The recent series of changes or planned changes to the law to curtail the basic fundamental rights of Singaporeans is of great concern to the SDP.
The first is the amendment to the Films Act which gives even greater powers to the Infocommunications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to enter any premises including people's homes and seize films it deems as “serious offences” without a warrant, This is a terrifying spectre for Singaporeans who want to see more democracy and demand more accountability from the government.
The search and seizure powers include films the IMDA considers prohibited on “public interest grounds and unlicensed public exhibition”. This vaguely defined term includes “party political and unclassified films”. It grants the PAP the power to prosecute any and all parties that speak up against it.
It is not difficult to see how the government can use such powers to stop legitimate protests by Singaporeans and keep the people from communicating with each other thereby shutting down public expressions of dissent.
Observers and analysts have also voiced their concerns that this may yet be another means for the PAP to frighten Singaporeans into self-censorship.
Changes in laws in Singapore, especially those dealing with the political rights of citizens, are always made in the guise of protecting national security.
In reality, these laws have been repeatedly abused throughout Singapore's history. They have been used against the opposition, civil society and the public at large especially at times when the PAP feels that its power is being challenged and threatened.
It is clear that the ruling party is readying itself to crack down on dissent as the people become wiser to its ways and see how its leadership and, hence, governance of Singapore have deteriorated in recent years.
Singaporeans are beginning to see that ours is not a house in order and that the younger generation of ministers do not have what it takes, including having fresh ideas, to take Singapore confidently and securely into the future.
While the PAP thinks that these latest moves will protect its grip on power, it fails to realise that continued suppression and denial of the fundamental freedoms to the people of Singapore is tearing apart the social, economic and cultural fabric of this country.
Such a political manoeuvre will not have a good outcome for Singapore and her citizens.
An application to hold a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in the wake of last year’s Presidential Election was rejected by Justice Chua Lee Ming in the High Court on Monday (9 April).
The petition had been filed by Marsiling-Yew Tee resident and author Dr Wong Souk Yee, who is also assistant treasurer for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
Following Halimah Yacob’s resignation as Member of Parliament for Marsiling-Yew Tee last year in order to run for president, SDP filed a lawsuit last September calling for a by-election in the ward. It maintains that the three remaining MPs – Lawrence Wong, Ong Teng Koon and Alex Yam – should vacate their seats in order to facilitate the process.
The SDP later withdrew from the suit as the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) maintained that the party had no standing in the issue.
Justice Chua noted that Dr Wong faced an “immediate hurdle” to her application: namely, that an by-election cannot be held unless the remaining MPs in the GRC vacate their seats. Article 49 (1) requires a by-election to be held only when all the seats are vacated, he added.
“There is no basis in law that would allow me to compel the remaining MPs to resign,” said Justice Chua. He noted that voters in Marsiling-Yew Tee have not lost their right to be represented in Parliament: they have continued to be represented by the GRC team, “albeit comprising one MP less”.
Justice Chua granted the AGC’s application for Dr Wong to pay $10,000 in costs plus $764.35 disbursements.
Issues in the case
Central to the case: differing interpretations of Article 49(1) of the Singapore Constitution and Article 24(2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Article 49(1) states, “Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.”
Arguing for the applicant, veteran lawyer Peter Low had cited Article 49(1), claiming that it does not make a distinction between a Single-Member Constituency (SMC) and a Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
Arguing for the government, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair cited Article 24 (2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act. This states, “In respect of any group representation constituency, no writ shall be issued under subsection (1) for an election to fill any vacancy unless all the Members for that constituency have vacated their seats in Parliament.”
Noting that 49(1) was promulgated before the GRC system came into place in 1988, Nair maintained that “different rules” apply to GRCs. It would be unfair as well to force the remaining Marsiling-Yew Tee MPs to vacate their seats for reasons unrelated to their conduct or circumstances within their control, he added.
In his judgement rendered today, High Court Judge Chua Lee Ming said that a by-election cannot be held unless the remaining MPs in the GRC vacate their seats.
During the hearing on 22 January 2018, Justice Chua asked repeatedly of counsel Mr Peter Low where Article 49(1) of the Singapore Constitution says that the remaining MPs in a GRC must resign to trigger a by-election if one of the seats is vacated.
The Article, of course, makes no mention of this point. That's because it was written way before the introduction of the GRC system in 1987.
But Article 49(1) lays the foundation – as is the function of the Constitution – for the democratic construction and functioning of society and its politics.
It makes no bones about where the argument lies when a seat of an elected MP is vacated, that is, “the vacancy shall be filled by election”. Not “may” or “if” but “shall”. In other words, the government is bound by this Article to call for a by-election.
