Why an SDP supporter is rooting for WP in this by-election
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Written by Ng E-Jay
22 January 2013
I am a supporter of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). However in this by-election, I am rooting for the Worker’s Party (WP), and calling upon all opposition supporters and swing voters in Punggol East to vote for Ms Lee Li Lian and send her into Parliament on 26 January.
Why am I showing support for the WP, when I have criticized this party strongly in the past? No, I am not backtracking on my criticisms as I believe they are still valid. The WP needs to improve on its Parliamentary performance. It also needs to shed its image as a reticent party that is, at best, not posing a serious challenge to flawed PAP’s policies, and at worst, not much different in substance from the PAP.
In my opinion, as a political party, the WP has taken its moderate, non-confrontational image too far. The reason why it has chosen to project itself in this manner is two-fold:
- Firstly, the current core of WP leaders are by nature moderate and non-confrontational. Mr Low Thia Khiang himself witnessed how harshly the PAP has dealt with vociferous and credible opposition like Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam or Dr Chee Soon Juan, and so seeks to stay clear from behaviour that can be construed as politically aggressive.
- Secondly, WP believes that this soft-touch image goes down best with middle ground and swing voters who prefer stability and don’t want political parties to rock the boat too wildly despite their potential unhappiness over certain PAP policies. They think this is the best way to win votes.
The WP knows that opposition supporters (like myself) who dislike its soft stance will still most likely vote for it in a straight fight against the PAP. Hence, the WP does not need to take the unnecessary risk of appealing to the left-leaning liberals and uber-liberals, and jeopardize its painstakingly cultivated middle ground support in the process.
In my opinion, breaking the overwhelming dominance of the PAP in Parliament is the top-most priority. As long as the opposition is only confined to a few seats and 60% of the electorate keep putting crosses next to the lightning symbol, the PAP will feel no real need to change their policies aggressively and address the hurt that people in Singapore are currently feeling. They would have no incentive.
Opposition parties can utilize all the various communication channels including alternative media to criticize the PAP, but as long as PAP’s Parliamentary dominance continues, the status quo will remain. The PAP will perform at most minor tweaks here and there to appease the voters temporarily and devise all kinds of propaganda to obfuscate the issues and distract voters. They will be no real, concrete changes made to alleviate the people’s suffering and create a more solid and sustainable foundation for Singapore’s future.
Does WP have all the answers? It most certainly does not. The SDP has the most comprehensive and well-researched alternative policies papers in the opposition camp. No other party even comes close to understanding and articulating the issues as well as SDP.
Is WP’s Parliamentary performance to be lauded? It most certainly is not. Should they be given further chances despite their deficiencies? I think they should — and here’s why.
Politics at its heart is a number’s game. If anyone thinks that the PAP does not mind having a few more WP MPs in Parliament because it knows that WP tends to toe the line and not get overly aggressive, I can safely tell them to disabuse themselves of this notion.
Having gotten so used to having an overwhelming majority in Parliament, the PAP fears losing even a few seats, as it knows fully well how the snowball effect works. What begins as a minor stream and become a mighty torrent. Once the process starts, it can become impossible to stop.
Currently, the PAP can attract good men and women to serve in politics only if they are assured of a reasonably good chance of electoral victory, or some other form of compensation. That is how politically bankrupt the PAP has become. It is unable to attract people who have a genuine heart to serve without expectation of reward. People who join the PAP don’t want to take unnecessary risks. They feel they are putting their careers on the line or on hold, and need the assurance of getting something tangible in return. This is in contrast to opposition politicians who know that victory often comes after a very long period of trials and tribulations, and that the road ahead for them is not littered with material rewards.
More losses for the PAP in terms of Parliamentary seats will send more shock-waves down the party. They will find it harder and harder to find and convince candidates to contest opposition wards, and they will feel mounting pressure from within their own ranks who have gotten so used to the current status quo.
The PAP knows it can scarcely afford to continue losing seats, and that is precisely why we must continue to make it lose seats. That is the only way that enough pressure can be brought upon the PAP to force it to enact substantive changes to its flawed policies.
We are at a very critical juncture in our nation’s political development. The PAP is becoming more and more detached from reality and is unable to promote the welfare of Singaporeans as its values have become confused and conflicted. It has lost its primary focus of democratic socialism, the original platform on which it came to power. It has been seduced by cheap labour and a free ride at the expense of citizens.
At this stage, I would much rather have more opposition parliamentarians first and foremost, before any other considerations. If the WP is inadequate in some respects, pressure can always be brought upon them to improve. To some extent, multi-cornered fights like what we are witnessing in Punggol East today (as well as in GE2011) can also be used to pressure WP to improve on its performance.
Opposition politicians who are not in Parliament do their hard work, sometimes in the face of intense harassment or bullying, without any material compensation.
Since there are still so few of them in Parliament, it is better to send more in first, and then slowly force them to up their game by exposing them to increased political competition.
That is why despite my criticisms of the WP, I am asking Punggol East voters to vote for Lee Li Lian and send her into Parliament on 26 January. She has the best chance of winning. Voters who genuinely want more opposition representation in Parliament must be prepared to steel their hearts and vote tactically for Lee Li Lian, above any other candidate.
Otherwise, the status quo will remain, the PAP will not mend its policies, and Singaporeans will continue to suffer under its flawed policies. Vote tactically for the WP. That is the best chance for progress.