Sunday, February 20, 2011

Former political prisoners joins opposition

Mr Fernandez and Mr Cheng were introduced at the SDP's anniversary dinner at Fort Canning last night. -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

Feb 20, 2011
Two ex-ISA detainees join SDP

By Tessa Wong

Former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees Michael Fernandez and Vincent Cheng have joined the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and may stand as party candidates in the upcoming general election.

The two new members were introduced at the party's anniversary dinner last night at Fort Canning.

Both men told The Sunday Times they would consider standing for election under the SDP banner if they were asked to by party leaders.

Mr Fernandez, 77, is a retired former unionist whose lawsuit against the Government for alleged torture during his detention from 1964 to 1973 was struck out last Friday.

He has another suit pending against the Government that alleges he was unlawfully detained for part of his detention.

He said he joined the party two months ago because he wanted to 'let more young people know about ex-detainees' experiences'.

He felt that his age and health would not affect his decision to run. 'I am still very healthy. As for age, Lee Kuan Yew is also very old, and he is still in Parliament.'

Mr Cheng, 64, is a former social worker who was detained in the late 1980s for being part of an alleged Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government. He joined the SDP shortly after speaking at its rally last November.

Both men are advocates for the abolition of the ISA, which the SDP has also called for. They said this issue would be part of their campaign platforms if they ran.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters yesterday that the party is in the process of attracting new members. He declined to give figures on party membership, but he said that since the last election in 2006, the median age of party members has dropped from the mid-50s to the mid-30s.

Among the younger members are academic James Gomez and civil society activist Vincent Wijeysingha, both in their 40s and seen as potential election candidates.

Since joining the SDP last year, Dr Wijeysingha has become more prominent in the party, and is the key figure behind its recent Shadow Budget.

When asked if Dr Wijeysingha could be his successor, Dr Chee, who has been the SDP's secretary-general for 18 years, said: 'That would be a question that our party members would have to answer. He would have to convince party members that he should be in the leadership and would continue to lead this party.'

On leadership renewal, Dr Chee said he found the idea of grooming successors 'off-putting'.

He said he preferred that members with leadership qualities step up instead, and that party members would recognise talent and leadership.

He said the party was non-hierarchical. 'We include young members in our discussions and decision-making processes. So they learn, and when they learn, they build confidence, and they develop as leaders themselves.'
The SDP would field more young candidates in the next election and would unveil them once the electoral boundaries report comes out, he said.


Further readings :

23 years after Operation Spectrum : Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses

More ex-detainees speak out : Political violence and the abuse of the ISA in Singapore

The Scars of Detention by Michael Fernandez

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