INTERVIEW - Opposition chief tells Singaporeans: Don't be afraid

SINGAPORE Fri Mar 12, 2010 6:55pm IST

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - It is time for people in one-party ruled Singapore to have more say in politics and not be fearful of a change of government, a hedge fund manager turned opposition leader said on Friday.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam, whose late father and veteran opposition leader was bankrupted in defamation lawsuits by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), said his two-year-old Reform Party was encouraging people to come out and offer different views.

"Firstly, do not be afraid. You have a right to exercise, to have a say, in how your country is run," Jeyaretnam told Reuters in an interview at his apartment, filled with pictures of his father, in an upmarket neighbourhood of Singapore.

"Singapore is not going to collapse. Competition in politics is as necessary as it is in economics to ensure efficiency."

Jeyaretnam, 51, who graduated from Cambridge in 1983 with double-first class honours in economics and once ran a London-based hedge fund, said his party was aiming for the same audience as the PAP in the next election, due by February 2012.

The PAP, which has led Singapore for 50 years, has never lost more than four seats in any poll. Opposition parties are small and factional.

The Reform Party plans to field 10-15 candidates in the next poll, which would mean contesting fewer than 20 percent of the current seats.

The government has offered to nominate more opposition members to parliament, but few analysts expect real change.

Investors have been drawn to Singapore, a financial centre and manufacturing hub, for its stability.

The Reform Party was founded in July 2008 by Jeyaretnam's father, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam or JBJ, just before he died. Jeyaretnam said it is slowly gaining party members, though many prefer to be volunteers because they hold state jobs.

Choosing his words carefully, Jeyaretnam said he would focus his political campaign on offering alternative policies rather than attacking personalitities in the PAP or the government.

PRIVATISE THE WEALTH FUNDS

The Reform Party proposes the possible privatisation of Singapore's two multi-billion dollar state wealth funds -- Government of Singapore Investment Corp and Temasek -- to allow more transparency.

"Obviously if they were privatised and listed on the stock market then they will have to ensure higher standards of disclosure," said the former banker, whose background is more akin to the PAP's scholarly leaders.

"It is unusual that we have seen big losses during the financial crisis yet no heads appear to have rolled among senior management."

GIC's chairman is former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Temasek is headed by the current prime minister's wife Ho Ching.

Jeyaretnam would keep taxes low to make Singapore a top investment destination, but said a wider healthcare system was needed to deal with an ageing population.

"I don't think Singapore can avoid moving towards some form of universal health insurance," he said. "We've got to start treating health as an investment good rather than just a cost or a welfare drain on the economy."

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Alex Richardson)

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