By Augustine Low
The Workers’ Party has been frustrating the PAP by doing what it does best – staying moderate and restrained, and avoiding confrontation and tit-for-tat.
Since GE 2011, PAP Ministers and MPs have taken turns to take pot shots at the WP. When the WP stays silent on issues, it is accused of opting out or sitting on the fence. When it makes a stand on something, it is criticised for pandering to the public, claiming credit and trying to score points.
The WP strategy appears to be this: You can snipe and snap all you want, we choose to respond only when we want to, we have no intention to engage in bickering and tit-for-tat.
The PAP has adopted an offensive strategy in a bid to draw the WP out of its comfort zone. Most recently, the likes of Hri Kumar, Indranee Rajah and Josephine Teo have chastised and castigated the party for either staying silent or speaking up. But to the frustration of the PAP, the WP refuses to be baited to respond in kind.
The WP prefers to stick to its strategy of doing its work on the ground, connecting with residents one-on-one and attending to day-to-day problems.
The WP’s current strategy has its roots from key lessons learnt.
Low Thia Khiang is a wily politician who observed first-hand how the JB Jeyaretnam style of politics cost him dearly. JBJ was a fearless warrior and a raging bull who attacked relentlessly, but he was felled by libel suits, bankruptcy charges and credibility issues. For all his brave efforts, JBJ failed to put together a cohesive force to challenge the might of the PAP.
Low learnt that patience and moderation would prolong longetivity in politics. He chose to concentrate on constituency politics and play an understated role in Parliament. For him, fireworks only provide short-lived euphoria. Finger pointing and strong words of condemnation are seldom necessary. For the WP, the priority is hard work on the ground. Once the WP has a stranglehold of a constituency, it is very difficult to dislodge it. This solid ground-up work was the key to it spreading its wings from Hougang to Aljunied GRC and Punggol East.
Another lesson learnt was from the AIM sage which became protracted and took up too much of the WP’s time and resources. For such disputes, the full weight of the PAP – and its government agencies – will be marshalled to discredit the WP, and distract it from constituency politics. And unlike the PAP, the WP does not have a wealth of resources and manpower at its disposal and will find itself on the losing end if it were to enter into long drawn bickering.
While the WP has frustrated the PAP with its restraint and reticence, it has also ironically frustrated some of its own supporters and pro-opposition forces for the very same reasons. Expectations rose exponentially when it captured a GRC in 2011. Some supporters want a WP that is more combative, ready to pounce on missteps, and vigorously take the government to task for shortcomings.
But the anticipated fireworks have not materialised. There is some dismay that the WP has not bared its fangs enough, and not been a bigger and louder voice for people’s angst and dissatisfaction. Whether this has consequences for the WP remains to be seen.
But the WP must be doing something right when it keeps frustratrating the PAP. It is adept at keeping its cards close to its chest and might yet spring another major surprise or two – like it did when it fielded its formidable A-team in Aljunied GRC in 2011. For the WP, it’s all about less talk and more action.