Looking Backwards: Chiam See Tong’s legacy in the SDP (Part 2)

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There were a number of events that precipitated to Chiam See Tong’s eventual departure from the SDP but the parliamentary session in 1995, November 3, arguably was the one that broke the camel’s back.

Chiam’s speech in Parliament: 

Mr Chiam See Tong: Much obliged, Sir. During the break, I have the opportunity to read the speech of Francis Seow, the famous fugitive from Singapore, who has been making headlines of himself in America. This passage that I have looked into has, in fact, already been read by Mr Chay. But I think there is no harm reading it again because of the serious allegations there. It says here:

`The judiciary in Singapore is neither independent nor free. It is pliant. It is corrupt. It is beholden to the Prime Minister and the establishment, judges in Singapore are invariably leaning over backwards in favour of the government and of the establishment and award them grotesque sums in damages for so called defamation. The record quantum of damages awarded to the SM Lee Kuan Yew and his son Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister in waiting and Goh Chok Tong the seat warmer Prime Minister in the recent IHT libel case, is a good case in point. It is renowned among Singaporeans that the rule of Lee has displaced the rule of law in Singapore.’

Mr Speaker, Sir, this is a very serious allegation of our judiciary and of our courts in Singapore. And what astounds me is that the Secretary-General of the SDP was present there. Instead of saying that he agreed to many of the things spoken by Francis Seow, he should immediately, after the speech, stand up and say that the judiciary in Singapore is not at all like that of what has been made out by Francis Seow. That is the position he should have taken.

And it also surprises me that the Leader of the Opposition in this House has not come out with the position in regard to the independence and integrity of the judiciary because he has not taken a stand on what Francis Seow had said in Williamstown.

It saddens me that the SDP is now run by a megalomaniac. This man wants the centre-stage. He wants the centre-stage all the time. I think it is this character which sends him to Williamstown. He thought he could get centre-stage there and he could get some publicity and score some political points.

Mr Speaker, Sir, but what is more important that has happened in Williamstown is that there are certain people there who would like to see Singapore being run down and attacked Singapore. The issue here is not just about people like Chee Soon Juan who come and go in any event but about the survival of Singapore. Singapore’s survival is at stake because there is an attack on the basic institution of Singapore and on the system of Singapore. And it is the duty of loyal Opposition to defend Singapore.

If I were asked: whether I would attend this alternative panel at Williamstown on 15th September, my answer would certainly be “no”. I would not have gone even if I were given a free return air ticket. Why not? If you know the motive, the reasons why they want to hold the alternative panel, no decent Singaporean would attend that meeting.

The purpose of that meeting was specifically held to denounce our political system and, in particular, our judiciary. I say that it is not right to attend that meeting. In fact, it is very wrong. Any Singaporean with some sense of decency and good manners will tell you that it is wrong to attend. But some will even dare to say, “Well, Mr Goh Chok Tong went to Williams College on a private visit.” People who said that are either completely naive or dishonest. I can tell you that those who aspire to win Parliamentary elections are not that naive. Therefore, the people who said that must be completely dishonest.

Would Williams College confer high honours on Mr Goh Chok Tong, if he were not the Prime Minister of Singapore or has not contributed to the economic success of Singapore? I do not think so. But the people at Williams College are no fools. It is precisely that they know Mr Goh Chok Tong, as Prime Minister of Singapore, has in fact contributed to the economic success of Singapore that an honorary doctorate degree was conferred on him. Therefore, it is wrong to say that one can attend and take part in the alternative panel discussion because Goh Chok Tong went there as a private citizen.

I have not been consulted by the SDP. If I were consulted, I would have advised them against sending a delegation to attend the alternative panel discussion at Williams College. I give my reasons. One, the SDP does not need such publicity. Two, the fact that the SDP was there, it had already given support to that occasion because the purpose for which the alternative panel discussion was specifically organised was to denounce the honouring of Mr Goh Chok Tong and also to denounce the political system in Singapore which includes, of course, the judiciary. Three, as Singaporeans, we must have human decency, good manners and behave honourably. As Singaporeans, it is really in bad taste to attend a function organised by foreigners to denounce the conferring of high honours on our own Prime Minister. If we, as Singaporeans, do not respect our own Prime Minister, how else do you expect foreigners to respect Singapore’s Prime Minister.

Some hon. Members: Hear, hear!

At this juncture, I am not in any way running down the SDP. In fact, that is the party I founded. I am against those who are now in charge of the SDP. They are turning the SDP upside down and making it beyond recognition. When I first started politics in 1976, I said that I would be a constructive, honest and sincere Opposition and I have not, for the last 19 years, deviated from that philosophy.

