Recent remarks made by the leaders of the Workers’ Party (WP) and the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) has led some to believe the two parties may not be as open to the possibility of a united opposition as other parties may be.
In a Facebook post published on Wednesday (Nov 13), Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh said WP aims to serve an “important check and balance role” and to help build a better Singapore for Singaporeans. Setting out his party’s approach to politics, he explained why he believes that opposition unity remains a challenge.
Despite acknowledging that many Singaporeans hope for a united and coordinated opposition that could present a more relevant political force, Mr Singh said that this desire may not be suitable for reality since different parties have different ideologies and approaches.
Referring to his predecessor Low Thia Khiang’s words in 2013 that opposition unity in Singapore is difficult, if not impossible, Mr Singh said:
“…not every opposition party believes the same thing. As a small political player in our landscape, the WP must get its political purpose right. To a large extent, this explains why opposition unity – notwithstanding friendly discussions and relationships amongst opposition members – remains a real challenge.”
Observers noted that Mr Singh’s views on opposition unity came a day after People’s Power Party (PPP) secretary-general Goh Meng Seng clashed with a ruling party politician at his Meet-the-People session.
Mr Goh, who was a former WP member has been critical of the party that is now led by Mr Singh, and some observers speculated that Mr Singh’s post on opposition unity could have been meant to distance his party from Mr Goh’s approach to politics.
A day after Mr Singh shared his views on the role of the opposition and opposition unity, the SPP’s new secretary-general echoed his views, asserting that the SPP too, believes in playing a check and balance role and that opposition unity can only be achieved if the various parties share the same values and vision.
Asserting that the SPP believes in being loyal to Singapore and aims to always speak up for Singaporeans, Mr Chia said: “In order to be a credible, competent and constructive force, we must not oppose for the sake of opposing…While we value opposition unity, we also understand that the opposition can be united only if we share similar values, practices and have the same vision for Singapore.”
While other opposition parties also share the same vision – to be a check and balance to the dominant People’s Action Party government and speak up for Singaporeans – they seem more open to working with their counterparts than the WP and perhaps the SPP.
In a Facebook post published on Friday Nov 15, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan said his party’s approach to politics is to keep the Government accountable to citizens in a “professional and principled manner.”
Asserting that the opposition must “put pressure on those in positions of authority to account to the people” and work diligently to keep the Government accountable, Dr Chee said it’s the people who will benefit from such a responsible and effective opposition.
Pointing out that he has been careful not to let conflicts with members of the ruling party devolve into personal attacks, Dr Chee added that he and the SDP believe politics should be conducted “without fear but always in a professional and principled manner devoid of character assassination and personal ruin.”
The SDP has been publicly open to working with the other opposition parties. In July last year, the SDP invited Dr Tan Cheng Bock to help lead the effort in building an opposition coalition at a closed-door working luncheon among opposition party members.
The event saw the participation of the SDP, the People’s Power Party, the Democratic Progressive Party, the Reform Party, the National Solidarity Party, the Singaporeans First Party and the People’s Voice Party. The SDP said that all the opposition parties present at the meeting welcomed the initiation of an opposition coalition.
Both the WP and the SPP were absent from the meeting.
Dr Tan, a 5-term former People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament, responded to the invitation by the opposition party leaders saying he is open to leading an alliance against his former party which has governed the country since independence. He said: “If you want me to lead, then we must think of (the) country first. If we go in, we must go in as a team.”
In January, Dr Tan announced that he is returning to politics and that he has decided to form his own opposition political party due to a sense of duty he felt towards Singapore, after hearing their concerns and fears during his interactions with ordinary Singaporeans on the ground.
Explaining that he chose to form his own party instead of joining an established opposition banner, leading an opposition coalition, or running as an independent since he felt that this was the “right” route for him, Dr Tan said that he looks forward to “working with others in the opposition who are passionate about putting country first – before either party or self.”
In September, Dr Tan indicated his openness to working with other parties. Declining to rule out the possibility of a coalition, Dr Tan said that the opposition parties should first maintain a relationship of understanding.
Advising opposition politicians to “keep it open and never close all your options,” Dr Tan called on party leaders to be “flexible” in their relations with their counterparts from other opposition parties.