Do Singaporeans deserve or even want an Opposition? Sure, before the entry of Low Thia Khiang, in an era dominated by Lee Kuan Yew, the Opposition made some inroads against all odds. First, J B Jeyaretnam in 1981. Then, there was a glimmer of a yearning for something more than token resistance when Chiam See Tong-SDP swept into Parliament with Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen in 1991.The pair were, however, not re-elected. Since then, the story has been more or less that of acceptance of their fate. With GE2019/20 around the corner, are we seeing the end of the shortchanging of Singapore voters? I hope so.
Never mind all the complaints about unfair tactics allegedly practised by the ruling PAP. Apart from Low in Hougang, voters could not lift their fingers to usher in more opposition MPs until Aljunied GRC (with Hougang), followed by Punggol East. Aided by a confluence of issues including foreign workers, healthcare, public transport and housing, the WP convinced Singaporeans that the system needed a co-driver to keep the main driver awake and not take them for granted. After that awakening in GE2011, voters almost reverted to a pattern of slumber or inertia in the swing back to the PAP in GE2015.The WP managed to retain Aljunied GRC by a slimmer margin. Hougang remained a stronghold. Punggol East slipped back to the PAP.
If Singaporeans really want a more-than-one-man-show Opposition, that is, one which can make a real difference in engaging the government in substantial discussions of national issues, they should say so unambiguously in the next GE. The time has come. There has been a qualitative jump in the type of believable and electable politicians who are coming forward to serve. These are committed people who have been in the public arena for a while and who should have nothing to hide. They should not be any worse than the PAP backbenchers who have had the advantage of a compliant media to project them plus a formidable ground machinery to prop them up.
The choices have suddenly increased. It could have been a situation where middle ground voters looking for credible Opposition could only turn to the Workers’ Party who had been concentrating their efforts rather successfully in the eastern part of the island.
It is not now. These voters discovered that instead of being scared away, as threatened by the PAP, investors might have indeed welcomed a more robust and creative society to put their money in. Singapore has not collapsed. There was no rowdiness in Parliament. We have had this new normal for some time. All is good, as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp would say.
The WP is renewing and resetting itself as it tries to go beyond the heartland wet market fans of Low to appeal to the Fairprice Finest (hopefully Cold Storage and Market Place) crowd. Maybe Nicole Seah can help.
The party has had two terms of experience in Aljunied not to have learnt a thing or two about taking care of voter problems and vote-getting on a large-scale. It has had tremendous first mover advantage over the other Opposition parties.
But the WP no longer has a monopoly as the main if not the only electable Opposition party. The Singapore Democratic Party is coming of age. Once prone to enfant terrible behaviour, the party has gradually shed that image. It does its homework, talks more sense and draws credible supporters. A clear sign that secretary-general Chee Soon Juan was being seen as a credible politician who may have something to contribute in Parliament was the strong support he enjoyed in the Bukit Batok by-election. The SDP has a fairly well-honed party machinery and it has been more social media-friendly, more so than the PAP or the WP sometimes (whatever has happened to the WP?)
With its experience at a proven level in Ayer Rajah in Parliament and at the Presidential Election of 2011 (through Dr Tan Cheng Bock), the Progress Singapore Party should be regarded as more than the new kid on the block. It is like a grown-up returning to see what he could do to make sure the neighbourhood that he has grown up in has not been totally captured by people with knuckle-dusters. Perhaps, not in so dramatic terms. But the PSP is not really the new kid on the block. It should have enough experience and wisdom to run a GRC. The WP does not have such an advantage within the Opposition any more.
Voters will have more choices, this time, with substantial parties who are not fly by night and will be credible in Parliament, whoever the ruling party may want to throw into the gauntlet to stem the tide. Finally, we are all growing up.
One more bad habit to Dr Tommy Koh’s seven bad habits of Singapore drivers (Straits Times Saturday September 7): Refusal to change gears
Singapore drivers are very lazy. They prefer to jerk their vehicle along rather than auto-adjust the gears for a smoother ride and less wear and tear. This is especially true of bus drivers who will grind their way and throw passengers around because they prefer to drive at the 2nd gear throughout the whole journey.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.