Some hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Some people think that the Opposition’s duty is to tear down the system and one of the pillars popularly denounced, especially by people like Francis Seow, is the judiciary. I said “no”, we should not do it. The SDP, in particular, should not do that.

The present system that has been built up over the past 30 years has served Singapore well and Singaporeans have become prosperous. We have a good thing in hand, and I do not think we should destroy it.

Our judiciary system is now under attack. As has been mentioned by Members of the House, it has been voted the best in Asia, endowed with integrity, where people can get their case heard with confidence. This assessment is not by Singaporeans. This assessment is by foreigners. If foreigners, who have no particular interest in Singapore, have said that the standard of integrity in our courts is the highest in Asia and is incorruptible, I think Singaporeans have got absolutely no right to denounce our judiciary. Foreigners say so. It is not us. If Singaporeans say so, people might say that we want to praise our own system. But foreigners have got no particular interest and yet they say Singapore’s judiciary is honest and incorruptible. And yet some people still deem fit to attack our judiciary. I myself have no doubt that our judiciary is independent and has the highest standard of integrity.

But is the Singapore system perfect? Is Singapore’s political system perfect and there is no role for the Opposition? The answer, of course, is no. No political system in the world is perfect. Nobody has found a perfect political system yet. The Russians and the Chinese have tried the Communist system. They think it would build utopias, but what happened. They failed miserably. They have to convert their system from the so-called egalitarian system to the free market system.

Singapore has a free market system, but we are still evolving. The Government has commenced its privatisation programme. Singapore society is not static. We are changing all the time, hoping to improve ourselves. We have a good thing now but, of course, Singaporeans hope that we will get a better thing. So I think it is the duty not only of the Opposition but of all Singaporeans to be vigilant, to make sure that a good thing does not turn bad. Why? Because, as you know, human beings are greedy.

Look at Japan. It has been prosperous for over 40 years. Then what happens? Politicians there in the LDP, which has been the ruling power for over 40 years, I believe, have become greedy. But luckily, in Japan, there are patriotic and good people in the opposition who are ready to take over power and make sure that things do not get too bad for Japan.

If we take the example of Japan, Singapore must also put in its place an Opposition, but not any Opposition. Singapore must have a good, responsible and effective Opposition. That is the aim. I think of all responsible people in the Opposition, it is to make sure that Singapore has a good, honest Opposition. To me, Opposition means that we have to be honourable. On the Opposition, we must be honest and not dishonest. To me, the Opposition must be truthful, and not be liars and cheats.

Some hon. Members: Hear, Hear!

To me, above all, in the Opposition, we must be good and patriotic Singaporeans. We must not go around the world denouncing Singapore.

Some hon. Members: Yes.

A lot of talk has been made about the free air ticket. Apparently, it was paid for by students. But if I were asked for my view on this air ticket, I would say that they should not have accepted it. It is given by students who are not working. If I have already started work, I should pay for my own ticket. Why get it from the poor students? I think, in principle, it is just not honourable. It is not right to get students who are not working to pay for you when you are working and you have an income. What does it show? It just reflects the character of the man. Whatever he can get, he gets, whether it is $100 or $200.

There was also a serious attack on the Chief Justice – a crony of Lee Kuan Yew. If I were there, I would have rebutted and said that there is no such thing. It is a very serious thing to say that the Chief Justice is a crony of the Senior Minister. He cannot just stand there and do nothing.

I do not know whether Mr Yong Pung How and Mr Lee Kuan Yew are good friends, because they were students together. But I know for sure that they do have high respect for each other. And they both feel that they have responsibilities towards Singapore and contribute in their own way.

The Leader of the Opposition has already given his reasons for the way he would vote. But to me, this is an important issue which the Opposition must take a stand. For me, I will vote for the motion. I will support it.

An hon. Member: That is right.

When I vote for the motion, I am not voting against the SDP. I am voting for the long-term interest of the SDP. If the SDP, which is now run by people who do not take a stand on this issue and say categorically that the judiciary is independent and has the highest integrity, then I think the SDP has got no future.

What is the SDP trying to achieve? Is it just trying to be one of those irresponsible opposition parties that have come and gone? Or is it really going to contribute to making Singapore a success? I have said many a time that the Opposition must in fact be better than the PAP. We have to contribute as much, if not more than, the PAP in terms of nation building. The Oppositon has got a responsibility. The Government has a duty in nation building. So has the Opposition. And there are many issues in which the Opposition can enter into for the good of the people. I think my stand in the Opposition has been very very clear. But unfortunately, there are others who are very ambitious. They come into politics at 30 years old and they hope to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore at 34.

Singapore has a viable system and I do not think that any Opposition should try to sing to the tune of people outside Singapore, whose intentions are in fact questionable in regard to the prosperity and success of Singapore. [Applause].

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