Not ready to lead for now, says opposition

By Kenny Chee

THE opposition is not ready to replace the People's Action Party (PAP) Government yet but they are working towards it, said leaders of the Workers' Party and Reform Party yesterday at a forum.

Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of the Workers' Party, said: "If you want us to take over the government now, this is not the time. But it doesn't mean we are not building up towards that day."

On when the party would be ready, Ms Lim later told my paper that her party needs to build on progress it has made in the last few years. Once it has reached a critical mass to offer a shadow Cabinet, "that will be the time", she said.

"We've got some momentum going so hopefully (the process is) not too long from now," she added.

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, secretary-general of the Reform Party, said he agreed with Ms Lim that "we are in no position yet to form the government".

"It might take 10 to 15 years but we're in it for the long haul," he said, adding that his party is building its capabilities.

Ms Lim and Mr Jeyaretnam were speaking at a panel discussion at the National University of Singapore (NUS) called "GE 2011: What's at stake for Singapore?". It was organised by the Singapore Forum on Politics, an initiative of the NUS Political Science Alumni.

Climate of fear a problem, says opposition

Also speaking on the panel to an audience of more than 300 people were Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary- general of the Singapore Democratic Party, and Mr Michael Palmer, a PAP MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

One issue discussed was the diversity of views and representation in Parliament.

Dr Chee said there was a need for a system to have free debate, so that people could come forward to represent the disenfranchised, get into Parliament and ensure there are policies to help people in need.

Ms Lim said it was vital to have MPs from different political parties to check on the ruling party.

On how the PAP represents the people if its MPs have to follow the party's decision on policies, Mr Palmer said that, within the PAP, members do express dissenting views "a lot of the time".

But Mr Jeyaretnam pointed to how a "widespread and pervasive climate of fear still prevents good people from coming forward to stand as opposition candidates".

He explained that people may be worried that "their business might be affected and that they could be sued for defamation and ruined" if they become opposition candidates.

Mr Palmer said he did not understand why Mr Jeyaretnam and the Reform Party insisted that there was such a fear. "If you go on the Internet, there is no climate of fear there. Everybody speaks openly," he said.

Mr Palmer also said he could not see why there is fear to join the opposition, when the Workers' Party "has a very vibrant youth wing" and opposition candidates are standing for the upcoming General Election.

On defamation suits, he said that if people work within the laws, "there is no reason for fear", adding that Ms Lim and Workers' Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang have not been sued for defamation.

Dr Chee took issue with not being able to go to court to defend against defamation suits brought upon him by PAP leaders.

Mr Palmer said that judges consider evidence from both sides, calling Dr Chee's claim a "mischaracterisation of the process".

On the climate of fear as an election issue, Ms Lim said it is important to educate voters on concerns that their votes are not secret.

"We want people to have confidence that their votes will not be traced. We can say from our observations that there's no reason to be doubtful about that," she said.

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