Liberating the Individual

The following is an article I wrote for IFLRY’s (International Federation of Liberal Youth) online platform, Libel. I had been asked to write a piece on why international political organizations and societies should accept individual members, and in it, I shared my own less-than-pleasant political experience with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

The article was published on 2 July 2015, but was removed shortly after due to the “confidential” nature of the information in it. I recently contacted a reliable source within the party (whose identity must, for obvious reasons, remain secret) who confirmed my long-held suspicions: someone within the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) was tasked with lodging a complaint to IFLRY about the article, which resulted in its removal. I have reproduced it here, because fuck you, SDP.

My official involvement with politics lasted about a year and eight months, during which I was a member of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). I made the decision to leave the party in December 2013, four months after my first political trip to the Netherlands that summer. I had met several IFLRY (International Federation of Liberal Youth) members during an earlier political trip to Bangkok, among which were members of the JD and JOVD, who subsequently invited me and an SDP colleague to the International Summer School in The Hague.

Me (second from left) on a speaking panel during the CALD (Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats) Youth Festival 2013 in Bangkok. Also on the panel are youth members of political parties from Hong Kong, Mongolia and Norway.

My colleague and I learnt a fair bit, and came back to Singapore eager to apply our newfound knowledge in ways beneficial to the party. It was then that the process of my resignation began.

The cronyism in the SDP was one of the most glaring instances of hypocrisy I witnessed in my time there. Its Secretary-General, Chee Soon Juan, along with his loyal subordinates, has spent his entire political career criticizing Singapore’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), for giving government positions to those with the right connections, as opposed to those with the right qualifications. Yet when it came to initiatives my fellow Young Democrats (the SDP’s now-defunct youth wing) and I tried to propose, essentially requesting greater autonomy and attempting to lighten the mother party’s workload by being more independent and self-governing, we were given a list of hastily compiled excuses to dismiss our efforts. The youth party was dissolved in a matter of months upon our return from Europe.

Prior to the Summer School, I had also been appointed the SDP’s Deputy Head of Communications by one of its more prominent candidates, then-Head of Communications Vincent Wijeysingha, who resigned to focus on his social work shortly after coming out publicly. Due process dictated that I should have taken over as head of the department after his resignation, but that did not happen, thanks to the aforementioned cronyism, as well as some of the senior members’ inability to be objective and see past their own pride. I had discussed with Chee and another member how I planned to contribute in this area — a PR campaign, more articles on the website, and my professional writing and editing services, all pro bono. Though initially enthusiastic, Chee suddenly went quiet on the matter, presumably after consulting with a senior member who had had it out for me ever since our ill-fated collaboration on a 2012 party fundraiser had (long story short: I had written a script for her and me as hosts of the event, she ignored it and the partnership fizzled, and of course, I was blamed).

Despite being the only person in the SDP (at the time) with the relevant qualifications and professional experience to be in charge of communications, my suggestions fell on deaf ears, and word got around that I was “power-hungry” but unwilling to do any work. The weak excuse that I had “no synergy” with some of the party members was also given, making it very apparent that instead of tapping into the resources they had on hand — free of charge, I might add — and using them to maximize the SDP’s efficiency and progress, they were fixated on recruiting “yes” men. It also did not help that SDP had deprioritized international relations, opting not to pay its IFLRY membership fee for a few years in a row (to date, I do not know if the party has finally paid up).

Realizing it was pointless to stay in a party whose senior members were generally not open to new ideas, and whose only use for youth was to do their bidding, I resigned with another member. In case anyone thinks this is an isolated case of a former SDP member lashing out, I know at least five other former youth members who have left the SDP within the last two years. One of them is Jeremy Chen, a former member who was actively involved in crafting the SDP’s policy papers, and who has been rather forthcoming about his own unpleasant experience with the party.

Still, I have kept in touch with a good number of the people I met on my overseas trips, and attended the Summer School in 2014 as an independent candidate. Meeting and learning from other liberal youth from Europe and other parts of Asia has certainly made me more knowledgeable about the goings-on in other parts of the world, a plus for someone who finds it important to keep up with current affairs and international politics.

It is unfortunate that I have witnessed the potential of youths in the political scene being hampered by close-mindedness and petty politicking. In leaving the party, I did feel a little disheartened about no longer being a part of regional organizations like the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), and international organizations like IFLRY, all because I was no longer with a member party.

I am aware that there are many like me, who have either left or never joined a political party, but who are nonetheless highly interested in political issues and are therefore keen on participating in events that allow them to both acquire and impart knowledge. Such people need a suitable platform so they can not only express their ideas and opinions, but also participate in or even organize events where they can meet and work with likeminded individuals, whether or not they are from a political party.

For this reason, I feel individual membership in organizations such as IFLRY would be beneficial to both the organization and its members, as it will no doubt expand the pool and variety of members, and add value to the organization.

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