In making the case for the GRC system in 1987, the PAP argued that it is unfair to the remaining MPs if they are forced to step down when a member in the team resigns.
This should not be the Courts' concern. What is of concern is that Parliament must ensure that the laws it passes are consistent with the Constitution – in this case, the spirit of parliamentary elections of replacing an elected representative with another elected representative as spelt out in Article 49(1) must be respected.
Mr Low maintained that the Article cannot be stretched by the Courts to ask what should happen to the other MPs in a GRC should a seat in the constituency be vacated. Article 49(1) is contravened if the government is allowed to avoid calling for a by-election when an MP vacates his/her seat.
It also sets a dangerous precedent: It is entirely conceivable for the prime minister to sack MPs in a GRC save for one and not replace those whom he has dismissed.
In the extreme, he can still convene Parliament and run the country with 29 MPs (16 GRC MPs plus 13 SMC MPs) instead of the full 89. This makes a complete mockery of the Westminster parliamentary model on which our system is based.
There is another question. The GRC was specifically enacted to require a minority MP in the team. Ms Halimah Yacob was that MP in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. Her departure left a conspicuous absence of minority representation in the constituency.
In questioning what happens to the remaining MPs at the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Justice Lee failed to ask the more important one: What happens to the gaping hole in the GRC – and by extension in Parliament – left by Ms Halimah when she vacated her seat?
To be absolutely clear, the opposition, in the form of the Barisan Sosialis (BS), was strong and had the support of Singaporeans. The PAP, with the cooperation of the British colonial government, had to place BS leaders under mass arrests and detain them without trial in order to remain in power.
Since then, the PAP has undertaken a myriad of anti-democratic measures to ensure that the opposition remains hobbled and unable to challenge it for power.
The withering punishment of news organisations and journalists, and the amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act through the years reduced a once vibrant mass media to that of officialdom's cheerleaders. Little wonder that they are ranked 151st in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 – a position sandwiched between Ethiopia and Swaziland.
Trade unions and civil society were similarly destroyed leaving an impotent NTUC controlled by ministers. In their place, the government has politicised the People's Association, plying it with enormous sums of money to carry water for the party.
Election laws have been repeatedly altered and the constitution amended to ensure the PAP's continued hegemony. The introduction of the GRC system is but just one instance, allowing the PAP even greater latitude to gerrymander with impunity.
Now the government is arguing that a by-election need not be called if an MP in a GRC resigns, even if she is from the minority race.
The latest example of such shambolic treatment of our constitution is the PAP's reservation of the Presidency for Malays and then approving its ethnically Indian member as a candidate while disqualifying her potential opponents.
Recently, the government amended the Films Act so that it can further crack down on, among other things, the making of party political films and other material it deems “undesirable”. It also changed the Public Order Act to give police the power to stop citizens from disseminating information relating to public events such as protests.
Any casual observer can see that these are not acts of a confident government. They are, instead, of one that is nervously looking over its shoulders, afraid of the genuine views of the people breaking through.
If Mr Lee is of the view that his party has the support of the people, then why go through such lengths to dismantle democracy and suppress the opposition?
No one is asking the PAP to let the opposition grow. What Singaporeans are saying is that it must stop changing laws to make the system even more undemocratic and prevent the opposition from challenging its hold on power.
HDB's CEO Dr Cheong Koon Hean said in a forum last week that buyers of resale flats should pay less for older flats because these flats have a lease of 99 years.
This is bad news for Singaporeans who paid premium prices for the flats because we were promised that the value of our flats would appreciate over time. Moreover, many used our CPF savings to service the housing loans.
Because of the government's asset enhancement promise, retirees are now hoping to monetise the flats to fund our retirement. But what is happening now is that as the flats age, their resale values drop putting retirees in a financial nightmare.
Such a development, however, does not have to end in disaster. There is a solution and it is found in the SDP's alternative housing policy.
What is this alternative?
It is the Non-Open Market (NOM) flat scheme that the SDP proposed in 2012. Under our policy, the prices of new flats do not include land cost. That is, the price of each flat reflects only labour, administrative and material costs.
How does such a scheme help Singaporeans?
By excluding the cost of land in the prices, BTO flats will cost half of the current prices or even less. This means that our housing loans will be smaller which will free up capital for other uses. At the very least, we will not have to use all of our CPF savings for our flats.
Is this fair?
The land belongs to the people, the government pays nothing for it. Why should it charge Singaporeans so much money for something that it doesn't pay for? Remember, the government is only the caretaker of our land, not the landlord or developer. It is not proper for it to make money from public housing at the expense of the people.
