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Coalition of convenience will not make minor opposition parties electable

by Ajay

While I support the opposition cause, I am not impressed by this so-called coalition. Besides the Singapore Democratic Party, the other opposition parties in the coalition are minor parties that rarely show up between elections and consistently perform the worst. For this reason, I agree with Derek da Cunha’s view that mixing with this group will not do Dr Tan Cheng Bock any favours. Even if Dr Tan could get these parties to agree to the terms of the proposed coalition, can he persuade old and failed opposition ‘veterans’ to step aside in favour of more electable candidates? The opposition parties need to take a hard look at themselves.

Will People’s Power Party (PPP) chief Goh Meng Seng who has stood for elections under three different political parties and lost thrice be okay with doing backroom work instead of being the candidate? It would certainly be better than him travelling from Hong Kong, hoping to win elections in Singapore and failing time and again. Well, then how about Sebastian Teo from National Solidarity Party (NSP) who holds the reins of the party but has consistently lost 4 general elections in a row without ever garnering 40% of the votes cast? Will he finally step aside and allow the opposition to field a better team?

Next, let us consider the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and their leader Desmond Lim, who forfeited his deposit not once but twice. Will he agree to finally sit out a general election, accepting the reality that he will never become a MP? His social initiatives in Punggol like the Dedicated Locals’ Caring Community are kind but nobody will ever elect him a MP because of social service. Voters want certain statesman-like qualities and with all due respect to Mr Lim, good English is a must if you want to make a good impression.

Mr Lim was quoted in the media during GE2015, making this statement “I have been in politics for 23 years. I have spent my life serving people. No matter how bad my command of the language is, I don't deserve such a treatment." People don’t vote for their MPs based on the number of years they have been in politics or out of sympathy. Furthermore, politics is not like studying for a school examination. He can be a perennial candidate but he will still never win, no matter how many tries because politics is about the preferences and concerns of voters, not how hard he tries.

The Democratic Progressive Party, Reform Party and SingFirst are also unlikely to ever win because they lack credibility, having failed to even get 30% of the votes in their most recent electoral outing. In the case of the Reform Party (RP), the secretary-general himself has lost his deposit before and the party’s candidate in Radin Mas was barely able to secure his deposit.

Next, there is the new empty shell, People’s Voice party by Lim Tean. Yet another splinter party. Anyone with a few friends can register an opposition party, so why does Singapore need another party with hardly any grassroots volunteers and insufficient organizing experience? Mr Lim makes great videos on YouTube. Unfortunately for Mr Lim, an election cannot be won on YouTube. For all that was said about the power of social media at the last election, nothing materialized at the ballot box and instead the PAP secured a landslide victory. Mr Lim says that just because of events around the world such as the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s victory in Malaysia, President Trump’s victory in 2016, Bernie Sanders’ fame in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity in the UK, the tide of change will sweep Singapore. This is ridiculous. There is little data that shows the average Singaporean is attracted to socialism or has become eager to overthrow the government just because of regime change elsewhere in the world.

Malaysia and Singapore are not identical, so the comparison is moot. The Barisan National (BN) government that ruled Malaysia for decades was not as authoritarian as the PAP in Singapore. There are many elections in Malaysia. Political power diffuses from the federal government to state governments. Civil society activists are also free to advocate their causes and they can eventually win a state seat and become a federal MP someday after they are well established. There is no such diffusion of power in Singapore. Elections are a rare once in five years occurrence and the only place for civil society to be heard in Singapore is Hong Lim Park, while under strict regulations. Moreover, Singaporeans do not have a positive impression of civil society activists. Despite many protests at Hong Lim Park, Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui performed poorly at the last general election.

Finally, there is the SDP which has consistently failed to reach 40% of the votes in any general election since 1991. The SDP’s situation is sad because despite their consolidation of the anti-PAP vote, they have been unable to attract swing voters to vote for them, purely because of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s antics in the past. The PAP is able to effectively tie any SDP candidate to Dr Chee and that instantly ends the contest. This has recurred for the past election cycles.

Most recently, in the Bukit Batok by-election, Dr Chee was unable to attain 40% of the votes, despite the PAP’s missteps and his opponent’s racial disadvantage. When the topic of the election becomes Dr Chee, the election is lost by the opposition. The SDP has great candidates like Prof Paul Tambyah. It would be a waste to see such a good candidate shut out of parliament. Unless the SDP does a lot more ground work and succeeds in running a campaign where Dr Chee is less prominent, it would be really hard for the party to come close to winning.

If the failed opposition veterans believe that with Dr Tan Cheng Bock leading their coalition, they can finally win, then they are deluded. Lim Tean claimed that the coalition aims to form the next government. Anyone who lived through GE2015 and thinks Singaporeans want to overthrow the government is dreaming. In GE2015, there was a huge vote swing back to the PAP because voters feared that the opposition would win big. The average swing voter does not want a new government anytime soon. The coalition cannot expect to instantly go from having no seats to winning half the available seats. By repeatedly saying that the coalition wants to form the government, Mr Lim is playing right into the PAP’s hands. More Singaporeans will vote to keep the PAP in power if there are spooked by the possibility of a freak election, with an unprepared opposition coming to power. If it was so easy to go from being a YouTube personality to a minister in the short span of 5 years, everyone would be doing it too.

The Workers’ Party has done the right thing by staying away from this coalition. Unless the coalition proves itself to be stable and able to operate without the egos and baggage of failed opposition veterans, it is wiser for the opposition not to put all their eggs into one basket. If the minor opposition parties are serious about wanting to make a comeback, they should be knocking on doors, listening to residents, converting swing voters, and walking the ground in a chosen constituency every week until the next general election. Elections are not about hanging posters once every five years and expecting a miracle. Even Dr Tan Cheng Bock will not be able to get them elected if they put in no effort of their own.


Editor's note - Other than Workers' Party, Singapore People's Party did not turn up for the meeting organised by SDP.