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Keep electoral horse-trading a private affair

Ng E-Jay

It was announced on 24 March that the Prime Minister has accepted the recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee with regards to changes to the electoral boundaries for the next general election and the new configuration of GRCs and SMCs.

Since then, opposition parties have locked horns in vying for the constituencies they wish to contest. All parties have publicly agreed that 3 corner fights should be avoided and a consensus should be reached as soon as possible as to where each party will eventually contest. However, some constituencies remain unresolved.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC is one such constituency. Both the Worker’s Party (WP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) have staked their claims on this GRC, but till this date, there is no resolution in sight.

Moulmein-Kallang is a new GRC carved out by the Electoral Boundaries Committee. It comprises areas of the defunct Jalan Besar GRC which was contested by the NSP in the 2001 and 2006 elections under the SDA banner, as well as parts of Tanjong Pagar.

NSP has staked its claim on Moulmein-Kallang based on its track record of putting in work and cultivating the ground over the past two elections. On the other hand, WP has a vested interested in Moulmein-Kallang as well because of its proximity to Aljunied GRC where it intends to contest in this coming election. WP scored a handsome 43.9% of the valid vote in Aljunied in the previous election.

WP’s track record in the Jalan Besar area is also not to be sniffed at. It garnered a healthy 37.3% of the valid vote in Jalan Besar GRC in 1988 – a record never beaten by other opposition parties, including the SDP in 1997.

If WP contests in Moulmein-Kallang during this election, it will be a testimony to its continued expansion out of the North East area of Singapore where it traditionally has its stronghold. A contest at Moulmein-Kallang will give WP impetus for further expansion and renewal in the years ahead.

During the recent weeks of electoral horse-trading by the various opposition parties, Moulmein-Kallang has become a focal point of attention, due largely to public statements issued by NSP’s Secretary-General, Mr Goh Meng Seng.

While most parties have kept their talks strictly private, the tussle between WP and NSP for Moulmein-Kallang has riled Mr Goh to the extent that he felt it necessary to pen two blog posts on the matter, both of which have been picked up by the mainstream media.

In his blog article “Friendship and Politics” (08 Mar), Mr Goh said he felt “sentimentally drained”. He described in some detail his previous political work at WP and the friendships he formed in the process. After elaborating on his transition to NSP, he expressed regret at what he perceived to be a threat by WP to engage NSP in a 3 corner fight at Moulmein-Kallang, saying he felt “torn apart” by his friendship with WP and his present loyalty to NSP. He lamented what he described as WP’s decision to “go into such aggression”, saying that there was no reason for this as WP could contest in areas like Sembawang GRC, which is adjacent to Nee Soon – another area also eyed by WP. Mr Goh then ends his tirade by affirming that “arrogance and head-swell syndrome are bad traits for Singapore politics”.

However, that is hardly enough for the Sec-Gen of NSP. In another blog article “Singapore Cannot Lose” (12 Mar), Mr Goh denied allegations from some quarters that he had sought to “attack” WP in his previous blog posting, claiming that he had written it “as a normal person, not a politician”. This is despite the fact that his previous post had centered on his own political career at WP and NSP.

Mr Goh admitted that he understood that the expansion of both WP and NSP would inevitably lead both parties to vie for the same areas at some point in time, and that he hoped that both parties will reach an amiable settlement in the coming days. However, it remains unclear why there is a need to make all this sentiment public in the first place. Many people feel that some of Mr Goh’s personal feelings and sentiments should not have been so publicly expressed. I feel the same way as well.

Electoral horse-trading should be kept as private as possible because the mainstream media might drum up apparent disagreements or conflicts, which would reflect negatively on the opposition as a whole.

In times of intense negotiations, participants must take it upon themselves to observe certain decorum. All parties involved must be able retain faith and trust in one another even as they battle it out at the negotiating table. Once you unilaterally go public with certain facts, feelings or sentiments, you put that faith and trust at risk.

Mr Low Thia Khiang, Secretary-General of WP, has been politically astute through the negotiating process. He has steadfastly refused to speak to the media, even alternative media, about what has transpired. A recent TOC article quoted Mr Low that that “there have been communications” between the WP and the NSP, but he does not want to comment about it through the media.

Yaw Shin Leong (left)

There are hints that some WP members have also formed strong opinions about the matter. Mr Yaw Shin Leong, a CEC member of WP, penned a blog post entitled “Moulmein-Kallang, here we come”. In a more recent article “Heartland Conversations With Mr Mo” (15 Mar), Mr Yaw recounted that a resident had complained that the opposition seemed disunited, and Mr Yaw had replied that “given the multiple obstacles hampering oppositional unity, the least each serious opposition party can do is to establish itself, via means of intra-party capacity building”. It is perhaps not too far a stretch of the imagination to assume that the unresolved issue over Moulmein-Kallang was one of those “obstacles” alluded to by Mr Yaw.

Both WP and NSP have their own reasons for contesting Moulmein-Kallang GRC, and neither one of them has greater moral authority in this regard. This is one moment in time where one of the parties has to compromise and possibly make some sacrifices as well for the greater good. The party that does this on its own accord, without demanding anything in return, will be looked upon by the electorate as an enlightened party, worthy of their vote.