Now that we know who are the main people joining Dr Tan Cheng Bock in his quest to give Singapore voters another political choice, the next thing many would do is ask: What exactly can the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) offer? Actually, a better question would be: Will the PSP help make the Opposition more credible – image-wise, in substance and at a most appropriate time in our political development?
For a clearer answer, let’s look back at the rather uncomplicated history of the Opposition after Independence in 1965.
The only parties ever elected into Parliament were the Workers Party, the Singapore Democractic Party (under Chiam See Tong) and Chiam’s new party Singapore People’s Party after Chee Soon Juan took over the SDP which did not manage to win any seats after Chiam.
The earlier SDP had three seats in Potong Pasir, Gombak and Nee Soon Central but that was truly wasted and reduced to Chiam’s original stronghold in Potong Pasir which was eventually wrested back by the People’s Action Party. WP had its single seats in Anson (under J B Jeyaratnam) and then Hougang (under Low Thia Khiang and then Png Eng Huat) before Low ventured into the five-seat Aljunied GRC and inflicted a historic win on the PAP. WP had a bonus in Punggol East following the resignation of former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer for inappropriate conduct. After GE2015, the Opposition, as we know it, is essentially the WP in Aljunied. Many people still are not persuaded that the best-losers Non-Constituency MP system adds anything to the dignity of the democratic system.
All this relative lack of sustainable Opposition experience (apart from the regionalised WP) at the elected level – where you have to conduct meet-the-people sessions, look after town council matters (a chore forced upon the resource-deprived Opposition by the ruling PAP), get involved in grassroots events and take part in Parliamentary debates and proceedings – has always meant that residents are reluctant to risk their votes on the unknown, short of compelling and overwhelming anger at PAP betrayal, lapses or incompetence. They are by and large pragmatic. Better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.
Dr Tan is quite different. For a start, the former PAP MP is someone Singaporeans know and who knows the PAP. He had delivered in Ayer Rajah and in Parliament and almost became our President. He has impeccable credentials.
He has now brought in a team of individuals who have had first-hand knowledge of what it takes to serve a constituency. These are not newbies.
Such knowledge is important in a political system where the level playing field is unfairly stacked against the Opposition. Having a team of former PAP cadres and tested grassroots people means you don’t have to start from scratch and struggle. They proved that when Dr Tan was MP and when he fought in the Presidential election in 2011. From what I can see, they do not come with such overarching ambitions that they would stand in the way of younger cadres who have joined forces with them and would inevitably carve out their own visions and future for the party.
The PSP will do Singapore a big favour if they can show that politics is not all about luring and retaining talents with obscene salaries. It is about duty and fighting for a cause.
I’m sure Dr Tan’s team will be more than capable of sweating out the small stuff. It is all there in their DNA.
Will they be able to convince Singaporeans that they can grow the dream of a refreshed Singapore beyond the stagnant PAP? Can they steer this nation away from being just a “moneytheistic” society, as the late former Deputy Prime Minister S Rajaratnam once warned us against, where its citizens know the price of everything and the value of nothing?
The ball is in your court, Dr Tan.
Tale of two funerals
Two high-profile funerals took place recently. One was for CFC Aloysius Pang who was given a full military honours ceremony. The other was for Ben Goi, son of Popiah King Sam Goi. Coincidentally, both Pang and Goi had TV celebrity partners. TV actor Pang’s girlfriend is actress Jayley Woo. Ben Goi’s wife is another TV actress Tracy Lee.
But this was where the similarities ended and a stark difference in who turned up and who did not at the wakes set tongues wagging.
Only National Development Minister Lawrence Wong turned up for Pang’s wake.
Ministers Heng Swee Keat, Masagos Zulkifli and Josephine Teo, as well as former foreign minister George Yeo, were seen at Ben Goi’s wake. Businessman Sam Goi, Ben’s father, was active in PAP grassroots work, and recently stepped down as chairman of the Ulu Pandan Citizens’ Consultative Committee. Hence, the strong Cabinet turnout. Understandable.
Each wake by itself was really not an issue. But because they happened to occur around the same time, the contrast was glaring. Pang died on duty. Many say Defence Minister Ng Eng Heng, SMS Dr Maliki Osman or SMS Heng Chee How should have made the effort for the NSman beyond paying respects at Paya Lebar Airbase where his body was received. Any worry about setting a precedent for every NSman death seems unnecessary. How many deaths are there going to be in peacetime and what’s so unimportant about going to the wakes of the few NSmen killed in service? These men have sacrificed their lives for the nation.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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