Andrew Loh / Opinion
First, let me say that this article is not any in-depth analysis. It is just my personal views on what may happen – and what I hope will happen – in 2009 as far as the political parties are concerned.
As with many Singaporeans, the one most important thing I hope to see is the opposition parties coming together. This has always been difficult to do because of the differences in philosophy, personalities and the inner-workings of each party. However, with Singapore going into a rather serious recession, the time for unity among the political opposition has come.
This is a good time to be united and present Singaporeans with a concerted front to exploit any failings of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). And as have been demonstrated in 2008, there were many. Singapore faces not just a threat from the external economic downturn but also the PAP’s hubris and arrogance – also demonstrated in 2008.
But will the opposition parties be able to come together?
I have always been skeptical – even cynical – that the parties could or would come together. The only sign I have seen in recent times was the leaders of the various opposition parties on stage at the inauguration dinner of the Reform Party. Undoubtedly, it was the late Mr JB Jeyaretnam who alone could have managed that. Since that dinner in July last year (2008), there have not been any further development or demonstration of opposition unity.
However, I was pleasantly surprised (and my hopes are thus raised a little) when several well-known personalities from the opposition camp or who are sympathetic to the opposition cause participated at the Singapore Democratic Party’s countdown event at Hong Lim Park on Wednesday. Sebastian Teo and Steve Chia, both from the National Solidarity Party, made speeches. Both criticized the ruling party and hoped for opposition unity. Then there were Tan Kin Lian and Kenneth Jeyaretnam. They spoke on the need for a better Singapore with the involvement of ordinary Singaporeans.
Earlier last year, the SDP held a forum on Election Reform and invited leaders from all the opposition parties. In the end, only Mr Jeyaretnam participated as a panelist. Thus, to see four well-known personalities take to the stage at Hong Lim in another SDP event was heartening.
The call for unity was echoed by the other speakers as well – Ng E Jay, Ho Choon Hiong and Jufrie Mahmood.
Even as this raises hope that the opposition will come together and work closely, I am mindful that the differences among the parties – especially between the Workers’ Party and the SDP – will not be easily overcome. But there is space and opportunities to do so nonetheless.
I would suggest that unofficial contact and communication channels be opened to facilitate this. An instance of this was at the screening of some political films last year at the Post Museum where WP members attended, along with SDP members. The evening was cordial, although one could sense an uneasiness initially.
I hope that more of such meetings and gatherings can be organized.
As for the PAP, I do not think anything much will change. It is in a comfortable position, although the economic landscape presents some challenges to it as a government. Further, in a recession period, the focus of the PAP will not be on opening political space. In fact, it could be the opposite. The PAP would want to keep a tighter rein on things during this time.
At the end of the day, it is not so much what the PAP does, at least for now, that will determine whether the opposition parties make any headway as far as Singaporeans seeing them as important and relevant is concerned.
What needs to happen is for each opposition party to cast aside their suspicions of each other and see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is this: Singaporeans are facing one of the worst recessions in decades. Couple this with the competition for jobs with foreigners and record inflation, Singaporeans need someone besides the PAP to lead – and to speak for them and do so effectively.
The SDP has tried to do so, to be fair to them. In 2008, the SDP has been the most active among all the opposition parties.
The Workers’ Party, although being the biggest opposition party (in terms of members) and having received the biggest support during the General Elections in 2006, has been an utter disappointment. It really needs to get its engines firing again.
So, for 2009, my wish and hope is that more people like Tan Kin Lian, Kenneth Jeyaretnam and his brother Philip, will step forward and give Singaporeans a genuine alternative. I also hope and wish that the opposition, as a whole, will be able to start putting in place channels which will allow them to work together.
We should also not forget that ordinary Singaporeans have a part to play as well. We should continue to speak up on issues which we are concerned and passionate about. Better still, lend our skills to the various political parties – including the PAP.
For, at the end of the day, power rests with the ordinary people.
And power is also given away by the ordinary people.
In 2009, lets hope that power will not continue to seep away from us Singaporeans – either througha dis-united opposition or an apathetic society.