giam and Mr Jeyaretnam added that a fundamental human right of not being detained without trial should be balanced with the real need to deal with terrorism risks. In November 2010, the Reform Party released a press release that calls for the replacement of the ISA with modern anti-terrorism legislation. The press release also states that there appears to be no correlation between the sweeping powers given to the government under the ISA and the effectiveness of our security services in preventing terrorism.
On defamation law, the panelists’ responses are mixed. Socialist Front Secretary-General Mr Chia Li-Tik said that nobody had asked the PAP to step into the political arena. “The moment you step into this arena, don’t expect to go crying to some judge when people say something bad about you,” he said. However, Mr Chiam disagreed. The purpose of defamation law is “to keep the dialogue civilised”. He also added speeches made by candidates during General Election should have qualified privilege to avoid defamation suits.
A member of the public, requesting to be anonymous, said that he looks forward to more of such events. “The TOC Face to Face Forum is a good start for opposition unity,” he said. “At least we now know they are on talking terms. This pretty much clears up any myths that opposition parties are uncooperative and ignoramus of the big picture.”
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Photo courtesy of The Online Citizen. Check out NAR’s photo album of the event on Facebook!