In Singapore, the Opposition Parties Have to Unite

As you know, the by-elections will be held at the Punggol East constituency on 26 January 2013.

I’ve read many rumblings and different viewpoints about the opposition parties. So far this is what I’ve read.

For the Worker’s Party (WP), I’ve read how certain quarters feel that WP isn’t doing enough to speak up for Singaporeans. Some have started to wonder if WP is actually aligned to PAP somehow and have started to doubt WP. Yet, there are those who are comfortable in the stability that WP presents and believe that they will prove a credible opposition to PAP.

For SDP, there are people who continue to think that SDP hasn’t created an image that they feel is stable enough. Yet, there are those who also praise SDP for having put out policy papers and have also increased their influence significantly.

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At this point, you would also know that the interested parties to run for the by-elections are PAP, RP, SDA, SDP, WP (in alphabetical order) and at least two independent candidates. 7 candidates for a small constituency. This is not a circus. It’s not as lofty an ideal as to say, “I want to change Singapore, and so I want to run for elections.” No, it’s not. If we truly want to make an impact in the Singapore political scene, it’s about having a clear and sustainable strategy to tide us through the next 20, 30 or more years. Needless to say, I would say that only PAP, SDP and WP would have some semblance of a long term strategy – the difference of course is in how much each have the true interests of Singaporean at heart, and how tight each strategy would be.

For the sake of Singaporeans and the residents of Punggol East, I would urge RP, SDA and the other independent candidates not to run. The parties will not garner more than 3% or 4% of the votes while the independent candidates will garner less than 1% or 2% of the votes. There is no point running as it will serve only as a distraction to the real challengers, and it will be a waste of votes – it will dilute the votes. The question is whether it will dilute PAP votes, or whether it will dilute WP or SDP’s votes. If it dilute PAP’s votes, then perhaps it doesn’t matter as much to the democratic landscape of Singapore. But if it eats into WP or SDP’s votes, then these parties and independent candidates have to ask themselves – do they really have the interest of Singapore at heart or are they only trying to satisfy their own ego needs? None of them realistically stand a chance at all to even win the by-elections, so they should minimise the number of candidates to allow the residents of Punggol East to focus on. For RP and SDA, if they truly want to make a difference, they should retreat, restrategise and come out with a clear plan as to what they intend to do from now until 2016 – build their brand, prove themselves, then we can reassess their credibility at that stage.

I would like to discuss a bit more about WP and SDA, but before I go on, let me talk a bit about the political landscape of Singapore. The reason why I support an opposition party into government is this – we need balance. As of now, PAP controls all the major estates in Singapore – government, president, judiciary, military and media. Because of this, there is no balance in the government – it’s all PAP’s voices. Optimally, you want each of these institutions to be independent so that all of them provide some form of counter-balance to one another, and will each represent the different voices of Singapore. But this won’t happen unless the opposition can form the government and change the way the institutions are formed. So, in the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, we need to elect more opposition members into the government, so that at least within one estate – the government – we are at least able to try to create a balance – of differing views with more than one party. And this is why it is so important for another party to enter government. If PAP has Singapore’s interests at heart, it would not put up barriers to prevent the opposition from entering government. But when you are too full of power and you want to retain your power, you would do that.

Next, I will touch on the ongoings of WP and SDP. I would like to address the doubts laid upon WP. I do not know nor work with the people at WP – not for now, anyway. But this is what I think – Mr Low Thia Kiang is a seasoned politician, and a very smart one. He has seen for himself how PAP can erase you from the political scene, even with one mistake that you make, and we know that this is still happening – look at what PAP is doing to SDP’s Vincent. So Mr Low’s concerns are not unfounded and very much valid, and this is why he has said before that he doesn’t trust the mainstream media and doesn’t give many interviews, and at this point, many of us know he’s right to do so, because the mainstream media has become even more blatant with their biases these past few months. Thus the lesser Mr Low needs to handle the media, the lesser opportunities that PAP can find an opening to sue him, and he has done a successful job at that. Then when Ms Sylvia Lim joined, Ms Lim is, I would say, have played very well in her game as a lawyer. She knows how to word her statements so that she doesn’t allow WP or herself to have any loopholes that PAP can latch on and use against her. Thus with this backdrop, you need to understand why WP seems to be mellow. They need to – for protection, survival and sustainability. In a Singapore where many Singaporeans continue to want stability, a party which can stay free from being sued creates a sense of maturity and Singaporeans will learn to trust them. This can be shown in WP’s performance in the last elections, where they won 46% of the votes in the constituencies that they had contested.

I will now talk about WP and SDP’s interests in the by-elections. There are people who have spoken up for he both of them, but I want to discuss their possible strategies. You need to understand their strategies before making any judgment. WP wants to contest in Punggol East because they had contested in GE 2011, so they still think that they have a right to contest there, and I agree with that. Some commenters ask, why should we use GE 2011 as a gauge? Why not based on GE 2006? Then, my question is, why not GE 2001 or a general elections in the 1960s then? Simply put, at each general elections, the whole nation is thrown into the fray, so at this point, in the interest of forming a government at each general elections, the opposition parties should come together to clearly demarcate the constituencies they want to contest in, so that if the opposition wins more votes than PAP, they can come together to form a government. And if there are any by-elections, it would be logical to follow the demarcations set out, so that in the hypothetical situation that there are enough by-elections which occur and the opposition can form the government, then at least it makes sense that they have already continued with their agreement from GE 2011 and does not constantly make changes along the way. In the same logic, if a constituency that faces by-elections is one that was contested by SDP in GE 2011, would we say that another party should also contest or not? We need to set a benchmark somewhere, in as logical a manner as we can, to ensure some consistency in practice.

