Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah on the results of GE2015.
A first time candidate on the SDP ticket. But he’s not new to scene.
He had been seen around. He had spoken at a few civil society functions. People had heard of Dr Paul Tambyah even before Nomination Day. Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) unveiled Dr Tambyah as one of its candidates on 26 August — six days short of Nomination Day. He had been touted as the party’s high-profile entry much earlier in the year.
Given his credentials as a Professor of Medicine and a Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Tambyah was set to inject panache into the SDP’s electoral campaign. He was fielded alongside party leader Dr Chee Soon Juan in Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
They were a dynamic duo. During election rallies, they seemed to take the crowds by storm. When he spoke at rallies many listened — after all it was his area of expertise — healthcare. Despite this, the SDP lost. They contested in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency (SMC), Bukit Batok SMC and Yuhua SMC.
There had been a nationwide swing for the People’s Action Party (PAP) which garnered nearly 70% of the votes.
What does Dr Tambyah make of the result? Whither opposition politics and civil society? Was he ever poached by other political parties?
SIX-SIX.COM Dr Tambyah speaks of a structural obstacle that restricts democracy, he candidly reveals the comments of friends and patients and he reflects on what made him turn to politics in the first instance. An interview with Dr Tambyah:
What has it been like returning to your day job? What have the reactions of your colleagues and patients been? Does it feel like a return to normality?
It has been good. The reactions of patients and colleagues have been overwhelmingly positive. Most people I have met the last week claim that they voted for the opposition which is interesting!
What are the lessons learnt from GE2015’s results?
The main lesson for me was in the structural obstacles which restrict democracy in Singapore. In particular, the billion dollar People’s Association (PA) which makes a mockery of the election process in that the losers of the election in Hougang and Aljunied get all the resources of the taxpayer funded agencies. In addition, the overwhelming power of the mainstream media and their online outlets is a huge obstacle to overcome — for example, the only debates that occurred in this campaign were on CNA and IQ and the IQ debates had a very small audience, less than 0.1% of the electorate.
You have said that the knuckle duster era is over. So is the climate of fear also lifted?
The knuckle duster era was the one where opposition MPs were detained without trial — like Mr Chia Thye Poh. That era is over. The repression is far more subtle and sophisticated now. The climate of fear operates at a micro level as each voter goes to the counter, hears his or her name being called out while being stared at by his RC member — in PAP white. That is the same person who provides assistance for many schemes including schools, work etc. That has a powerful impact on the individual voter. For the candidates, the risk of detention without trial has hopefully gone.
As a former member of MARUAH and a civil society advocate, what are the implications of the result?
I think that the results have highlighted the importance of civil society. The structural constraints are not going away easily. Civil society is going to have to step up to address the media imbalances as well as issues such as use of state funds by the PA for indirect partisan purposes.
Were you ever approached by the PAP to join it? How about the WP? If so, what were your reasons for not joining them?
Ha ha- no! I think I am too independent minded for the PAP. I have many good friends in the WP but am more ideologically closer to the SDP. I was the Singapore Medical Association’s candidate for nominated MP a few years ago but did not clear the interview — apparently because of the lack of orthodoxy of my views.
Dr Chee Soon Juan has indicated he is looking into a possible partnership between the SDP and the WP. Is there a role for such a coalition or would this be just a marriage of convenience?
I think that we share a common goal of a more democratic Singapore. We have slightly different visions of what that would look like. I do not think that a formal coalition is likely, a commonality of goals is more likely to lead to working together.
Who was Paul Tambyah 10 years ago and who is he today?
Ten years ago, Paul Tambyah thought that he could work within the system to change things for the better for patients and the marginalised. Today, I think I am older and maybe a little wiser and perhaps a little more concerned about the growing inequalities in our society. I have also decided that the system is hard to change from within and that is why I went for the political route.