Although he is now retired, former ruling party politician Goh Chok Tong appeared to take a swipe at the Workers’ Party (WP), with a reference to the debate on ‘free riders’.
The term ‘free rider’ suddenly became popular in Singapore after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong used it to describe voters who cast their ballots for the opposition while hoping that other voters would vote to keep the ruling party in power, since they do not actually want a change in Government.
In his first speech in the 14th Parliament of Singapore, Mr Lee said: “If you say vote against the Government because somebody else will look after getting the PAP Government and you just become a free rider, and you vote opposition, no harm, the PAP will still be there, then I think the system must fail.
“Because the system can only work if people vote sincerely, honestly, in accordance with what they really want, and to produce the result, which matches their true intentions, and if they vote tactically, the consequences must be one day, they will get the result, which they mark the x for, but which they did not intend.”
He added that this was the wrong thing to “teach people.”
WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh challenged Mr Lee’s view and said: “I don’t think the residents of Aljunied, Hougang for 30 years now, and even Sengkang, as a result of the results of the last election, would appreciate being called free riders.”
Asserting that voters cast their ballots for the opposition because they “know an opposition in Parliament is ultimately good” for Singapore, Mr Pritam said: “We are not just doing nothing, having been voted in. We are not just letting the other guy, the government of the day, do something.
“We’ve got to do what we have to do, we got to run the town council which is why Mr Lee Kuan Yew conceived of the town councils in the first place. Because if you want to move forward in the system as an opposition member of parliament, you’ve got to prove your worth in the town council.”
Mr Lee acknowledged that Mr Pritam has a “desire to do right by Singapore” and said, “I think it is good for Singapore that you have honest people in the opposition, people who believe in what they are trying to do. People who will stand up and fight for their ideals and, from time to time, disagree very strongly with the government. I think that is entirely reasonable.”
Despite this, Mr Lee was firm on his view about free riders. Asserting that voters will end up with a government they do not want if everyone votes for the opposition thinking someone else will vote for the ruling party, he said:
“But if you say, vote for me, somebody else will vote for the PAP, and therefore the PAP will be the Government, that the economists will call a free rider. It means that you are taking advantage of somebody else who is doing their duty of electing a government for the nation.”
Mr Goh – Mr Lee’s predecessor, who retired in June after spending 44 years in Parliament – made a cryptic comment on social media using the ‘free rider’ term, leading some observers to ask whether he is making a dig at the WP.
Sharing a photo of himself having lunch with the civil servants who used to work with him, Mr Goh wrote on Facebook on Sept 9: “My former Principal Private and Press Secretaries lunch with me regularly. Like me, they are concerned about the future of Singapore. They take turn hosting. I will host too so as not to be a free rider. Or worse, a free loader.”
My former Principal Private and Press Secretaries lunch with me regularly. Like me, they are concerned about the future…
ESM Goh has a reputation for making jibes about his political rivals on social media. Some of his past Facebook comments appeared to make pointed remarks about members of his own party, like founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, his son and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as fourth generation ruling party politician Chan Chun Sing.
He has also made cryptic digs about the WP, in the past. Referring to the opposition party’s presence at Marine Parade GRC, the former Marine Parade MP wrote on social media in September 2017:
“So, Workers’ Party have migrated to a new nest in Marine Parade constituency. Though birds of a different feather do not flock together, we welcome them as our new residents. They will like it here. It is well-managed. Come to my MPS if you have issues.”
There is speculation that Mr Goh referred to the WP as “birds” again, as recently as January this year, when the WP upped its activity in the ward in anticipation of the 2020 general election.
Sharing a few photos of himself posing next to a scarecrow, the former Prime Minister wrote: “Wonder if he could stand in Marine Parade and scare off pesky birds.”