Just read the transcript of SDP’s Dr Paul Tambyah’s rally speech at the Bukit Batok by-election on 1 May. His speech pissed me off. It made me angry at how our first-world parliament is not populated with more people like him, who have the ability to make such sound, scathing remarks, eloquently and respectfully. Class. Instead we get a plethora of pot-shots by overpaid and under-stretched career politicians who don’t even do their own research. It made me angry that so many good and inconvenient questions will go unanswered because they will be covered in the deafening silence of a majority too scared to rock the cradle in and around parliament.
I know this and some of my FB posts risk me being seen by some friends as one of those pesky Singaporeans who doesn’t appreciate the wonderful life and system we have here. I see posts, by many of my friends who declare how they love this and love that about their Singapore, sometimes #tagging SG50 and the like. Much as I roll my eyes at every mention of SG50 and that overused red-dot, I love how people are so effusive and positive. In my defence, I wasn’t raised like that. I grew up in a very cold, negative, household that went through a lot of pain before I even existed and never quite knew how to get over it and so, passed it on to me. I carry a lot of that generational pain on my shoulders. It made me grow up quickly, having to fight, often in vain, for the things I love and so, if my picture of the ideal looks darker or less pretty, it doesn’t mean I hate the sunshine or my love is any less. Having said that, I am learning how to be more sunshinely expressive, so keep posting, friends!
Back to the by-election and the SDP candidate, Dr Chee Soon Juan. To be honest, he used to scare me. I remember his hunger strike and thinking, “Wah so extreme, so militant, ah? What about his family?” He used to raise questions like, “look at the price of your teh-oh and tell me the cost of living has not risen?” They were confronting and to my mind, overly-simplistic, not in a stupid sense, but that he expected us to work to understand him, not the other way around – self-focused – great if you’re a crusader, not great if you’re a leader of people.
However, observing him over the past years; after he was barred from teaching in Singapore; banned from travelling which effectively cut off any opportunity for him to earn his keep elsewhere (talk about a non-competition clause!); how he found alternative methods of making ends meet by writing and the feedback he would’ve received from that process and how that would’ve helped him to reflect and grow; how he picks up his daughters from school and lives in an HDB flat. I know that this is a man who has given everything for what he believes in instead of using political position to land-grab. In my opinion, this is also now a man who has learnt the value of working with others like and unlike himself. He’s really grown and he should be given a chance to duel in the hallowed chambers of parliament!
Speaking of growth, SG50 wasn’t built on yes-men who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. It was built on loud, oftentimes arrogant, idealistic people who were not afraid to roll up their sleeves, for more than a photo-op, and rock the boat in their day. However, as it stands, even as parliament grows in number, the seat of power gets smaller, with an ever-expanding silent moat to protect it’s core. If SG100 is in any way going to build on the growth of SG50, this status quo bias is not the way to go.
That’s why I think people like Dr Chee, and Dr Paul Tambyah should be in parliament, although Dr Tambyah is, sadly, not running in this by-election. Guys like these are not part-time politicians, part-time businessmen who are beholden to their ministerial salaries and government-linked contracts (paid for largely with taxpayers money, mind you); or a product of Singapore Inc. who, smart as they are, have some seriously permanent blinkers on by virtue of a lack of real-world exposure and are even more beholden to the way of life accorded to them by the current system, having known little else.
already makes having alternative voices in parliament a near impossibility. For every bit of ground that any opposition team fights to gain, they have to fight even harder to keep because everything in the system around them has been engineered to dilute their dissenting voice with that of a majority that is silent, primarily for fear of losing what they have.
The majority, like salespeople all over the world, have been trained to live on the edge; buy that car and condo, spend on that credit card, enjoy this air-conditioning, and use that to motivate you to work harder, make more money. By the way, if you rock the boat, you could lose it all, so, Don’t. Rock. The. Boat. Take care of your own and let us do the thinking for you. So, history is written over and over the same way. 50 years, and another, and another while as a country we chase the dollar bill. Revolutions.
I think people like Dr Chee and Dr Tambyah are attempting to re-write how Singapore’s history unfolds. What I like about what they’re trying to do is that they’re not taking a pre-authored storyline wholesale and selling it on to their constituents. They research and write these themselves, which means they will ultimately take ownership – something I’ve seen less and less of in today’s crop of leaders who seem to serve a author/paymaster.
As citizens, we have our responsibility to write our own versions of history too. If we surrender that responsibility to someone else, we will only have ourselves to blame when the after-effects broadside us. On the other hand, we could look back on days like this and say, “I had a hand in making that happen. In my own small way, I re-wrote history.”