Now, SDP has thrown their hat into the ring as well. As I’ve said, I think that this is SDP’s strategy – SDP wants to use the increased media coverage to build up their branding and presence, so that they can put themselves into the spotlight and into Singaporeans’ mind again. SDP, I would say, is the most marketing and media savvy of all the political parties, so they would know how to use the media strategically. Their plan, I assume, would then be to let us know that they have discussed with WP later on and decide that for the interests of Singaporeans, they will pull out so that they are seen to be on the higher ground, as a party which does not contest simply because of pride. And at the end of it, this will increase their image to Singaporeans. Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out as they had planned – they had read WP wrongly. WP knows what SDP’s game plan is and they didn’t want to play into it. If WP did, it would increase the image of SDP, and it’s not in WP’s interest to do so – not when their image is increasing and not when they want to solidify this with GE 2011, and with this and the previous by-elections. And honestly, SDP knows what its chances of winning are. It needs more time to build up its image – by the next elections, they might actually have a chance at winning one or two, or more constituencies. But at this by-elections, realistically, they would only be able to win up to 45% of the votes at the most. So, why would they run for elections if they won’t win? So, I don’t think their interests is in running – it’s really to garner media traction before pulling out. And they had planned to announce their meeting with WP before nomination day so that they can then announce that they’ve stepped aside to let WP run.

Obviously, this didn’t go according to their plan. So, in order to do a save face, they decided to release their letters to WP. Bad move. This pulls down the image of both the parties at one go. Now, people would think that SDP is playing politics by releasing the letters and would think that WP isn’t as magnanimous to not meet SDP. SDP needs to be careful not to make moves which can put any one party in bad light. If I am SDP, I would go ahead an announce that I would step aside, even if a meeting with WP didn’t occur. Singaporeans will this respect their decision, even if that might not have given them the image boost that they wanted. But, with the new twist, the best thing to do is for the two parties to meet now, and to both show to the media and Singaporeans that they’ve made a decision and are working towards the good of Singapore and Singaporeans – this will be an excellent opportunity to then boost their image. To be clear, playing politics, unfortunately, is part and parcel of the elections, as we know it for now. And even though WP and SDP plays some form of politics, I do not think they are in anyway even bigger culprits than PAP, who plays politics on a massive level.

And when that happens, I think a straight fight between PAP and WP would be the best. WP has a very good chance of winning even 65% of the votes, and put one more representative convincingly into parliament. It is important that this happens because this will give the necessary psychological shift to show Singaporeans, on both sides of the fence, the reality of the unhappiness that Singaporeans face towards PAP. To be sure, if PAP loses, they will frame the loss as a loss of only a select local community, and doesn’t represent what the other Singaporeans think. But all of us should do well to know that it’s not true and that a tidal wave change in mindsets and thinking will sweep through Singaporeans if WP wins convincingly. We will feel liberated – this is what PAP fears and that’s why they want to look like the perfect gentleman – who welcome all candidates. But they are really fearful now, because they know they’ve not done enough to convince Singaporeans that they should still have a chance.

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Before I end off, I just want to say this to all the online commenters – at this point, we need to be very responsible and critically understanding of the strategies of the parties and what we say. What we say can have an impact in the minds of Singaporeans and the residents of Punggol East. Many of us are making divergent viewpoints. If all our collective interests is in ensuring that the opposition parties get voted into parliament, we need a coordinated and united voice, but we might not have enough time to plan for this upcoming by-elections. But we can plan for GE 2016. Also, if we want to make remarks against a political party, we need to also propose solutions or ideas as to what needs to be done, so that there is a constructive ending to our critique and discussions. If we leave our discussion just as a criticism, it becomes only a complaint without resolution, and we need to be more critical and responsible, to ensure that when readers read, they are able to have a logical reasoning as well.

For the political parties, I would also like to remind them that they serve Singaporeans as well. PAP might have forgotten that, but the other parties have not been embroiled in their power do deeply that they should forget this. Understandably, for WP and SDP, they want to build up their brand and image, and this means withholding some power in order to do so. But they would also need to be nimble enough to react when there are strategy incursions, such as when SDP asked for a meeting with WP. All parties would do well to remember that they are doing this and standing up for Singaporeans. We thank them for doing so, and we hope that they will be as honest and above-board as far as possible.

So, to round up, my stand is this – there are clear strategies that the major parties operate on, and we need to try to understand them so that we can critically appreciate their actions and make informed critiques of decisions on how we should support them.

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4 comments

  1. Anthony Sim

    For god sake, what are the independent candidates thinking? This is not X Factor or Singapore Idol. Best put their efforts in a more constructive manner such as supporting WP or SDP for the sack of all concerned Singaporeans. Everyone knows by now that there is a need to have credible opposition parties representing the people by instituting the balance in parliament, we craved for, for the longest time.

    WP and SDP have been around for as long as I have known. Their persistence and perseverance are proof of their commitment to take on PAP in the upcoming by-election and the next GE.

    Somehow, for this by-election, so as to not dilute the votes, strategically both parties must agree to an alliance and front the most credible candidate and work collective. Run a campaign to maximise the best odds to have another opposition in parliament.

    Residents of East Ponggol, please exercise your democratic rights and vote for another opposition representative into parliament. There is no wrong or right answer in this by election. By voting for the opposition is to give them a chance to proof their worth. You will never know until you have tried. And of course if they do not deliver, it just for one term. Which I personally doubt.

    Roy, you are so right to mention the balance of power in parliament. I hope the sentiment is the same with the majority. By the way, does anyone have the demographic of this constituency?

  2. Pearly Koh

    Hi Roy, I find this article of yours thought-provoking and well-researched, would you mind if I submit it to tremeritus.com to be featured? Your permission would be needed prior to approval for publicationon their site. Kindly advise. thank you.

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