There are many ways to look at this episode – where SDP had said that they would contest but decided not to.
1) For me, we need to understand that the political parties need to adopt different strategies to gain impression and awareness among Singaporeans. Just for SDP, why did they adopt this strategy – of saying that they will run but then decide not to? SDP has a reputation for being bold, and they are not afraid to make use of it. And there is a growing group of Singaporeans who want this – they want SDP to be strong, to be bold and to dare to make a voice. SDP knows this and they will use it to their advantage. Why not? The political scene in Singapore does not need another WP or NSP. Now to be clear, WP and NSP both appeal to different groups of Singaporeans – Singaporeans who would prefer relative stability. And this group of Singaporeans isn’t what SDP attracts, and they know they won’t attract this group of people, so why water it down? Understand your influence, and use it to maximum advantage. It’s a smart move.
2) Now, this is a guess but I do think at SDP had hope to take advantage of the media fracas that will develop round the by-elections to boost themselves in the public mind. And whether this was a strategy or not, they succeeded. There were many discussions about SDP’s strategy. People were discussing about the policies that SDP had to offer and hope that they would withdraw. SDP killed two birds with one stone with this – now more Singaporeans know about SDP, and more importantly, about their policies, which some have commented are well worth looking at. Not only that, by “listening to the people”, they’ve shown that they are willing to be open and respectful, and this will only do more for their reputation than not. Their timing is also well-timed, because right before Nomination Day, they pull up – at the first peak of media attention. This allows them to capture the media attention at the first peak, and then let WP take over the attention from Nomination Day. Very surely, WP and SDP were the only parties to be reckoned with, other than PAP. The media attention was well-shared and distributed. From now on, it will be WP all the way. The other parties or candidates won’t garner as much traction. From a publicity point of view, it’s well-played.
3) Now, there are a group of Singaporeans who might be uncomfortable or perhaps, even upset, that SDP went through with the turn of events and chose not to run. For various reasons, they feel the decision has been favorable assessed by then. You see, there are a group of Singaporeans who have decided to pin their hoped in SDP as the opposition party to create change in Singapore – as explained, it’s a group of Singaporeans who are relatively bold. Within this ‘bolder’ Singaporeans is a subset which would prefer stability but yet align themselves with the ideals of SDP – is this the group of Singaporeans who are upset with this episode – because they weren’t prepared for this? Or could they have hope that SDP would have played the game in a more stable way? Well, SDP could, but as explained, they wouldn’t be SDP, would they? For this group of Singaporeans, is it about how SDP should pander to our needs or is it about how we need to also align ourselves with SDP? Well, it’s both. But thing is, as of now, everyone is trying to read everyone. SDP is, at the same time, trying to develop a model and brand that will be most aligned to their supporters, and vice versa. At this point, they believe that their actions are more representative. So, we should continue working together to remodel this identity, or stabilize it. For Singaporeans who had felt upset, it would be an opportunity for us to think for ourselves – why was it upset? Was it because SDP didn’t fulfill what OUR BELIEFS were or was it because they shouldn’t, as a matter of principle? On both counts, we need to then understand what is it we truly believe about SDP, can we respond to them in a modified way, and are we able to look beyond and put trust in them?
We cannot look at this issue as a once-off issue. You need to appreciate SDP, and in fact, the other parties from a broad holistic point of view. What else have they done, or not? Have we actually gone down to their open houses to understand what they are doing? Have we been reading all their speeches to gain a direct and intellectual understanding of what they are doing and what they believe in? We cannot rely on what others say about them, nor can we rely on our own emotions, or what satisfies our own beliefs. We need to have a broad appreciation of the parties and the ongoings on a long term basis, and evaluate them from a larger and informed perspective. As we mature into a more sophisticated Singaporean who are better able to appreciate political issues in Singapore, this is what we need to do, for ourselves and for the country.