6. Wrong Understanding
Do “opposition” parties really know what is a “General” Election?
The public knows, the PAP knows, but from their actions, I’m not sure the “opposition” parties really know.
It’s called a “General” Election because it is for people to elect a new Government.
It is not about electing MP’s per se, it’s about deciding who Singaporeans want to lead the country for the next five years.
Yet the “opposition” parties continue to approach General Elections as if they were just mass by-elections.
Instead of trying to challenge the PAP for the right to form the next Govt, they target individual constituencies, hoping that dissatisfaction with local issues or individual ministers will be enough to send a few of them into Parliament.
Chiam See Tong even christened it his famous “By-Election Strategy” in 1991.
How can “opposition” parties expect the people vote for them when the people know full well the “opposition” cannot change anything, cannot turn any of their grand ideas into reality, cannot even make any election promises, because they do not even intend to form a Govt?
How can “opposition” parties hope for political change when they are not even playing on the same playing field as their opponent?
To those who think I’m ignoring the realities on the ground, let me point out that, in terms of absolute numbers, there are enough non-PAP candidates to challenge the PAP for the right to form a Govt.
In 2006, there were 47 “opposition” candidates who, if they were all elected, would have formed a simple majority Govt. And in 2011, I expect there to be more than 50 “opposition” candidates.
Which means clearly that, if they could all just come together and fight the PAP as a united front, they could form a coalition Govt if elected.
Yet the “opposition” continues to fight elections as lone rangers, hoping to win one or two seats, or at best one GRC— which to them would be a HUGE success.
Sadly, the rational voters do not see it this way.
The swing voters, the ones sitting on the fence— they are not die-hard PAP supporters, they are willing to vote for other parties, and indeed, some of them would dearly love to see some other Govt in charge of Singapore.
Yet, there is no other party or coalition of parties who want to step up to the challenge. And so, despite their reservations, they still choose PAP— and it’s not their fault.
Don’t blame the voters. Don’t blame the “rules”. Don’t blame the “system”.
Blame only yourself for your wrong understanding of what voters really want.
7. Wrong Approach
The current modus operandi in the “opposition” reminds me of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. If they cooperate and agree not to squeal on each other, the two prisoners will both be acquitted. But if one squeals and the other doesn’t, the squealer will get a lighter sentence.
Of course, we know the outcome– they both don’t trust each other to keep quiet, so they both squeal, and they both get the maximum sentence.
So “opposition” leaders, despite having sacrificed so much to be in politics, refuse to swallow their pride, make peace and unite to fight the PAP.
Instead, they would prefer to fight as lone rangers, and fight each other when they perceive their toes have been stepped on.
So all the “opposition” parties lose out compared to what they could have achieved with cooperation.
“Opposition” parties should understand that “opposition” unity is not JUST about avoiding three-cornered fights.
It’s not about electing a few more watchdogs into Parliament.
It’s about offering people a genuine change of Govt.
It’s about fighting the PAP together. As a coalition.
Fighting as a coalition does not mean “opposition” parties have to give up their individual identities. There is no need to come together under an “umbrella” like the SDA, no need to elect a “Supreme” Opposition Council, no need to argue over who gets to be the Grand Old Poobah of the Supreme Opposition Council, etc.
Indeed, in other countries, coalition talks only occur AFTER the results are announced and each party can see what hand it has been dealt.
But this is Uniquely Singapore, so coalition talks have to take place way before Polling Day.
A plain and simple agreement that all “opposition” parties will fight as a coalition, with the aim of forming a new Govt, and with the promise to voters that if they are elected, they will overturn all of the PAP’s unpopular policies.
A coordinated set of rally speeches, and a coordinated set of party political broadcasts, with one party talking about what the coalition will do for healthcare, another about housing, another about CPF, another about public transport, etc.
So that on Polling Day, voters can see what exactly they will get if they vote in a new Govt, and they can compare and select which policies they prefer and vote the Govt they want.
Is this not a better approach to a General Election?
Or would the “opposition” prefer to stick with an approach that has failed to produce any significant result over the last 50 years?
8. Wrong Tactics (II)
Apart from “check and balance” tactics, lately there’s been calls for live televised debates for the next General Election.
The whole idea is so silly, I’d die laughing if the parties calling for this weren’t so serious about it.
Notwithstanding that Mediacorp may present some biased coverage, do the “opposition” parties calling for this know what they’re in for?
Does the name Vivian Balakrishnan and Debates ’85 ring a bell?