What protection does the NOM scheme offer?
As the name suggests, NOM flats will not be allowed to be re-sold in the open market. It can only be sold back to the HDB at the purchase price minus the value of the consumed lease. Home owners cannot make money from NOM flats but neither will they lose money as is the current situation.
But what about existing homeowners?
People who already own flats have a choice. They can:
1. Convert their flats to NOM status. If they choose this option, the government will return them the difference between the original price of their flats (as purchased from the HDB) and the price of an equivalent NOM flat, subject to a cap.
2. Choose the status quo and be able to resell their flats in the open market. This means that they are subject to the vagaries of the market. On this score, the future doesn't look bright.
What's the rationale behind the SDP's policy?
Our homes are for bringing up our families and they provide a secure roof over our heads when we retire. They are not commodities for speculating and trading. If we treat public housing like a commodity, we end up spending our CPF savings on flats that we cannot later sell at a profit to fund our retirement.
Experts have spoke highly of our NOM proposal. You can read our full policy Housing A Nationhere.
SDP's Assistant Treasurer Dr Wong Souk Yee has filed an appeal against High Court Judge Chua Lee Ming's decision to dismiss her application for a by-election in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.
Some question the rationale of spending time and money on a matter that has little chance of succeeding. Here's the reason why the action is important.
Never has the trust between the people and the government been so low. The price and tax hikes despite pre-election promises, the idea that our flats will ultimately become worthless despite assurances in the past, and the lack of meaningful ideas in taking Singapore forward have all contributed to the loss of confidence and appeal towards the PAP by the public.
As a consequence, the party has had to resort to increasingly desperate measures to keep its hold on power. The reservation of the Presidency for Ms Halimah Yacob – and then refusing to call a by-election when she resigns her MP seat – is the most glaring example.
The PAP also recently amended the Films Act and Public Order Act to give itself even more power to crack down on dissent. It is presently trying to further clampdown on online discussions in the pretext of dealing with “fake news”.
When we witness such an assault on the development of democracy and accountability in this country, we can either bow our heads in fearful silence or redouble our efforts to speak up and resist the autocratic measures.
For the SDP, the choice is clear. If we are loyal citizens who believe in our pledge “to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality”, then we must do what is right and necessary.
A singular action – like this appeal – may not by itself change much. But it is the accumulation of such actions, conducted in a determined and concerted manner not just by the SDP but by all who care about holding the government accountable, that will one day bring about a democratic system that we hope to see in our country.
So whether it is the patriot writing in exile, the academic doing battle in a parliamentary committee hearing, the NGO conducting a public forum, a group of activists publishing a website, or Singaporeans protesting in groups big and small, these are all different strands of resistance that while, at the moment, may seem like exercises in futility, will one day bring about meaningful change.
Democratic reform has always been the result of decades of lonely acts painfully and doggedly undertaken by those can see beyond the immediate present.
And so it is with the SDP and the present legal effort. The PAP government must be made to answer and explain itself in court why it contradicted the Constitution with its introduction of the GRC system.
If it is not challenged, it will only get bolder by making laws that are detrimental to Singapore. The question then becomes why those of us who knew better and could have done something remained silent.
If legal action is expensive, then let us all contribute to the worthy effort. If each and everyone of us donate a little, we, as a community, will be more than capable of standing up to the PAP. B a part of this community and donate to the legal fund for Dr Wong's appeal. (Please click here.)
At this crucial juncture of our nation's development, we must not bow our heads in dejection, we must not lose faith in the cause. We must, instead, persevere and continue to do what is right.
For we remain the difference between a future darkened by continued one-party rule and one that is democratic and full of promise.
A decorative panel fell 40 storeys from an HDB block in Bendemeer Road "with a loud crash” next to a playground.
Luckily, no one was injured. The mishap could have been deadly – involving children.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, HDB and the Jalan Besar Town Council (JBTC) said: “The panel is part of the block facade design and is non-structural. The building is structurally safe.”
We don't know what questions the newspaper asked but clearly HDB and JBTC gave a non-answer. Everyone knows that the panel is part of the block's facade and no one has asked whether the building is in danger of collapsing.
What the people want to know is why was the structure in such a sorry state with pieces falling off with the potential of causing harm to passers-by.
And this is not the first such incident.
Just days before, a part of an HDB block's decorative cladding fell off its facade at Block 270 in Pasir Ris town. A resident said that it sounded like a “very loud cluster of thunder.”
