PAP forgets its own track record as an opposition party

Bhavan Jaipragas/

In the past weeks, PAP ministers have repeatedly questioned the Workers’ Party’s vision of a First World Parliament. The main rhetoric used by the PAP has been that the Workers’ Party is using the slogan as a ruse to make headway in the legislature, and eventually form the government.

In the eyes of the current PAP, it is improbable for the opposition to solely want to act as a check against the government. PAP ministers have derided the idea of a ‘co-driver’ – where the opposition acts as a watchdog that supports and advises the government, without jeopardizing the future of the country. Two weeks ago, Law Minister K Shanmugam spelt out the party’s stance on the issue: “No opposition gets into Parliament in order to remain forever in opposition. Their primary purpose will then be to try and get into government; and might as well be honest about that”. In a election rally last Friday, the Prime Minister also labeled the idea of a ‘co-driver’ dangerous, and instead implored Singaporeans to put their faith behind the ‘best driver’, the PAP.

It is a line of argument that is most intriguing. Hadn’t the PAP been in opposition, not once but twice? What were their motives when they sat on the opposition benches in the legislative assembly from 1955 to 1959, and from 1964 to 1965 in the Dewan Rakyat? How did they justify their being in opposition back then? Did they also set out to ‘crash the car’, as they claim the Workers’ Party will do if they are voted in this Saturday?

The answer is a definite no. Speaking at the opening of the second Malaysian Parliament on 21 May 1964, then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew professed the PAP’s position as a ‘loyal opposition’ that “had a vested interest to see that (the Tunku) succeeds in creating a healthier economy and more honest effective administration”. Lee also mentioned that unlike the opposition in western-style democracies, the PAP would not criticize the government for the sake of scoring political points.

According to Lee, the opposition could play a pivotal role in aiding the Government’s administration of the Malaysian Federation. Lee also added that the PAP would not rejoice if its own clout heightened while the nation floundered. He questioned: “For what could be worse than that the prospect of sharing responsibility for the running of a Government when both the economy and the administration have sagged?”

For all his present-day misgivings about ‘western style parliamentary democracy’, the Lee of 1964 seemed to have a firm belief in the effectiveness of a government that was checked by a robust opposition in parliament. In the same speech, Lee lamented that one of the reasons why democracy failed in nascent post-colonial states was because governments lacked the equanimity to think about passing power to the opposition.

Where then has this austere defender of democracy gone? One would not be too out of step to wonder if the PAP and its founder – extremely boastful of their ‘track record’ in the past few days – have forgotten their own history. The PAP brethren’s irreverence to the idea of a potent opposition in parliament runs in direct contrast to the stance of their Minister Mentor in 1964.

Despite the Workers’ Party’s countless expositions of their ‘First World Parliament’ slogan at rallies and press conferences in the past week, several PAP candidates continue to claim to be unable to comprehend the concept behind it. What good would a multi-party parliament do, they ask. It would perhaps bode well for the Workers’ Party to simply ask the PAP to look back at their own history for the answer. Nevermind all the driver analogies that are getting more complicated by the day; Lee had laid it all out quite simply nearly five decades ago.


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