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Politician Chee's letter to university students

Text of the letter distributed by Dr Chee after police prevented him from addressing university students

Jan 21, 1999.

Dear students,

I've have been informed by the NUS administration that I cannot speak here today. I, therefore, have to resort to communicating with you via this brief letter.

I am embarking on this campaign to speak directly to the people of Singapore because the government continues to put in place laws to prevent the opposition from effectively communicating with the people.

For example, it requires opposition parties to apply for permits for public speeches (which it then either refuses to approve or approves it only at the last minute to make organising almost impossible), bans political videos, restricts the use of the Internet during elections, controls what and how the local media reports, and the list goes on. These laws are not only unjust and undemocratic, but violate fundamental principles enshrined in the Singapore Constitution. This authoritarian control affects each and every citizen of this country economically, socially and politically. As Albert Einstein noted: "Every citizen should be equally responsible for defending the constitutional liberties of his country."

But even as the PAP talks about upholding the law, it continues to break the very rules and regulations it imposes on others. For instance, while it denies opposition parties to hold public speeches, its members freely conduct public talks; while the SDP is not allowed to display its party logo except during elections, PAP flags are flown anytime the ruling party pleases; while opposition candidates without proper identification are prevented from entering polling centres during elections, unauthorised PAP members freely walk in and out of these centres. The list is not exhaustive.

This, however, is not just a matter between the PAP and the SDP. It involves the people. I have repeatedly spoken about our investment fiasco in Suzhou, China where more than $30 billion has been lost, our pledge of $17 billion to a corrupt Suharto regime in early 1998 without the Singaporean public knowing about it, and our business links with druglords in Burma. The local media has repeatedly refused to publish and report what I say. Ask yourselves why.

How does all this affect you? Without a free flow of information, Singaporeans are kept in the dark. Such lack of transparency and unaccountability is what brought on the Asian economic and political crises. Don't make the grave error of continuing down this dangerous path.

You are potential leaders of our country. That potential cannot be fully developed if we continue to live in fear and apathy. Many of our young professionals who find the system too stifling emigrate. What is the PAP's solution? It embarks on a dubious policy to recruit foreign talent at your expense. Space prevents me from going into other issues that affect you and your future directly. You ignore them at your own expense.

If you want to graduate from a truly world-class university, then don't let the PAP decide for you what you can read and who you can listen to. Your counterparts studying in universities abroad tell me that they are discouraged by the PAP government from organising political activities. Safe activities like National Day dinners, barbecues and discos are, however, encouraged. This is tragic. You not only have brains, you have minds too. Don't waste them. Listen to what Nobel laureate for chemistry, Professor John Polanyi, says: "Any scientific community which is in an undemocratic country is going to exhaust itself if it is to be thinking all the time that it musn't offend the authorities."

The SDP wants to build an open society where the government is transparent and accountable, and where a society that encourages debate, innovation and creativity - qualities that underpin our future economic competitiveness. But we cannot do it alone. We need you, the future leaders of Singapore to stand up and be counted. I can understand if you are somewhat tentative, even apprehensive. But remember this: planes are safer on the ground, but that's not what planes are made for.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary General
Singapore Democratic Party
January 21,1999

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