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Open letter to Dr Tan Cheng Bock: Forget uniting the opposition, instead seek to coalesce and unite the people’s anger, frustrations, cries and disbeliefs

by Law Kim Hwee

Dear Dr Tan, it has been four months since the 28 July, SDP-initiated discussion to form a new opposition coalition. But there appears to be no progress since. If our past is prologue, the formation of any alliance is dead in the water. The 2001 Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) made no meaningful headway with only Mr Chiam See Tong retaining his pre-SDA Potong Pasir seat while SDA’s chairman Desmond Lim set the “record for the lowest percentage garnered in an election since Singapore’s independence” or 168 votes (0.57%)

While there’s already a very well-written analysis of why the “coalition of convenience will not make minor opposition parties electable”, I would also like to add my observations.

Everyone wants to be secretary-general

Not necessarily in the better interest of Singaporeans or the opposition cause. It’s mostly just to have a front seat at the table. My GE2015 experiene suggested to me that most opposition parties have less than 100 members each and even lesser than 20 who are active.

Consider; and one must wonder why, after being graciously accepted in April 2011 to contest under SDP in GE 2011 in May, some candidates would then decide to quit Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) to form another new political party. Or, what is one to make of another secretary-general-wannabe pledging “total commitment to the coalition” when there was no evidence of he ever seeking to work within existing, alternative parties? Instead he hastily formed another party after resigning from one.

Fence-sitting voters, prepared to give the opposition a chance, are not that dumb not to see through the charade.

Self over Cause?

Some had fought the opposition cause for many elections. Now, they appear to think that voters owe it to them to elect them into parliament – all because they had fought this long and paid a high personal price doing it. Persistence is neither reason nor justification to insist on taking leadership positions when the electorate has apparently made clear through the ballot box as many times that they just had not measured up to expectations - or came with too many historical baggage.

This is especially true if one cannot even secure 40% votes in a by-election. Yes, a by-election where voters are already “assured” of a PAP government and are more inclined to vote in an opposition MP! Isn’t it painfully clear why Bt Batok voters were so reluctant to tip that opposition candidate over into parliament when the understandable concern of a voting a non-PAP government was non-extant?

Opposition Party? What Party?

With the exception of Workers’ Party and SDP, many of the other opposition parties’ candidate-support structures were a joke compared to what they were up against i.e. the well-oiled, well-funded PAP monster election machinery. Many so-called opposition parties come with a sec-gen and just a handful of members (active? non-active?) that you can count on one, maybe two hands.

Therefore, in light of all the above realities, Dr Tan, you won’t be losing very much, if at all, not to head any coalition. You are wise to have withheld acceptance to lead a non-starter of a coalition.

Now, what?

Unless the Workers Party is prepared to carve a role for you in the coalition or their party (very unlikely), you are much better off on your own, with a clean slate. Trying to insert yourself into the mishmash of opposition parties means finding the lowest common denominator amongst all the sec-gens – a hopeless proposition against the PAP’s overwhelmingly successful 12 x GE juggernaut. why not capitalize on the strength of your own name and reputation amongst voters? Choose a path forward - and if anyone wishes to ride with you, well, you and not those sec-gens decide the goal, direction and terms of the ride.

The urgency and the goal is to create a focal point for the groundswell of voters questioning the competence of PAP’s current slate of leaders and the PAP’s old, albeit past successful policies (housing as assets, inadequacies of CPF for health and retirement, cost of living etc) which are now showing up but which the PAP continue to fudge and fortify, never admitting to being mistaken or wrong. Time is critical to draw in more voters on the peripheral into that groundswell.

Forget uniting the opposition. Instead, Dr Tan, please seek to coalesce and unite the people’s anger, frustrations, cries and disbeliefs - Surely, the other opposition parties will fall in place - if they want to stay relevant to and true to the cause of building a stronger, more inclusive Singapore!

A broader common goal for all non-PAP forces is to deny the PAP their 2/3 pariliamentary majority. While the next GE objective is for you to win a GRC, if not two. If you are able to do that - and surely it can be done! - then with 3 to 10 MPs under you and together with WP and others, Singaporeans will see that the PAP can no longer run this place like it belongs to their party - or their father – like changing the Constitution to put their preferred Indian-Malay or Malay-Indian? candidate as President.

From gaining 1/3 of parliamentary seats, the momentum towards change will then be more doable. And, perhaps, an opposition alliance in the GE after the next will be a viable option, not a pipe dream. We owe it to Singaporeans to do that.

We must keep our goal, objective and message clear for voters. That includes putting to sleep the idea of forming the next government for some years to come.

My 2cents’ worth of appeal and ideas can surely be refined and reinforced. But I sincerely hope you will give it your careful considerations.

Mr Law is a former candidate of Singapore People's Party in the GE2015 and blogs at 2econdsight.wordpress.com