While its policies may mean higher taxes on the rich, the Singapore Democratic Party leaders stressed yesterday that it had nothing against the wealthy.
"We are not opposed to wealth, but wealth inequality," said SDP party chief Chee Soon Juan at a lunchtime rally to Shenton Way workers yesterday.
He said that a widening income gap "harms the common good" as it breeds instability. He also drew parallels with some countries in South America, where there are wide income disparities. "Society breaks down, crime rate goes up, education suffers. We've got to guard against that."
Dr Chee even said that part of the reason he chose to contest in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC was that he believed the party's policies would resonate with the wealthy living in the constituency.
"People ask me, why did I choose to go to Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. It's a place where all the rich people are. They are all so rich and contented, they will vote for PAP," he said.
I’d like to commend DPM Tharman and some of his colleagues for contesting this election on issues, rather than gutter politics of the past. I would also like to put on record my view that DPM Tharman is probably the most brilliant of our current ministers, and many of us think he will make a fine PM.
In fact, to tell you a secret, there are many of us in the alternative parties who hope that, one day, DPM Tharman will have a falling-out with PM and will come out to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties - Pakatan Rakyat Singapura - to present a real alternative to the current PAP Government.
SDP’S PAUL TAMBYAH, heeding party chief Chee Soon Juan’s advice on “telling the truth” by giving its view on Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam before responding to the DPM’s comments on Saturday about SDP’s economic policy proposals
"I don't believe that... You care, I know you do, otherwise you wouldn't have volunteered to be our polling and counting agents."
The constituency is home to some of Singapore's most well-heeled and has a significant chunk of voters who live in landed property.
Dr Chee was not the only speaker to tailor his speech in the financial district for the wealthy. Professor Paul Tambyah also touched on the group in his speech.
In particular, he disputed the argument put forward by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam that the SDP's policies will be circumvented by the rich and end up squeezing the middle class.
At a rally on Saturday, DPM Tharman warned voters not to fall for "false promises", pointing out that a tax on the top 1 per cent alone cannot pay for the levels of social spending promised by the opposition.
Taxes for the middle class would have to rise as well. As for the rich, they know "how to move their money around", he said.
Prof Tambyah argued instead that the rich would pay their taxes, pointing to the great philanthropists in Singapore's past like Lee Kong Chian and Tan Kah Kee.
"They did not hold the Government of the day hostage by saying if the Government raised taxes, they would run away. On the contrary, they stayed, they paid their taxes... That is the kind of top 1 per cent we want; we don't want the Robert Mugabes, millionaire playboys, the tax-evading Europeans and Australians, the Burmese drug lords," he said.
If the latter group was upset by higher taxes, "let them go", he added.
Prof Tambyah also rebutted Mr Tharman's comments that "no country in the world" has provided either free or close to free healthcare without the middle income group paying more taxes.
"The SDP's healthcare plan is not about free healthcare, but a national healthcare plan that provides basic healthcare," said Prof Tambyah.
And it had been done before, he added. In the 1960s, he recalled, Singapore was lauded by a team from the World Health Organisation - as a "healthy, vigorous metropolis" where "medical services had become predominantly but not entirely a responsibility of the Government, with the mass of the population entitled to it without personal cost... All of these were financed from general revenues".