Again, HDB and the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council gave the standard non-answer that “a piece of decorative cladding had dislodged from the facade" of the block and that “the building is structurally safe.”
1 April 2017, two aluminium panels fell off an HDB block at Indus Road.
The authorities said that the cladding panels broke off due to wear and tear. But the buildings involved are relative new. Yet, pieces are breaking off and endangering public safety.
HDB blocks have also been plagued with faulty lifts that have resulted in residents being injured including one death.
The painful fact is that the quality of construction of HDB buildings is compromised. HDB should stop saying that the buildings are structurally safe because they are not. The problem has not been satisfactorily resolved.
The SDP sounds a clear warning for the government to take urgent and comprehensive action to ensure the structural safety of HDB buildings before injury or, worse, death results.
The recent fee hikes on water and electricity are hitting Singaporeans especially hard and in more ways than one.
Already one of the most expensive cities in the world, the price increases are making life even more burdensome and stressful for citizens here.
Water prices just went up another 15% this week. This is the second increase, the first 15% hike took place in 2017. Before these increases, the PAP already levies the Waterborne Fee and Water Conservation Tax – and a 7% GST on top of these two taxes.
These price increases are wholly unnecessary as the government collected a surplus of $10 billion in taxes in 2017 with hundreds of billions more in the reserves. Greed and the continued pay-and-pay mentality is driving these unjustified increases.
The PAP has also increased public carparks fees and ERP rates as well as added more ERP gantries in the last few years. There are also signs that bus and MRT fares will be jacked up. The GST is set to increase to 9%.
All this has a tremendous impact on Singaporeans with the struggling lower- and middle-income segments hardest hit.
Such empty promises demonstrates the utter delusion and hypocrisy of the PAP. First, how is the increase of the price of water – by an unheard of 30% – not hurt businesses? Second, how can Ms Indranee tell businesses not to increase prices if the government does it?
The SDP held a forum this afternoon where opposition parties came together to hear how the Pakatan Harapan (PH; Alliance of Hope) achieved its historic victory in the recent Malaysian elections.
The guest speaker was Mr Chua Tian Chuang, former Malaysian member of parliament and Chief of Information of Parti KeAdilan Rakyat (PKR; People's Justice Party). The PKR is headed by prime minister-in-waiting Mr Anwar Ibrahim.
In describing how the PH came to be, Mr Chua said: “It’s been a long process that required a lot of patience and compromises. It wasn't always easy but in the end we came together and managed to present a united front.
“The parties and politicians were initially reluctant to come together, but it was the people's demand to see a coalition that helped bring about Pakatan Harapan.”
The PH comprises a coalition of four parties: The PKR, Democratic Action Party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and Parti Amanah. It defeated the BN after 61 years of one-party rule in Malaysia.
The victory of the PH has brought renewed hope for democracy in Singapore with Singaporeans calling for the opposition here to also form a united team for the next elections.
Some of the attendees cautioned, however, that there are significant differences between the Singaporean and Malaysian political scenes that make a replication of PH-like success in Singapore improbable in the immediate term.
Nevertheless, all agreed that the process of putting together a unified opposition that can present a credible alternative to the PAP must begin.
The SDP hopes that today's forum, which was by-invitation only, will facilitate this process.
In his welcome remarks, SDP Chairman Prof Paul Tambyah said: “We come from diverse backgrounds but there is much more that unites us than divides us. We all share the belief that things can be better, that we can and will have a democratic Singapore.
“We hope that this private session will inspire us to work together for a better Singapore for all.”
The road is long and the task is uphill, but the opposition must find courage and the discipline to overcome the barriers in order that Singaporeans can have a meaningful choice in who they want as their government.
All the opposition parties except the Workers' Party were present. Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former presidential candidate, was to attend but had to tend to a family matter at the last minute. Members of civil society also attended the event.
The SDP will continue our effort to meet Singaporeans' hopes of seeing a united and competent alternative to the PAP. The people can count on us to do our part.
Saturday's forum on Pakatan Harapan's recent electoral victory in Malaysia gave opposition parties and civil society in Singapore some interesting insights on coalition building.
One key takeaway: Discipline, political maturity, and the time-tested adage that united-we-stand are essential for success.
Leaders of the various opposition parties pose for a group shot.
Guest speaker Tian Chua: "The NGOs in Malaysia knew that they were wasting their time with the BN government who did not care about their agenda. They knew they had to either join the PH push or mobilise their own resources to help the reformation. Staying on the sidelines was not an option."
Civil society leader Ms Constance Singam asking about M'sian NGOs' role in the election outcome.