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Printed from straitstimes.com
The Straits Times
www.straitstimes.com Published on Dec 17, 2010
Opposition figures air key issues at dialogue
Six leaders united in call for more opposition voices in Parliament By Jeremy Au Yong & Kor Kian Beng
SIX opposition leaders came together for a dialogue last night, giving an early glimpse of where their parties stood on key national issues. Topics like housing and the role of the media got an airing, alongside a wide range of other matters from the Internal Security Act (ISA) to national service. And while the political parties differed slightly on some issues, there was clear consensus on their rallying cry: Get more opposition voices into Parliament. Throughout the 21/2-hour session at the Quality Hotel in Balestier, the different opposition leaders took turns calling for change and taking jibes at the People's Action Party (PAP). Often, these calls were met with cheers or applause from the largely partisan crowd of 350 that showed up. Socialist Front secretary-general Chia Ti Lik, for instance, called for the PAP to be given a 'black eye'. Answering a question about HDB prices, he said: 'The changes have to be made and the changes can only be made if we give the PAP a black eye at the next general election.' The forum, titled Face To Face, was organised by socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) to mark its fourth anniversary. It was also to provide a platform for political parties to outline their respective positions on key issues ahead of the next general election, said Mr Ravi Philemon, a TOC writer. It was the largest meeting this year of politicians from different political parties. Five of them held the post of secretary-general in their parties: Mr Chiam See Tong of the Singapore People's Party (SPP); Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP); Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party (RP); Mr Chia Ti Lik of the newly registered Socialist Front; and Mr Goh Meng Seng of the National Solidarity Party (NSP). The Workers' Party (WP) was represented by its central executive committee member Gerald Giam, a former member of the TOC team. TOC said it sent an invitation this month to the PAP headquarters and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong but did not receive any response. This is the second forum involving political parties within a month. The National University of Singapore Society organised one on Nov 19 which was not open to media coverage. That one was attended by five parties, including the PAP which was represented by Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher De Souza. The audience at last night's forum comprised opposition members, political bloggers and observers, and undergraduates. Yesterday's dialogue was divided into three parts. The first focused on economic and social policy, the second on civil liberties and the third on political issues. As expected, housing issues dominated the economic section with the discussion focused primarily on affordability. A question posed to each of the six panellists was how they would solve the price conundrum, given that a lowering of prices would leave current flat owners unhappy.
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NSP's Mr Goh called on Singaporeans to discard the idea that the HDB flat is an investment. Rather, he said, they should think of it as a home. SDP's Dr Chee said that a solution could be found if only the Government would share more information about HDB building costs. During the section on civil liberties, the discussion turned to the Internal Security Act. On this matter, all six were unanimous in saying that the law had to go. Said Mr Chiam, who is also MP for Potong Pasir: 'It's a bad law because it's arbitrary. You give full power to somebody without any appeal. It's dangerous. I think we should all gather strength and ask for the ISA to be repealed.' Given the recent troubles in the Singapore Democratic Alliance which Mr Chiam's SPP is a member of, it was perhaps a little curious that the matter of opposition unity was barely touched upon last night. Though postgraduate student Elvin Ong, 25, asked a question right at the end about how parties would avoid three-cornered fights, most preferred to focus their closing statements on their respective party strategies. Only Mr Chia of the Socialist Front addressed the issue. He said: 'By the very fact that we have come together for this forum, all of us wish to be able to work together and put up a united front... Our guns are pointing in one direction, and that is the PAP.' firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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