The following is Ravi Philemon’s original letter to ST Forum.
I refer to Mr Lim Jit Chaing’s article ‘Disunity is obstructing an effective by-election strategy’. Even in the 1991 General Election (GE), the so-called ‘opposition unity’ was suspect, because in Jurong Single Member Constituency (SMC), there was a 3-cornered fight between the incumbent PAP candidate, Mr John Gan Eng Guan who stood as a Workers’ Party candidate and Mr Mohamed bin Awang who was PKMS’s candidate. Mr Mohamed bin Awang lost his election deposit in that contest. So to attribute the success for the opposition in the 1991 GE to the ‘by-election strategy’ is not totally accurate.
Six political parties contested the 1991 GE, which is not too far away from the seven political parties which are expected to contest the coming GE, so it is inaccurate to say that there are many more opposition parties today. The leaders of the opposition parties too cannot be considered self-centred just because they disagree with the writer of that letter that the by-election strategy (if there truly was one) will work this time around as it did in 1991.
In my opinion, the by-election strategy is a self-serving strategy because even if that was the reason for more opposition members to have been elected in the 1991 GE, it also deprived the voters from having a say in who they would have to represent themselves in parliament.
In the past GEs of 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2006 (with the exception of Mr Tan Lead Shake), all the opposition candidates who have lost their election deposits did so, when they went for three or four cornered fights.
Even the team that went up against the Prime Minister in the last GE (who the Prime Minister himself labeled the ‘suicide squad’ and said that even the bookies would not take bets on the outcome of that contest), did very well to garner about 40 per cent of the votes in that contest, because there were no three or more cornered fights in that constituency that time round.
The reasons for Tan Lead Shake losing his election deposit were something more complex. Mr Tan Cheng Bock the PAP candidate who he contested in Ayer Rajah SMC was very popular with the residents there and had been returned to parliament with very high vote margin in most of the elections he had contested. And there was a opinion swing of the voters against Mr Tan Lead Shake because he was always depicted as the ‘Slipper Man’ by the mainstream media for having appeared in the 1997 nomination day with his slippers.
In his letter Mr Lim indicated that the opposition should choose their candidates carefully and by carefully he meant candidates over 60 and candidates who have lost two elections should not be fielded. By that standard of ‘carefulness’ some of the PAP’s candidates including Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin will not qualify to be fielded as candidates in this coming GE. The term ‘effective candidates’ that Mr Lim uses to describe the type of opposition candidates he would like in a GE is also suspect, because how can you measure what is effective and what is not unless they have been given a chance in parliament? To ask that all the candidates be like Sylvia Lim is also unreasonable as there can but be only one Sylvia Lim.