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Of the Singapore Opposition August 19, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

A Discourse on Singapore politics will be rather lacking if all people talk about is the PAP. Thus we now look at that which stands against the PAP, the Opposition. In fact not to discuss the opposition would leave a rather big void in any such discourse notwithstanding the Opposition holds only 2 Seats in Parliament.

Historically, the Barisan Sosialis was the strongest opposition faced by the PAP. However due to the arrests of several members under the ISA and the vacating of parliamentary seats, the Opposition soon became a non factor so much so that in 1968, PAP had a clean sweep of all the seats in parliament, till that faithful day (1981) when Joshua Benjamin Jeyeratnam of the Worker’s Party won a seat in Anson. The opposition since then reached its highest point in 1991 where 4 Members were elected, but its parliamentary presence declined and since then it has and still continues to hold the two seats for Hougang (Low Thia Kiang) and Potong Pasir (Chiam See Tong); with a Nonconstiteuncy MP (Currently Sylvia Lim).

There are many theories behind this sorry state of affairs (for the Opposition that is). There are those who contend that the opposition is not a good alternative to the PAP. There are also those who contend that the PAP has managed to hamstring their opponents such that they are “ineffectual”, be it through the use of election carrots or through the strong criticism of opposition members (mostly through the Straits Times). This short post however will deal with the former issue.

The statement that the Opposition is not a good alternative deserves a clearer definition. By the use of the word “alternative” there seems to be a suggestion that the Opposition should somehow seek to supplant the ruling party. It is undeniable that such would be a “best case scenario” if the opposition could be ready to step in to supplant the government if necessary. However that begets the question, by what yardstick do we measure the Opposition members ability to govern? For such a yardstick is necessary  to determine whether or not opposition fits the bill of an alternative government. Perhaps people could do a rather Singaporean thing and check out the education qualifications of the various Opposition members vis a vis that of the PAP members. However anecdotal evidence has proven that governance of a country is more than just being a good businessman or a scholar, and besides, are not the Workers Party’s newest candidates similar in terms of qualifications to the new PAP members?

But then if the Opposition is not seen as an alternative to the ruling party, what then is the role they should play? To put it simply, the Opposition can play the role of a check and balance. The principle here is similiar to the economic principle of competition. A hypothetical scenario would be as follows; let’s say that during GE 2006 Aljunied GRC had fallen. Surely such a first would cause the PAP to suddenly sit up and realise that the favoured top down approach would need fine tuning and that it is time to start seriously considering the views of people in so far as they are valid rather than just dismissing them or complaining about the complainants. In fact the lack of an opposition presence in parliament could result in complacency on the part of the ruling party leading to the problems most associated with a monopoly. Furthermore, if Aljunied GRC had fallen, would the ruling party still continue to deny Hougang and Potong Pasir upgrading? Such what if questions should be food for thought.

Simply put, a sudden resurgence of the opposition could make the ruling party sit up and realise that more needs to be done with regards to the people’s aspirations, rather than just dismissing them or trying to raise all sorts of justifications which merely make one look foolish. And given the Oppositions’ recent line up during the recent elections, I believe that their qualifications should satisfy those voters who are obsessed with qualifications. Now however the ball is in the court of the voters (those who do get to vote), do we want to vote more opposition members? And of course bearing in mind Chiam See Tong’s words during GE 2006;

You cannot say that you want an opposition member but not in your own constituency

* There are of course inherent problems with stronger opposition; there is a possibility that the check may become too effective and result in slow decision making. I acknowledge that. However current monopoly too has inherent flaws and historical precedent has shown can lead to stagnation and eventual decline.



1. Tan Ah Kow - August 19, 2007

I am afraid your discourse about “opposition” politics seemed to have missed an even more impertinent point. Do Singaporean really believe in this notion of “check” on the government, if not “alternative” government?

