Kumaran Pillai: Our vote is not cheap, you need to earn it

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Soon after the PAP had its worst electoral showing since Independence in 2011, George Yeo asked rhetorically: Whither Singapore?

Today, 2 1/2 years later, the question to ask is: Whither Opposition?

With the economy humming along and out-performing many other mature economies and housing prices likely to ease in the next few quarters; some feel that the PAP has gained some political ground. Needless to say the ruling party has cranked up their PR machinery.

The PM is on a charm offensive and some of his ministers, especially K Shanmugam, are at it too.

But most of the opposition party leaders are tripping up so often that disillusionment has crept in with adverse remarks about their parties being posted on their Facebook wall.

So, the key question is, has the PAP gained ground?

WP_walkabout
WP MPs Lee Lilian, Chen Show Mao and Pritam Singh on a walkabout

No, says Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party. He says: “I think the Government has been responding to some of the concerns of the people by changing some policies and starting to fix some problems. However, I have not seen evidence among people I speak to that the PAP has gained ground. The result of the recent by-election in Punggol East seems to point to the contrary.”

According to Giam, the current issues faced by Singaporeans include high cost of living and healthcare, public transport and overcrowding.

Ravi Philemon of the National Solidarity Party says that it is hard to read the current mood of the nation and we should not see the poor turnout at Gilbert Goh’s last anti-immigrant protests held on Oct 5 as the yardstick for opposition politics.

Philemon thinks that Singaporeans are generally not “too confrontational” and we will not know the real ground sentiment until the next general election.

Certainly, the departure of Vincent Wijeysingha from national politics to pursue gay rights and the resignation of Hazel Poa as party boss from NSP does not augur well for the opposition. But Philemon said that their resignations will become a non-issue by the time the next General Elections comes around.

So, what’s next for the opposition? Who are the prime actors and movers in the years to come? What are the primary issues and strategy for opposition parties?

Frankie Low, a former Reform Party member, says that the opposition needs to consolidate before the next general election. “Otherwise, we’ll have more three- corner fights,” he says. “We don’t have the people, resources or money to write elaborate policy papers. Besides, the policy position papers may become outdated by 2016.”

The topic of opposition consolidation comes up from time to time with the likes of Tan Jee Say and Chiam See Tong taking steps to create an alliance of sorts with little success.

On the contrary, we are seeing more splits in the opposition movement. Benjamin Pwee, who contested at Bishan-Toa Payoh with Chiam See Tong, has become his own boss at the Democratic Progressive Party. And Abdul Karim has joined Singapore National Front as Secretary General to reinvigorate the party. They will be contesting in the next GE.

There has also been a lot of chatter about the formation of a third-force riding on the current wave of anti-foreigner sentiments. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of Singapore Democratic Party, showed up as a guest speaker at Gilbert’s anti-foreigner protest held at Hong Lim Park.

Some civil activists are concerned about Gilbert’s anti-foreigner rants online and have, in fact, openly rebuked him. Both Wijeysingha and civil activist Jolovan Wham have taken a stand against the rising tide of anti-foreigner sentiment or the “Gilbertism” that has been on the rise.

It is apparent that what started out as a protest against the Population White Paper has become a movement against immigrants in Singapore. What’s even stranger is the fact that Chee is seen “hanging out” with Gilbert when the angst against the PAP and support for Gilbert seems to be waning.

Chee is the same man who said: “A party (SDP) that truly believes in the people, one that seeks to put people before profit, wisdom before wealth and rights before riches, is one that will be on the right side of history.”

What was he thinking: being anti-foreigner and teaming up with Gilbert will put him on the right side of history? One thing for sure, Chee certainly needs a lesson in PR and image management.

There is only one opposition party that has the proven brand equity and political capital to take on the PAP. It is none other than the WP. As for the rest, I’ll be polite about it and call them the nice guys – they have their heart in the right place but not the political smarts to succeed in the short run.

While the more “media savvy” opposition politicians are doing their thing, WP’s strategy is muted. The charged-up party members at WP have been quietly working the ground instead. Giam says: “I certainly see very high energy levels in WP now. We are managing seven divisions, including one GRC and two SMCs, and our members and volunteers are working very hard on the ground to serve residents, often away from the media spotlight.”

“Our plans remain the same: To serve residents of the constituencies that we manage to the best of our abilities, and to voice out the concerns of Singaporeans in Parliament. Our MPs use many different communication channels, including regular house visits and tea sessions with residents, to better understand their needs and concerns.”

Citizens are likely to tell the political parties this: Our votes are not cheap, you need to earn it.

Who understands and acts on this will reap the benefits in the next GE.