by Andrew Loh
Strange how the mainstream media is flushed with letters from the public offering “advice” to Singapore’s political opposition parties lately. In particular, letters in the Straits Times (ST) part of Singapore’s media which a minister once described as “timely, accurate and balanced.”
So, lets begin and take a look at some of these letters published in the ST since the new and redrawn electoral boundaries were released on 24 February.
On 26 February, just two days after the gerrymandered redrawn boundaries were announced, Mr Paul Chan’s letter appeared in the ST. Mr Chan suggested the “opposition parties unite and form a single party to contest the People's Action Party (PAP).” His reasons? “Only then will the opposition convince voters that it can serve as an effective check against the Government in Parliament.”
Besides imploring the opposition parties to form a single entity, Mr Chan also has advice about the agenda which such an entity should adopt:
“The party's political agenda should be plain and clear: fight the ruling party in the general election. The message it sends for now must also be clear: it is not aiming to rule but to achieve critical mass in Parliament.”
Mr Chan’s letter was headlined: “Only a united opposition can succeed”.
Mr Kwan Jin Yao wrote in, on 2 March, to disagree with Mr Chan. Mr Kwan prefers that the opposition remain as they are, and the parties should not be subsumed under one bigger umbrella. He urges the opposition parties to contest all constituencies. He wrote:
“[Straight] fights against the PAP will ensure contests in all constituencies, and allow all eligible Singaporeans to have their say at the ballot box.” (See here.)
Back to 28 February. “Don’t oppose for the sake of opposition”, the headline to Mr Steven Thng’s letter declared. Ceremoniously, Mr Thng first applauded the new boundaries:
“The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee has been more than fair to the opposition.”
With that out of the way, Mr Thng turns his guns to the opposition. He says he is “perplexed” by the opposition parties’ accusations of gerrymandering by the People’s Action Party (PAP). And on that basis, he slams the opposition:
“Perhaps, the opposition parties are just living up to their names - opposing for the sake of opposition. Certainly, these are not the type of alternative parties that Singapore needs.”
Woah, eh? He goes on:
“As Singapore matures to a First World nation, we need the opposition parties to mature too. We want strong thinkers with alternative views, but those who are mature enough to agree when a policy is good for the nation even though it may not have come from their own party.”
Thankfully, Mr Lee Seck Kay brought some sensibility Mr Thng’s disguised diatribe against the opposition parties. In his letter published on the same day, Mr Lee says with regards to the redrawn boundaries:
“[It] is hard to imagine that any political party in power, let alone the People's Action Party (PAP), would go to such lengths without securing an advantage.”
And Mr Lee was not the only one who questioned the intention of the PAP Government in redrawing the boundaries in such a manner.
Mr Adam Reutens-Tan wrote:
“After so many elections, the authorities should have ironed out the system to ensure that electoral constituencies grow naturally. It looks as if, at every election, they are still fiddling around to see what works. If the Government truly desires more political interest among the youth of today, it must nurture a sense of belonging. That cannot happen when one lives either in a constituency that bears a name that is very different from where one lives, or in uncertainty over which constituency one's home will be in at the next elections.”
Mr Daniel koh Kah Soon wasn’t too impressed with the GRC system:
“[It] is still a matter of concern that the majority of Members of Parliament will come from the group representation constituencies (GRCs). A three-member GRC - even a two-member one - can still send at least one member of a minority race to Parliament. For fair play, and to ensure that no one hitches a ride to Parliament on the back of an established politician, it is time we reduced further the number of GRCs and their sizes.”
Mr Khoo Lih Han did not mince his words about what the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee’s hack job:
“We, as voters, should be told in detail why some GRCs have been shrunk or changed, and why some SMCs have been dropped or created. There should not merely be an announcement of changes in electoral boundaries with the authorities assuming that Singaporeans agree to these.”
Mr M Lukshumayeh disapproved the increased number of Single-member Constituencies (SMC):
“Singapore has had its GRCs for some time now. There can be no doubt that they have worked. It is, therefore, surprising that more SMCs have been carved out at the expense of GRCs. I would prefer the hurdle to remain raised for parties entering the political arena and contesting the elections.”
