By Tan Bah Bah
After the Workers’ Party, the Opposition party with the best shot at having a presence in the next Parliament is the National Solidarity Party.
It has a chance in Marine Parade GRC where its 2011 share of votes was a respectable 43.36 % of 154,451 votes. But it will have a Bukit Timah to climb. Ward by ward, the Goh Chok Tong/Tan Chuan Jin led PAP incumbents have not done anything wrong. The team looks pretty solid, never mind all that catty Kate Spade talk about Tin Pei Ling who, I gather, is very hardworking in MacPherson where a new refurbished community club is waiting to be unveiled.
Of course, the NSP can stick to its guns in Marine Parade and go for the big one. The prize is too tempting. And it has Low Thia Khiang and Aljunied for inspiration. The difference is that Low already had years of experience as an MP in Hougang before Aljunied and in running a town council. Voters knew he could run a town council. He had an able colleague, Sylvia Lim.
The other Opposition icon, Chiam See Tong, went for broke in Bishan-Toa Payoh and the party lost.
The NSP under Chong-Aruldoss may want to do a thorough rethink of its political and social agendas.
What is that it wishes to do exactly? What are the realities? Does it seriously believe it can be a broad-based party? If not, can it carve for itself an entrenched special role in local politics?
Before all this soul-searching even begins, the priority is to get into Parliament. Here is where the party has to make some hard and smart decisions, with its ears firmly to the ground on what the PAP strategies are.
The NSP has two stars in its midst – Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and Nicole Seah.
Not every public figure has star quality. I would narrow down the attributes of such a personality to the following:
Personability – Leader with a pleasant disposition
Empathy – Has sympathetic ears
Charisma – Someone you like to be with
Believability – You trust and believe in the person
Add to these the good public speaking skills of both NSP leaders. This is not merely the ability to convey your message. They speak credibly. I have not heard either make wild claims and allegations.
I see Chong-Aruldoss and Seah as strong candidates in the right single member constituencies. It would be such a waste to see them go down in any GRC adventures. As a national party and because it does not want to let down its supporters, the NSP will not give up the GRC fights. And it should not. There will be others who can carry the torch.
What are the two SMCs waiting for the two NSP stars?
Unfortunately, there are not too many around. The new NSP secretary-general did well in Mountbatten in 2011. She polled 41.38 % of 23,731 votes. This would be her natural constituency.
Nicole Seah should go over to Pioneer SMC and take over Steve Chia’s place. In 2011, Chia got 39.27 % of 25,745 votes.
To strengthen its credentials for a voice in Parliament, the NSP may be better off pitching itself as a specialist or niche party. I think Singapore has a place for such special interest parties. The government’s one-size-fits-all philosophy sometimes works against the interests of underdogs who just need a bigger voice to articulate their problems – and push for action, not merely talk and lament.
Both Chong-Aruldoss and Seah have a natural inclination to care for the less privileged. As a working mum with three children, the former will have lots to say and do on family-centred issues. The latter has spoken often on caring for the elderly and the difficulty of getting enough good social workers.
These are areas the NSP may consider specialising in. Seah, in particular, is a fine role model and a magnet for younger Singaporeans to volunteer their services to complete the national network of social services.
Parliament should never be allowed to deteriorate into a place where issues become lost and buried. There should be a diversity of voices vigorously challenging the habit of taking things for granted. Two MPs who can make a big difference is better than a large group who are there to make up the numbers.