Opposition is (nearly) dead. Long live the opposition!
Well, well, well. So the People's Action Party (PAP) has clawed back a higher majority, earning almost 70 percent of the popular vote, and taking back one opposition-held single ward. They also marginally lost to the Workers' Party (WP) for the Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC). It also showed the opposition to be in disarray; with none of them making an impact at the polls except for the Workers' Party. Post-elections, we hear them speak of a nation-wide swing to the PAP, of contradictory ground sensing, and of unfair tactics by the PAP. Perhaps the real reasons lie closer to home. Let us take a look at what may be more at play for the opposition...
1. All rhetoric, no plan
It does not help to say that we need to have an opposition in parliament to keep the ruling party in check. It is not that the incumbents are doing a bad job, or need to be kept in check. True, there is a need to have different viewpoints in parliament, but not one what is simply there to oppose policies. So instead of attacking institutional policies like the CPF and foreign labour, the opposition needs to work on an overall strategic stand. If there is a clear intent and a strong plan, putting the right people on the job, we can then have a more credible opposition. At the moment, it is all hot-air.
2. No track record
I know, if you don't give them a chance, how can they gain track record? Yet track record doesn't have to be built after election. That will be a Catch-22 situation for the electorate. Instead, work on the periphery of the economy. Create and maintain a credible movement, showcasing their ability to attract funding and manpower support, and give back to society in a much larger manner than they are doing right now. Work on larger issues, rather than harping on matters that, while important, simply don't matter to the working class. Don't intellectualise the issues; instead, make them real, and gain true brownie points. This will provide the track record that the opposition is looking for, and create a true following.
3. Too fragmented
Singapore is probably too small to have so many political parties, especially not when the opposition movement is still in its infancy. They should all band together, forming one major opposition party so as to get the people's mind around the need for one. With WP being the most credible opposition party, and providing that the other parties are intent on giving Singaporeans an alternative voice in parliament, then all the opposition parties would do better by merging with WP, to sing in one voice. Why fragment resources when it is so difficult to attract them in the first place?
The reason why PAP did so well this time around was basically because they worked hard at it. They were the most ready party with a bigger picture for the populace. Of course one could argue that they held all the strings, and were therefore better prepared. However, one could also argue that the PAP campaigned for over four years, since the last election, to claw back support, and that was why they were the most prepared. In this respect, the opposition did little more than take pot shots at policies that didn't move the electorate very much. While issues like CPF and immigration are important, they are not the earth-shaking issues that Singaporeans would vote a party into politics for, not when there is a better alternative. If the opposition wants to make better in-roads into Singapore politics, then they should demonstrate their ability to manage municipal issues, and yet also stand up for economic and policy ones.
The deed has been done, and the PAP has pulled in greater support for one more term. But that is not the end of opposition. If anything, it should signal the need to build a more credible movement, to bolster the ranks of one dominant opposition party, to demonstrate that they are capable of running the country; if they keep on saying that they are not ready, they never will be. They should grab the bull by the horns, claim a stake in Singapore's political scene, and show clearly why they deserve to be voted into parliament. If they are afraid to play a bigger game, voters will be afraid to back them. Catch-22 all over again.
Step up and step in! Long live the opposition!