Seems the EBRC didn’t please too many people.
So what do you do?
Turn the spotlight on the opposition parties.
So, on 2 March, we saw three letters taking aim at the opposition parties – with screaming headlines to boot.
“Opposition should buck up” was the title to Mr Pavithran Vidyadharan’s letter:
“The opposition parties are fragmented.”
Alright. What else is new?
“If they are serious about getting into Parliament to provide a credible opposition to the PAP, they should settle their differences and form a single party.”
Mr Pavithran then dishes out advice on the kinds of people opposition parties should recruit – the insinuation being that such people aren’t in the opposition at the moment.
His pearls of wisdom:
“They should recruit well-educated, qualified, capable, determined and dedicated members, and come up with better programmes and manifestoes than the PAP.”
And he pleads for the opposition parties to “not oppose the PAP blindly or even seek to topple it.”
So, what’s the opposition’s role? “Their role is to ensure that the Government runs the country well and delivers on its promises.”
For Mr Lim Jit Chaing, he prefers a walk along Memory Lane. He misses the days when the opposition adopted the “by-election” strategy. “When the by-election strategy was hatched 20 years ago,” he writes, “it worked because the leaders of the opposition parties then were united.”
Insinuation? The present opposition parties are not united.
Nevermind, “the strategy is still relevant”, Mr Lim says but qualifies his comment. “However, with so many opposition parties and self-centred leaders, it is almost impossible now.”
“One minor disagreement among opposition candidates would result in one of them joining or forming another political party,” he claims. Nevermind that if this were so, perhaps we would have more than the number of parties we now have."
He goes on:
“The reality is that some opposition candidates can barely hope to keep their election deposits in a GE.”
And Mr Lim, as others did, offered this piece of advice on the type of candidates opposition parties should have:
“For instance, those who are older than 60 and have lost in two GEs should refrain from contesting.”
If Mr Lim’s advice were to be accepted, this would mean MM Lee Kuan Yew (88), SM Goh Chok Tong (70), SM S Jayakumar (72), DPM Wong Kan Seng (65), who are all “older than 60”, “should refrain from contesting” the upcoming elections. Ditto Eric Low and Sitoh Yihpin, both of whom have lost the last two General Election they contested.
One wonders if Mr Lim would agree. I for one agree wholeheartedly that the abovementioned support PM Lee’s call for renewal in the PAP and give up their seats to new PAP candidates.
The title to Mr Lim’s letter? “Disunity is obstructing an effective by-election strategy.”
To cap it off, but no means will these be the last letters slamming the opposition parties which the Straits Times will publish in the lead-up to Polling Day, we have Mr Jeffrey Law.
“While I welcome the opposition's desire to provide an alternative voice, its parties must field selfless and credible candidates.”
Yep, opposition members not only are not “selfless”, they are also not “credible” is the undertone here.
“Harping on trivial issues like gerrymandering will not help them win votes,” Mr Law says. Of course, the virtually wholesale hack job by the EBRC is a “trivial” matter to Mr Law.
And as others, he too has some advice for the alternative parties.
“Opposition parties must focus on quality, not quantity; they should not repeat the mistake of fielding unqualified and non-credible candidates who will reflect poorly on the opposition as a whole.”
Unqualified. Non-credible. Mistake. Poorly. Opposition. All in one sentence too! Impressive!
One wonders if Mr Jeffrey Law is the same Jeffrey Law, former grassroots leader in PM Lee Hsien Loong’s Ang Mo Kio GRC, quoted in this report by the Straits Times.
The local media, ranked 136 in 2010 for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, down from 133 in 2009, is a recognized and, I may add, unapologetic apologist for the PAP Government. In every election, the Straits Times and the local media as a whole, plays an influential and important part in helping the PAP return to power.
Readers of the paper, much-hated especially by online critics, should be discriminating when reading its content. I’m serious!
The letters published, so blatantly casting all sorts of aspersions and allegations against the PAP’s opponents, are by no means the last ones we will see.
Perhaps if the PAP win by an overwhelming majority in the upcoming elections, the party should raise the ST – and the local media – on a pedestal and, really, reward it handsomely with a national day award, which The Online Citizen have been urging the Government to do.