Charisma and nuance

Charisma rarely mixes with nuance but yesterday it did.

SDP rally on 5 Sep

Joel and I attended the SDP rally yesterday at the field beside Commonwealth station – our virgin political rally experience. The crowd was massive, by no means bigger than the WP’s ocean-like audience but by all means bigger than most other rallies. And they went nuts when Chee Soon Juan finally went up to speak.

Charisma is definitely a word that comes to mind when Chee speaks. He held the audience in an electrified gaze for over 45 minutes – imagine a field of thousands in utter enraptured silence. Analysing his rhetoric, it is not charisma borne in firebrand angst, it charisma weighted with a spoken sincerity untainted by artifice, grounded in a down-to-earth reality. Repeatedly, he brings across a personal and genuine connectedness with the common Singaporean, with poverty, with hardship, with his own personal beliefs.

But beyond charisma, there was something rarer in him and far more important – there was nuance. He was stalwart in professing acceptance of immigration and immigrants as a necessary reality; he was fierce on a stand of never, ever bearing negativity towards foreigners but instead at policies; he acknowledged the undeniable fact that we are and have always been a nation of immigrants. I’ve never seen this maturity in any opposition position ever.

And there was a crystal clear political precision and intelligence in him. He understood the fundamental and underlying importance of institutional issues of civil liberties, racial politics and civil society. And he did not patronise the audience when he tried to explain the primary priority of such issues above the bread-and-butter. These are issues that most politicians won’t bring up for their lack of popular traction, but the fact the he did (and so resolutely and intelligently explained why he did) sheds immense light on his principles.

It was not his charisma that touched me but the intelligence and the maturity of his political world view. This matured and measured intellect has been sorely lacking in Singapore’s political scene for far too long.

I’ve been pouring through the SDP manifestoes, publications, research papers and position papers. Not everything’s agreeable (that’s quite an understatement), but as if tinted with Chee Soon Juan’s personal touch, everything bears the same demeanour of nuance, measuredness, intelligence, research, grounded realism and uncompromising comprehensiveness.

They say Chee Soon Juan is a changed man from the haphazard radicalism of two decades ago. I can’t agree more.

I’ve always identified myself as one that leans towards the pro-establishment side on the local political spectrum. And as much as I believe in a stronger opposition, if push comes to shove, my vote would have always gone to the incumbent party of 50 years. Yesterday, however reinvigorated that dynamic. I think the SDP under Dr. Chee Soon Juan is ready.

As much as his policy proposals are flawed, the parliamentary process would benefit immensely from the robust vitality they would bring in. And this is an important development for our sterile legislative body. 

This is a high quality opposition (in terms of its voice and ideas), one that Singapore and any democracy should deserve.

Let’s give them five years to prove their mettle in the cauldron of the parliament building. 

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