In 2011, the Workers’ Party spectacularly captured a Group Representation Constituency, ousting a People’s Action Party team helmed by two ministers and a senior minister of state. But four years later, it only won by a whisker against the weakest GRC team ever fielded by the PAP.
Currently, the WP also has a court case hanging over its head like the Sword of Damocles.
Not that long ago, the WP was thought of as a party that could give the PAP a run for its money. But alas, it has not happened. It is not far off the mark to say that the WP has in fact been taking one step forward and one step back, sometimes even two steps back.
So what we are to make of the latest pronouncements by WP leader Pritam Singh, in response to criticism of his tacit support of the report by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, mud-slingling historian Thum Ping Tjin. Pritam is of course among the 10 members of the select committee.
Pritam says that Singaporeans are “very discerning in the type of opposition they seek.” He adds: “In my view, it is not wise to pursue any approach that does not establish firmer foundations for a permanent and institutionalised opposition in Singapore.”
Is he right or misguided on both counts?
It is true that Singaporeans do not want an opposition that shoots from the hip. But neither do Singaporeans want an opposition that only comes out guns blazing every four years.
Has the WP become too static as a party? It would seem that it is resolutely sticking to its stance of working the ground. It has not actively engaged Singaporeans and the ruling party on so many national issues.
In what way has the WP evolved? A political party which simply prides itself on being moderate, which fails to push or even test boundaries, cannot hope to take significant strides forward.
It is hard to see how Pritam can make out a case for how his party has helped to establish “firmer foundations for a permanent and institutionalised opposition in Singapore.”
The fact that the WP almost lost Aljunied GRC to a feeble PAP team in 2015 speaks volumes.
It must be acknowledged that the town council saga probably had something to with it. To be fair to the WP, it was derailed by the ruling party, which, in a one-party system, has the ways and means to make life difficult for the opposition. But some of the wounds were also self-inflicted by the WP. And the town council woes and impending court case could yet put the WP to the sword.
Meanwhile, Pritam and his WP colleagues would do well to evaluate whether they have sufficiently evolved to provide the kind of opposition Singaporeans seek. Are they still correctly feeling the pulse of the people?
By playing it safe and being risk averse, the WP has ironically ended up back pedalling. It has everything to lose by keeping to the same strategy. And Singaporeans would be even bigger losers when their bastion of hope gets vanquished.