“Whichever place we contest, it will be minister-specific. Not at the personal level but at the policy, ministry level. It’ll be ministry-oriented,” says the National Solidarity Party (NSP). Revealing the party’s General Elections strategy to The Online Citizen, the NSP says that one weakness of the opposition parties in Singapore in battling the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in past elections was their lack of focus on specific ministries and their policies.
“This time round, [we’re] not really choosing Tampines per se,” says Mr Goh Meng Seng whom the party has appointed the team leader for the area for its contest in the next elections. “[We’re] choosing the minister of the ministry, instead.” The minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan, is one of the five Members of Parliament for the Tampines Group Representation Constituency (GRC). “This will be a change in focus in our election [campaign],” Mr Goh says. “We’re questioning the policies of the ministers and whether the voters want to have such policies under [their] charge.”
One of the main issues for the next elections which the NSP will be fighting on will be public housing and the costs of HDB flats. Thus, the party intends to question Mr Mah’s housing policies.
The party believes HDB prices will make a big difference to how the residents in the GRC vote. “Tampines is a semi-matured estate,” Mr Goh explains, “with young voters – in their 20s – who will be looking to get married and to buy a flat. The high housing prices will have an impact on this group of voters.”
The NSP’s president, Mr Sebastian Teo, explains why high flats prices do not benefit flat owners. “If they sell it and buy it again, [they’re] going to incur heavy financial costs.” Higher HDB prices is not going to benefit the 80 per cent of Singaporeans who do not own more than one flat or house, he says. It only benefits the 20 per cent who do. “Majority of Singaporeans should know that this is a problem for them, and not those who own more than one house. The 20 per cent will be happy. If I have two houses, I will be happy. [HDB prices] can go up to one million [dollars]. I sell my HDB [flat], I’ll still have my private house.” But for the rest, they cannot re-mortgage their flats to cash out the value.
The party feels that the government’s housing policy is defective and is fueling the current rising prices of HDB flats. The question of whether the government should intervene, therefore, to quell the current red-hot housing market is moot. “Rather than [ask whether the government should] intervene, I think the policy itself is flawed,” says Mr Goh. According to him, the structure of the public housing policy, including the way flats are valued and the pricing mechanism, actually makes prices rise. “So, the intervention of the government right now actually [is causing] this problem. They should re-examine the whole system.”
The group of party members was at the Tampines Street 11 wet market and hawker centre on Sunday morning to sell the party’s newspaper, North Star News. Sales was brisk as residents, who were out doing their marketing or having their breakfast, gave their support. “Brother, I see you again,” one resident said to the party’s secretary-general, Mr Ken Sunn, as he was making the rounds at the tables.
“The ground is ok,” says Mr Teo. He is heartened that residents are more willing to buy the party’s newspaper now. As a sign of encouragement, he cited the sentiments on the ground about high HDB flats’ prices. “PAP [retained power] because of HDB,” he explains, “and PAP [will go] down also because of HDB. This is what people in the markets say.”
The NSP, which was founded in 1987, has contested Tampines GRC five times but has never won. Its only presence in Parliament since the party’s creation has been the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seat which was given to Mr Steve Chia in 2001. However, this has not deterred the party, which intends to contest three GRCs – Tampines, Jurong, Jalan Besar – and three Single-Member Constituencies – Yio Chu Kang, MacPherson, Nee Soon Central – come the next elections. Party members have been working these areas since the last GE, says Mr Sunn, with their weekly door-to-door visits and visits to the markets and hawker centres.
The next elections will see 12 NCMP seats created, up from the current provision for 9. How will this affect the NSP? “We will proceed as normal,” says Mr Teo. “It’s only 3 seats more. We’ll go back to the constituencies which we contested before and we’ll see how the situation develops.”
For Mr Goh, he is not interested in contesting any SMCs. Instead his focus is on “break[ing] the fortress of the GRC”. “Only then can you effect change, within the rules,” he explains. “[This is because] the PAP always reacts to changes. The only change we can make is when the fortress fall, they will think of something else.” So, is his Tampines team ready for the elections? “My team is already formed,” he says “but I’m not going to reveal it.” He gives two reasons for his reluctance to reveal more about his team – when the elections will be called and whether Tampines will remain a 5-member GRC or become a 4-member one. PM Lee, in announcing the changes to the political system recently, had said that the sizes of the GRCs will be reduced. Because of these two uncertainties, the NSP does not want to raise the public’s expectations, Mr Goh explains.
As the party gears up for the elections, it is working on its manifesto which, Mr Sunn feels, needs to be updated. The party is also in the process of setting up its Youth Wing and recently recruited some new members, including former Workers’ Party candidates in the 2006 elections, Ms Lee Wai Leng and Mr Abdul Salim.
The Online Citizen asked the NSP’s sec-gen, who is one of the founding members of the NSP, what he thought of Prime Minister Lee’s performance in the last three years since the 2006 elections. “I think his performance is credible. I find that he has mellowed considerably since taking over [as Prime Minister],” Mr Sunn says. “He is facing the reality [and is] having a difficult time. We sympathise with him. However, the issue of cronyism still comes up once in a while and that is something that [the PAP] has to dispel. We foresee that he will continue to lead the party for one more election, health permitting.
“We don’t see much change in the PAP make-up. However, we do definitely see change in the opposition’s presence in Parliament because now we’re better-organised, better focused and more dedicated.”