The political dialogue organized by NUSS was well attended by more than four hundred members. The impending election is a key reason that I attended as well. The speakers were new to me, but not unfamiliar. There was NMP Mr Calvin Cheng, Christopher De Souza from PAP, Kenneth Jeyaretnam from The Reform Party, Chee Soon Juan from SDP, Lina Chiam from SPP and Sylvia Lim from Worker’s Party.
Past NUSS Chairman and Ex-NMP Chandra Mohan did a good job as a moderator, providing some comic relief to the otherwise serious event. (Even reading the house rules was funny.)
Chandra Mohan started by quoting Sir Winston Churchill – Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times. So the speakers on stage are really brave to enter politics. That I agree.
As this was a close door event with ‘members only’ rule, there was no jeering or rowdiness that had been present in the last dialogue four years ago. The atmosphere was ‘peaceful, friendly, with people agreeing to diagree.’
Mr Calvin Cheng, a graduate of Oxford (‘Just as good a University as NUS’, said Mohan) spoke about the new generation electorates which are internet savvy and have a higher hierarchy of needs that are quite different from the bread and butter issues from past generations. He does not see any new change in the political playing field.
MP Christopher de Souza is from Bukit Timah/Sunset Way ward. He spoke of the contribution the ruling party had brought since the last recession, which Europe and US are still trying to recover. His speech, shown with charts and statistic, is typical like that of civil servants. He assured a member living at Sunset Way – who had complaint that the member had never met his MP- that he had been to every single HDB household and Sunset Way landed properties. It was too bad that the member was not around when he visited.
The next speaker was Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the son of late opposition MP, who had spent 40 years overseas because he couldn’t get a job in Singapore despite getting a first class degree from Cambridge (‘Another University as good as NUS’: Mohan). He mentioned a valid point. Myanma had its first election after two decades recently, but there are people in Singapore who had never voted in 40 years. He put up a slide with a quote from a resident that said, ‘I just want a chance to vote before I die.’ We all had a good laugh. Alas for him, it was weird hearing a British accented man speaking about foreign talents taking away jobs. (He had served NS and is a Singaporean, despite his accent.)
Chee Soon Juan spoke about the vision of SDP. His accent made him sound fake and insincere. Perhaps it’s just my prejudice against him from the press reports. His speech ended with a whole lots of ‘I want…, I want…, I want…’ To him, Singapore is morally corrupt and just plain materialistic. To me, he is idealistic and not realistic. Someone asked him, with all the ‘I want…’, where is the ‘how?’ Well, go to SDP website to find out.
Mrs Lina Chiam, wife of Potong Pasir opposition MP Chiam See Tong, is hoping to continue what her ailing husband has set out to do for Potong Pasir. Her inexperience as a politician was obvious, with her reading her speech and apologising when she read wrongly to repeat the sentence again. Why is she not enjoying her retirement and doing this at her age (61)? She enjoys it and want to continue her husband’s legacy. We must give her credit for that, if nothing else.
Sylvia Lim was the last speaker. She was an eloquent speaker, clear and easily understood. It was no surprise that she had garnered 44% votes in the last election. She spoke about level playing field in the election, and the need for an alternate voice. In answering the question from a member about forming an opposition alliance, she replied that it was difficult as the parties do not share the same manifesto. Having said that, they do cooperate with each other and do not engage in three corner fights with the ruling party.
The three-hour dialogue ended with Q & A thrown by the same few members. The rest of us are contented to sit and comment privately on the side.
The last dialogue post election four years ago was an eye opener and had shown me the wide disparity between the opposition and ruling party. The gap is narrower this time. Chris de Souza, as expected bore the brunt of defending government policies and he did that brilliantly with logic and conviction. He was the most impressive of the lot, in my opinion.