Does anyone doubt the oratorical skills of PM Lee, Tharman, Jayakumar or the rest of the Cabinet (with the exception of the “Betterer & Betterest” SJI Old Boy, of course), compared to Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Kiang or John Tan?
Those who are old enough to remember the TV debate between Ronald Reagan vs Jimmy Carter will know how the Great Communicator won the debate.
And those who watched the recent debates between Cameron, Brown and Clegg would have seen the same thing.
There’s only two “opposition” politicians today who can really take on the PAP in a hostile TV debate.
One is Chee Soon Juan– and sadly, he’s barred from running for life (or until a new Govt repeals the relevant provisions of the Election law).
The other is Sylvia Lim, who has enough depth of experience from her days arguing in court to take on the PAP.
Sending any others would be like sending lambs to the slaughter.
A TV debate is not an election rally speech, with supporters cheering and clapping your every anti-PAP tirade.
A good debater has to be very sharp, very eloquent, very charismatic. And beyond rhetorical skills, a good debater also needs to be backed up by a huge amount of research– which means a huge party research machinery.
Any “opposition” party or parties which wish to take on the PAP in a TV debate should think very carefully about how to pull it off.
9. Wrong Focus
Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking. Flooding. S377A. City Harvest Church. Caning for MRT vandalism. Foreign Sports Talent Scheme.
These are some of the “issues” which many “opposition” parties have expended much energy on lately.
But do these issues really matter to the electorate?
The two leading opposition parties WP and SDA– the only bona-fide opposition parties as of 2010 because they actually hold seats in Parliament and are thus actually able to oppose the Govt in the House– have been noticeably silent on these issues.
Why? Did these leading opposition parties forget to milk these issues for political advantage? Or did they consider that these issues do not arouse the electorate?
In the US, parties employ a very scientific approach with the use of opinion polls and political strategists to make sure they know where each segment of voters– blacks, hispanics, asians, white females, ec– stand on critical issues– Iraq, gun control, abortion, etc.– so that they know exactly what to say at every speech, what issues matter to voters and what position to take for each issue.
But even without such insights, the two leading opposition parties knew instinctively what moves voters and what does not. Hence the different focus of SDA and WP compared to other “opposition” parties.
Yes, “opposition” parties may need to have a stated position on issues such as death penalty and gay rights, if asked by the media or by interest groups. Voters are entitled to know their stand on such issues prior to making a choice.
However, it does not mean “opposition” parties have to expend time and energy on every issue, to take the PAP to task for everything that happens.
Faced with limited time and resources, “opposition” parties must pick their fights carefully.
Instead of expending time and resources on such issues, it is far better to reserve one’s resources on issues that actually matter to the public– cost of living, health care, etc.
Even on issues such as outrageous Ministers’ salaries and Temasek losses, the leading opposition parties know that the public has heard enough arguments over the last 10-20 years and it no longer moves them to vote against the PAP.
They realise it’s like beating a dead horse to continue harping on such issues.
They are aware that making PAP look bad does not convince swing voters to vote for them, because it’s only highlighting PAP’s negatives without selling their parties’ positives.
It’s this closeness to the ground that makes WP and SDA the leading opposition parties in Singapore.
Other “opposition” parties should really think about what they should focus on in the next Election. It’s only one year away.
10. Wrong Leaders
Sadly, very few of the “opposition” parties today have any vision of governing Singapore, and very few “opposition” leaders today have any ambition to become the next PM.
Some are even content to celebrate 25 years as an opposition MP, and to have their constituency be the beacon of the opposition in Singapore.
You can be sure David Cameron wasn’t looking forward to celebrating 10 years as the leader of the Opposition before becoming PM.
The problem with this is, the limits of the leader’s vision becomes the limit of his party’s vision, and therefore we are unlikely to see any real political change in Singapore unless we get a completely new set of leaders. A set of leaders who understands what politics is about, what being in opposition really means, and how a political party can really deliver on its promises to the country.
There is one such party leader now, but he is only one out of at least 10 party leaders, and he still needs to learn a lot about politics.
It is going to be a very long road before Singapore can see a new non-PAP Govt.
I emphatically reject the idea that a bunch of “checkers and balancers” can make the PAP change their ways and thus make the PAP govt more accountable, transparent and responsive.
Real political change won’t happen until we have a set of non-PAP political leaders in Singapore, who believe that their participation in politics is not to be a check and balance to the PAP, and not even to be an “alternative” govt “should the PAP stumble”, but to take the PAP head-on and convince the electorate that they have better candidates and better proposals than the PAP, and thus gain the people’s confidence to become the next Govt of Singapore.
It’s a tall order, but I just don’t think there’s any other way.