In the spirit of How To Train Your Dragon, I hereby offer two paths for parties to take on the mighty PAP:
1. Do as your predecessors have done for the last 50 years. Hey, it worked for Chiam See Tong for 25 years right? He must hold the world record for longest continuous opposition member of parliament! That’s an achievement, right?
Do not question your position in the political landscape– once an opposition party, always an opposition party. Acknowledge the PAP’s superiority and your inferiority. Know your lot in life. Always refer to yourself as an opposition party, whose job is to be a check and balance against the PAP.
Welcome any tom, dick or harry into your party. You need the numbers right? It’s hard enough being an “opposition” party in Singapore; one can’t be choosy about members.
Fill your party with veterans who have been running in elections for the last 20 years and have switched parties at least twice. They’ve been blooded and they’re committed to the opposition cause, right? But don’t announce your candidates till shortly before Nomination Day. It doesn’t matter that the voters have never heard of your candidates before this. You don’t want the PAP to know who they might be up against, right? Anyway, the electoral boundaries might still be changed, and you have yet to negotiate with the other parties to avoid three-cornered fights, so what’s the rush?
Espouse grand ideas such as freedom, democracy and justice on your party website. Criticise PAP policies to the max. Propose policies that are compassionate and popular, such as minimum wage, greater subsidised health care, lower taxes, etc. But do not delve into details of how you intend to pay for them. Acknowledge that your policies are just “alternatives” to what the PAP has, no need to show that your proposals are better than the PAP’s current policies.
Be suspicious of other parties. They’re all fighting to be the king of the opposition, you can’t trust them. Although you all hate the PAP, you can’t stand each other either. So “opposition unity” is at best a euphemism for avoiding three-cornered fights.
At your election rallies, entertain the voters with anti-PAP jokes. Complain again and again about million-dollar ministers. Recite a laundry list of everything the PAP has done badly. Acknowledge that you can’t actually change anything even if you’re voted in. Make no promises to change the country. Heck, don’t even make any promises on lift upgrading! But ask voters to vote for you so that you can raise their concerns in Parliament. Tell them not to be afraid to vote against the PAP. Tell them it’s unfair for PAP to deny them HDB lift upgrading if they vote for you, but they should vote for you anyway. No matter that voters’ concerns are mainly bread and butter issues– they should see that sending you into Parliament as a check and balance against the PAP is far more important than increasing the value of their flats thru lift upgrading, right?
During the Party Political Broadcasts, have just one talking head for the entire broadcast. You’re the Secretary-General/Chairman and you represent the Party, right? Adopt a very serious and sombre demeanour, and say how sad it is that Singapore doesn’t have an opposition, and how you can act as a check and balance and make the PAP more accountable to Singaporeans. Talk about your personal sacrifices being in “opposition”, and ask for their support in your struggle against the PAP.
2. Forget everything your predecessors have done for the last 50 years. Assume that if it hasn’t worked for 50 years, it will never work. Acknowledge the PAP as a formidable opponent, but understand that even superpowers like the US and Soviet Union can be defeated by smaller opponents like North Vietnam and Afghanistan, that it’s about having the right strategy and the will to win, not just about resources and firepower.
Do not think of yourself just as an opposition party. Understand that your party is here to govern, not to raise concerns or act as a check and balance against someone else. Realise that no party in any other country sees its job as being a check and balance on someone else– parties exist to advance their interests (and hopefully their supporters’ as well).
Don’t just accept anybody into your party. Interview them. Ask them why they want to join, what ideas they have, how hard they’re willing to work. Fill your party with winners, people with fresh ideas and beliefs. Kick out the old, tired warhorses, the self-defeatists and the ones who see entry into Parliament as a way to score points against the PAP.
Announce your candidates as soon as you find them. Make sure that they are decent, honest people who are seen to be committed– they don’t have to have a double-first in anything, but they need to be plenty sharp, articulate, eloquent, compassionate and presentable.
Tell people where they will be standing, and what they stand for. Have them work the ground from Day 1 of their announcement, not just when the hustings are near. Your candidate’s aim is to get on a first-name basis with at least half of the residents before Nomination Day.
Have a clear and well-thought out party platform on your website. Go around explaining what kind of policies you would implement, and why your policies are better than the PAP’s. Try to be friends on Facebook with every single resident if possible. Use email lists to reach out to your target voters.
Do everything possible to build a coalition with the other leading parties, but be careful who you jump in bed with. Put aside your differences for the greater common goal. Understand that squabbling over who becomes Prime Minister is a joy compared to squabbling over who becomes the leader of the Opposition. Or worse, over who should take up the NCMP seat.
Once the rallies start, use them to explain how you can reverse all of the PAP’s unpopular policies if the people vote for you. Not only that, talk about how you can actually make people’s lives better than the PAP. While not dismissing local concerns at each consistency, get the voters to see the big picture. Make election promises. Tell voters exactly what they will get if they vote for you. Then ask people to vote you in on the basis of what you will do for them.
During the Party Political Broadcasts, show your entire proposed Cabinet instead of a single talking head. Show that you have a united team who are ready to serve the people. Have each one of them talk about how they will make the country better when they’re in power. Smile for the camera. Kiss lots of babies during campaigning.