*Note: This piece is similar to, but not the same as, my previous piece on Opposition Intellectual Disconnects*
As Alex Au has usefully highlighted, the SDP has made a serious mistake in forwarding a lame proposal that its candidate enter parliament while WP runs the Punggol East Town Council, if they win under a joint ticket. My mother, always the barometer of heartlander conservatism, has branded Chee Soon Juan “stupid” and anyone who joins SDP as “stupid”. The WP also has not helped themselves by staying silent to the media all this while, staying mum about what they intend to do at all. Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s Reform Party continues to want to have a foot in everything. Benjamin Pwee, formerly of the Singapore People’s Party, is blowing hot and cold.
In this post, I seek to attempt to explain why the opposition political parties cannot seem to get their house in order. If opposition political parties need to coordinate against a common enemy in PAP in order to maximise their chances of winning, then why the bloody hell do they not coordinate?
Some close observers of Singaporean politics will immediately point to the incompatibility amongst the leaders of the opposition political parties. No one wants to get involved with Chee Soon Juan with his previously bad reputation. Low Thia Khiang is seen as too conservative and too slow. Kenneth Jeyaretnam is a lone ranger with obscure notions of grandeur. Everyone just cannot get along with each other.
Yet, although this focus on personalities is useful, I argue that the political mindset of the varying political parties (and their associated supporters) is the key underlying factor of difference. By “political mindset”, I refer to the attitudes and approaches to the practice of the art of politics in Singapore.
“Political Mindset” is the key variable upon which WP and the rest diverge.
For WP, politics is eternally pragmatic and focused on the ground connection with the common people. It is about earning the trust of residents first, before one even talks about different policies that may impact the lives of people. To be sure, both may grow in tandem and one cannot do with one or the other. Yet if there is a need to prioritize what to focus on, you can be damn sure that WP is first interested in talking to the common folk to understand their needs and concerns from the ground up. This is very much the style of PAP.
For almost everyone else, politics is about discussing substantive issues and the much needed reform of public policies. The following examples bear this out:
(1) SDP has come out with quite a few alternative policy papers concerning housing and healthcare. They want to get into parliament to debate policies, but don’t want to get their hands dirty by running town councils.
(2) Alex Au wrote in his same article, and I quote, “Most voters are interested primarily in issues and solutions and are quite agnostic about which party delivers them. So long as they get them.”
(3) Kenneth Jeyaretnam talks ad nauseum about the minimum wage.
(4) Publichouse editor Andrew Loh wrote on his facebook, “I would like, very much, for once that our MPs are put on “live” TV or a “live” audience and be subjected to scrutiny on their personal positions on various issues – to get a measure of the candidate, his moral outlook, his philosophy on life, his leanings on various social issues such as human rights, the death penalty, free media, social safety nets, woman’s rights, etc. This focus on municipal matters makes our MPs one-dimensional, boring, uninspiring leaders.” and that “The parties should start talking about issues – and there is none better to talk about than housing. The govt just announced more cooling measures; SDP has a housing policy; WP is vague in its position on housing. Forget about avoiding multi-cornered fights or joint-campaigns. Talk substance. Talk issues.”
Who is “Correct”?
Who will ultimately turn out to be “correct” in that they will be able to win over the majority of Singaporeans with their assumed mindset? Someone told me: “if Singaporeans do not even trust you in the first place, why should they listen to your proposals?”
*Update: I’ve removed the entire section about the Hong Lim and Anson by-elections because I was told I’m completely wrong. Apparently my sources are faulty. Crap. This proves that I can never be a historian.*