Singapore’s 14th Parliament opens on Monday (Aug 24). Out of the total 93 MPs, 10 will be from the Workers’ Party, with two more Non-Constituency MPs from the new Progress Singapore Party added to the 93. It has the largest Opposition presence ever. And this will be the inexorable trend from here on. More seats will go to the Opposition in future general elections, whether the ruling People’s Action Party likes it or not and however hard it tries to stem the tide.
The PAP will put on a brave face and talk about welcoming diversity in Parliament. It has already tried to conscript WP chief Pritam Singh – with its Leader of the Opposition bait – into a system which it will project as part of its self-proclaimed desire to see a more robust legislature which it will claim has already been in place. It has been concocting all sorts of devices all these years to “accommodate” Singaporeans’ growing desire for more checks and balances.
NMPs, NCMPs, Government Parliamentary Committees, conversations, special task forces, radio dialogues, talks and forums organised by bodies which owe their very existence to the government – all are part of a ploy to play the optics game. Observers get a picture of a “vibrant” dialogue going on in the country or of a party constanty “renewing” itself with fresh faces and people with new ideas or leaders able to lead the country.
A thousand apologies to the misled. It has been largely an illusion.
GE2020 showed that Singapore has hitherto been witnessing a none too elaborate dance between the dumb and the deaf.
The dumb would be a huge number of Singaporeans who have decided to keep their frustrations to themselves – just shut up and let their votes count – because no one in power was listening anyway. The deaf would be the PAP which believes it has the right to force policies onto the population. The party could only hear its own voices.
The PAP is stuck. Apart from playing the optics game, it has also tried its usual tactic of discrediting the Opposition – with attempts which have backfired because voters are not so easily intimidated these days. They can judge for themselves because the mainstream media has long ceased to be the only source of information. Did the WP mess up in Aljunied GRC? NO, said GE2020 voters resoundingly.
The PAP is stuck because it is discovering that its renewal process is in deep trouble. There are no banyan trees to protect those who need strong coattails to grow or simply survive. And it is also embarrassing to have a more articulate fellow minister or MP come to your rescue each time you are in trouble or need to debate with your opponents. The party will find it more and more difficult to attract good quality candidates. Every new person it tries to induct now knows he or she will not be having an easy time because the Opposition is growing and getting better.
The way that the 4G leaders have already been cruelly exposed in the political arena will further deter many from taking the plunge. The party’s potential talent pool will shrink. And that smaller pool will mean lesser talents and more in-breeding exercises.
The PAP is stuck because its cadre members have not been doing their job properly. They have not acted to allow natural leaders to emerge who can outshine and challenge incumbents, including those at the top, who may have outlived their usefulness. That is why Parliament will never see the emergence of effective PAP MPs who will challenge their own leaders when they have clearly strayed. For a start, how many PAP MPs feel at all comfortable that their party has an of-age male Party Whip who has NEVER served National Service? I don’t know about them. I will be very, very embarrassed.
At the same time that the PAP has got itself in a rut or sinkhole, the Opposition has been getting its act right. It is outPAPing the current soft and fake PAP in being more like the first-generation non-nonsense PAP. All three main parties – WP, PSP and SDP – knew exactly what they had to do to connect with voters. No-frills meet-the-people sessions. No well-furnished rooms and no bloated phalanx of bureaucrats and middlemen carrying PBM cards. Just a sincere commitment to serve.
On Monday, a historic 10 Opposition WP MPs (plus PSP’s two NCMPs) will start changing the political scene in Singapore. Many are young and fresh and fired with a mission to get Singapore back to its feet again. Above all, they will speak the language of true-blue Singaporeans – not PRs – who have voted them into Parliament. More to come in 2025, because the PAP cannot now save itself – even if it tries.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.