Jan 12, 2013

Singapore - Singapore’s political parties shooting themselves in the foot

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As Nomination Day for the Punggol East SMC by-election nears, Singapore’s political parties are beginning to lose their marbles.

A number of political parties have indicated their intention to contest in the by-election, prompting criticism from some Singaporeans who believe that a multi-cornered fight would all but guarantee a win for the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP). Then the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) revealed that it had made overtures to the Workers’ Party (WP) – the only alternative party currently in Parliament – about the possibility of fielding a “unity candidate”.

What is a “unity candidate”, you ask? Well, according to the SDP, it means that the two parties would join forces and field one candidate together. (The SDP suggests that the candidate be from the SDP). And in the event of a win, the SDP candidate would become the newest member of parliament… while the WP runs the town council for Punggol East SMC.

So far, the WP has not responded to the SDP’s proposal. The SDP expressed their disappointment, saying that such a cooperation would “achieve a historic breakthrough to a deeper and more effective politics in the service of our people.”

Except it wouldn’t.

Although I can see the logic behind alternative parties agreeing on not getting into multi-cornered fights as a strategy for breaking the political hegemony of the PAP, the idea of a “unity candidate” is laughable. Such a ‘union’ between the SDP and the WP would render any political direction in their campaigning meaningless. Apart from their both being alternative parties, the SDP and the WP completely differ in terms of focus, priorities and principles. Any attempt to merge their political messages into a single SDP-WP campaign would only end up in a pointless and unhelpful muddling of the choices available to the Singaporean electorate precisely when we should be thinking beyond ‘PAP versus not-PAP’ towards a coherent alternative political direction for our country. How would this bring about “more effective politics” in the interests of Singaporean voters?

Unfortunately for the SDP, this harebrained proposal might prove to be a huge setback: not only has it not achieved the ‘opposition unity’ they were looking for, it has made them look desperate and more than a little lazy. Telling everyone that you want to go to parliament while another party does the work of running your voters’ estates for you? It’s not great.

The scheme was poorly received online and the SDP is now having to take the flak. You’d imagine that this would make another political party think twice about doing something silly, but no. The Reform Party (RP) – also eyeing Punggol East SMC – announced that they too had proposed a similar idea to the WP.

Note to the RP: when a political party is already getting a roasting for suggesting a really stupid idea, you don’t want to pipe up with, “Hey, I also suggested this really stupid idea!”

At this rate, the PAP will barely need to lift a finger for a the by-election. All they’ll have to do is sit back and watch the alternative parties shoot themselves in the foot until they fall over of their own accord.

Come on, Singapore, surely we can do better than that?

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