~by: Ravi Philemon~

Should Hougang be reserved exclusively for Workers' Party (WP) to contest People's Action Party (PAP)? Are any other political parties intent to contest in Hougang anathema?

This view is expressed very strongly in the blogosphere, especially in response to Tan Jee Say and National Solidarity Party's stand that they will not unequivocally state that they will not contest the pending Hougang by-election.

This opinion seem to stem from the fear that only WP will be able to deny the PAP another seat in Parliament in Hougang, and that a multi-cornered electoral battle will only favour the men in white.

The fear also rises out of the recent four-cornered Presidential Election where some quarters have concluded that Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say throwing their hats into the electoral contest, robbed Tan Cheng Bock of his victory.

But what these have forgotten is, if Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian had not availed themselves, then the voters would have had to choose from two former PAP MPs and Central Executive Committee members.

Even PM Lee chose to remind the voters that both were in the same team in his post-election congratulatory message (see HERE).

Although I disagree with the view that WP should not contest in Hougang because WP's selection process of election candidate is not rigorous enough (no matter how rigorous the selection process is, cases like Yaw's do happen), I agree that the political players must not be vilified or discouraged for wanting to give the people of Hougang a choice – which is what democracy is all about.

And choice is what the two other Tan's, not from PAP, gave the people of Singapore – and for that they must not only be appreciated, but be also respected.

Quite a few would have spoken up against the bogeyman of 'freak election' unleashed by the PAP during election times. We cannot then, when it suits our convenience, use the same argument of 'freak election' (i.e. PAP will win if another party besides WP stands in Hougang) to discourage other parties to contest the impending by-election.

Another excuse as to why the other opposition political players should not contest in Hougang, emanate from the rationale that because the others have not 'walked the ground' they should not contest in that ward, if they do, then they are just being opportunistic.

This is a disingenuous argument. How can the other opposition parties 'walk the ground' when it is held by a opposition party; and especially when it is so close to the last General Election, when nobody expected  something like this to happen?

The PAP actually uses this same argument at every election, to say why the opposition should not be voted in, when the PAP itself is guilty of parachuting in candidates who have not 'walked the ground', using mere Party branding.

And also how can the opposition 'walk the ground' when the boundaries keep shifting, when they all hold full-time jobs, and without the help of government funded grassroots organisation (read People's Association)?

In fact, if other political players stay away from Hougang, it is probably not because they support WP's continued presence in Hougang, but because of pragmatism…they don't want to lose their deposit, they don't want to irk the voters who'll think that they are opportunistic, they don't have the resources, etc.  Because it is almost certain that any other Party (besides the PAP) that challenges WP in Hougang will lose its deposit.

If Desmond Lim's lose in Pungol East single member constituency in the last General Election (see HERE), is an indicator, those that fear that WP will not retain its seat in Hougang if another Party contests there, need not fear so. That the men in white won that electoral battle is besides the point (anyone fielded in that ward besides PAP would not have won). It will be the reverse in Hougang.

The real question is, by what margin is WP going to win in Hougang?

Some political players have of course used their inability to contest the impending Hougang by-election to their advantage.

Whether we want it or not, multi-cornered electoral battles will become a reality in the foreseeable future. I can certainly foresee WP going into areas like Marine Parade and Tampines in the next GE, and it is only right for them to do so, because they need to grow as a political party. Should WP be vilified if they choose to challenge NSP in the 'turfs' NSP has claimed as their own?

Just as WP cannot be faulted for wanting to expand into other wards, other opposition players too should not be assailed for wanting to do the same; because they too need to grow as a party and the parties will not grow unless they take part in elections. Furthermore, these parties are only doing what they have promised they would do – contest elections to give the people of Singapore a choice.

Vilifying something that is not villainous is a great disservice.  

When that happens, there is a chance that some voters will lose their confidence and trust in them resulting in their elect-ability being affected – which is more to the advantage of the men in white in the long run.

If it's a straight fight we want, then we're only going to get that when we have something like Malaysia's Pakatan Rakyat here. And the likelihood of that happening in Singapore, is very slim.

That being the case, with WP being the dominant opposition party right now, the other parties will always have to play second fiddle to WP, unless they challenge not just the PAP, but also WP (especially if WP refuses to cooperate with them). If that does not happen WP will take all the 'sweet ground' and the others will be left with the 'hard' ones; the result of that being, only WP members being more likely to be in Parliament.

Which means that WP will challenge the other political parties on their 'turfs' and the other political parties will challenge WP (and perhaps even another) on the 'theirs'.

Can we vilify Singapore People's Party if it wants to contest Ang Mo Kio GRC because it is next to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC (and so makes sense), when Reform party has contested there in the last election and has claimed it as their 'turf'?

Because we don't have a coalition today, it is fair for opposition parties to pit themselves against each other for their own survivability. So, multi-cornered fights will be unavoidable as we go into the future. It will be the survival of the fittest – the rest will fall by the sidelines.

The other political parties do not have to ensure WP's survival.

Hougang is as fair as it gets in any election because the Hougang boundaries have barely changed over the years, and has been a WP stronghold for that many years. If another opposition political player contests Hougang (I highly doubt if any will), I predict that they will get no more than 8 per cent of the votes cast. Which will be a good learning curve for WP, for they'll know that those that voted against them, but not for PAP, want WP to run a tighter ship.

But Hougang is certainly not WP's own little fiefdom, that every other opposition party has to stay away from. 

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