Singapore Democratic Party sends mixed message

Posted on 26 April 2011

The usually gung-ho opposition party loses its teeth over candidate Vincent Wijeysingha, who could possibly be the first gay MP in Singapore.

By Terence Lee

Dr Vivian and team’s press statement

A video has been posted on the internet showing Vincent Wijeysingha participating at a forum which discussed the promotion of the gay cause in Singapore.

The discussion at the forum also touched on sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age.

In the video, Wijeysingha was introduced as being from the SDP.

In addition to other comments, Wijeysingha stated: “I think the gay community has to rally ourselves. Perhaps one outcome of today’s forum would be, for those of us who are interested, to come together to further consider how we can address the 377 issue as well as further rights issues in relation to gays and lesbians.”

We believe that candidates should be upfront about their political agenda and motives, so that voters are able to make an informed choice.

The issue is not Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation. That is a matter for him.

The video raises the question on whether Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter.

LET’S be honest: Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is a shrewd tactician.

Conscious of the fact that many Singaporeans still frown upon homosexuality (see survey by NTU), he questions the motives of the SDP and especially its openly-gay candidate Vincent Wijeysingha, who is leading a team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC against Dr Vivian.

Although liberal-leaning Singaporeans may be disgusted by this assault, there is a segment of Singaporeans who would resonate with it. These voters would be uncomfortable with having a gay MP in Parliament, and they would not overlook his sexual orientation, no matter how brilliant or articulate he proves to be.

Even the SDP knows this.

In a video response to Dr Vivian’s insinuations, SDP Secretary General Chee Soon Juan tried to downplay his party’s liberal stance on homosexuality.

“We are not pursuing the gay agenda and none of our MPs will,” he says at the beginning of the video, and repeats himself near the end: “Will the SDP pursue the gay cause? I answer forthrightly and without equivocation: No.”

He then turns the tables on Dr Vivian, daring him to be transparent about the passe issue of inflated spending during the Youth Olympic Games’ inflated spending. Red herring anyone?

Backed into a corner, the SDP seemed like it was forced to come up with a hasty, half-baked response. And it almost felt like they were outright denying their past support of the Repeal 377A movement. Trails of their previous anti-homophobia campaigns however, are still evident online.

This raises the question: If Vincent does get into Parliament, can he truly guarantee that he will not back the abolishment of the discriminatory law? And if he does support the repeal of 377A, wouldn’t that, in the minds of voters, contradict the statement Chee Soon Juan made?

On hindsight, SDP would have done better by acknowledging their support for gay rights, while at the same time emphasising that they are a political party for all Singaporeans.

The party’s response is a symptom of the identity crisis they are facing, a problem highlighted by media professor Cherian George, blogger Alex Au, and Straits Times journalist Tessa Wong. The SDP of the past has been admired for their loud, stubborn support towards issues it cares about, a stark contrast to the chameleonic tendencies of the Worker’s Party.

Yet recently, they have taken a more pragmatic stance, emphasising bread and butter issues over civil liberties.

Dr Vivian seems heartily aware of this schizophrenia, judging by his remark that Vincent’s team are “strange bedfellows”, since it is a marriage of a left-leaning social worker (Vincent) with a former civil servant (Tan Jee Say) and a psychiatrist Ang Yong Guan, a Christian.

Smelling blood, he struck first, attempting a kill before the opposition party could release their election manifesto.

Whether it will become a major electoral issue in the GRC going forward depends on how Dr Vivian, the SDP, and the media respond to this issue in the coming days.

Much also depends on the voting bloc Dr Vivian is counting on, and if they will succumb to the politics of fear: Fear that a homosexual who makes it into Parliament will not represent the interests of the electorate, and fear that a repeal of 377A will lead to the end of the world and the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

And for those who resist his tactics, is their disgust enough to sway them from the PAP vote?

So here’s where the SDP has to make a decision: Either appeal to the same segment of voters Dr Vivian is wooing, or stay the course, state their convictions, and give these voters the benefit of the doubt. Because in the long run, the SDP could become the party of choice.

Dr Vivian may be a shrewd tactician, but he’s certainly not winning the moral war. The ground is shifting beneath our feet: Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who is cool with gay MPs, believes acceptance of homosexuality will grow.

In the book Hard Truths, he says: “Homosexuality will eventually be accepted. It’s already accepted in China. It’s a matter of time before it’s accepted here.”

And when that day comes, let’s see how history will remember Mister Vivian Balakrishnan.

This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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  • Scott

    I am at work, so i can’t write a long reply. But no, I don’t think they are backtracking or anything. But rather stating that they are not pursuing the gay cause, because there’s no gay cause. Just as there are not Black Cause, No Christian Cause, No Chinese Cause.

    The ONLY cause there should ever be is a human right’s cause, and so far, I don’t think they have made any statement counter to that.

  • terence

    @Scott

    the problem is that, while I believe their fundamental values remain the same, they are also trying to appease the middle ground this GE. So they are caught in a bind.

  • Anon

    Was SDP caught? In my view, yes. If the SDP top leadership knew about VW’s sexual orientation, shouldn’t they have prepared for the contingency of this being raised whether now or after nomination day? No party can capture the electorate’s votes if they don’t position themselves in the middle or slightly off the middle of the political spectrum. Unless the PAP ministers come out with more boo-boo statements then this episode will be like an albatross on SDP’s neck.

  • Daniel

    It is more important for the SDP to capture the middle. Liberal minded people will vote for them regardless since they would see through Vivian’s farce immediately.

  • Nono

    sorry no vote for gays … though I am a big opposition supporter.

    your article stated good points

  • bt

    @Nono: Explain why you will not vote for gay? You’d rather have someone doing nothing in parliament while getting paid sums you’ll probably never ever get?

  • seriously?

    @nono.

    i understand ur point of view however if he does not advocate gay rights and fight for the benefits of the poor and needy will u still vote for him?

  • Something to consider

    Well, the opposition should instead ask schools why they didn’t focus on beating Finland and Shanghai for Maths and Sciences. If they fail to do so, what a waste of opportunity that they waited long enough to create.

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