I used the word “check” and “alternative” rather than “democracy” because the word “democracy” have been so debased in the minds of Singaporean that it would cloud the crux of the issue — namely, check and alternative. Frankly, even such notions seemed to be debased by Singaporean.

The clearest evidence is show in the voting pattern since the adoption of so-called by election strategy by the opposition. Logically speaking, if any electorate had really wanted a form of check or a platform for the emergence of alternative talents to challenge the incumbent, they would have voted in the opposition after it was clear that the PAP had enough to form a majority — not just a minority — government. It never happen.

Even if the opposition is less than stellar in academic achievements, or charlatans, it would be better to have people giving the governing party a hard time in parliament than have a bunch of yes-men sitting in its place. Beside a governing party with a majority could still ram-roll in laws but at least, if people are concern about “checks”, if not alternative, would have wanted people who are willing to express opposite view point to exist. This kinds of results demonstrate nothing but an electorate not believing on notions of checks and alternatives.

All this bring back to your point about discussion focusing on opposition parties. Which frankly is highly academic and serve nothing but to demean people who are prepared to stand up to their believe by joining opposition party by armed chair critiques such as yourself.

Remember opposition party is not some miraculous construct that can be conjure from nothing. It requires people to step forward and willing to make the sacrifice to be in politics. If not, for people to support those that are willing to stand.

2. Ned Stark - August 19, 2007

Demean the opposition? Pls refer me to the sentences which demean the opposition? At which point have i demeaned the opposition?

The purpose of this post was merely to highlight the fact that more support for the opposition (in terms of voting during the GE) could result in the ruling party sitting up and taking notice of the valid concerns that have been floating around. That is all. It is true that for whatever reason the electorate has chosen to vote the incumbent in. It is not the purpose of this post to venture into an area which has already been covered many times elsewhere.

That said, “armchair critics” (if even I am, its not as if you know what i do or who I am so how you come to this conclusion is beyond me) have played a role. People like Baron Montesquieu(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_de_Secondat%2C_baron_de_Montesquieu), Machiavelli, and loads of philosophers did not or played a limited role in the governments of their day yet their ideas helped shape modern society. Thus blogging does serve a function, albeit a rather slow one.

That said, please revisit my old posts if u are unsure of where my leanings lie. That will be a better alternative than baseless criticism.

3. Tan Ah Kow - August 19, 2007

I am using the word critiques, NOT critics. A critique is a is a systematic inquiry into the conditions and consequences of a concept or set of concepts, and an attempt to understand its limitations (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critic). An armed chair critiques, is an enquiry developed from, well the comfort of an armed chair, as opposed to one developed from the coal face of an experience. See the difference?

I you have chosen to view the word critique as being something different that is your prerogative. I shall not dispute your definition.

By my used of the word, which I have borrowed from the wiki source, your commentary and mine could easily be defined as a critique( NOT critics) that have derived from a armed chair.

As for demeaning the opposition, which I take to mean the efforts of people who opposes, the PAP, it is the what you have commented that is disturbing. It is what you have NOT commented: i.e. the efforts of the opposition that I find it demeaning. Harping on about academic qualifications and not giving due consideration of the kind of conditions these brave soul have to operate in and thus worthy of people’s support is what I find demeaning. Not once in your article have you noted the work being done by opposition that could serve as a useful check on PAP.

For example, why not show what SDP has done to highlight the dubious judicial systems? Or if you find SDP unpalatable, what about using WP Sylvia Lim’s warning about judicial appointments by PMO as the kind of tough issues that could only be raised by opposition as prove of the value of opposition.

Instead, you speak of opposition as some kind of abstract entity that can use to “check” the incumbent. Or some kind of abstract entity as some kind of academic virility symbol for two opposing parties to flaunt to an electorate that I find demeaning.

Whilst it is not necessarily to agree with the characters of individuals in the opposition party, if the intention is to educate the electorate in the greater cause of having a system of check and balances, don’t demean people who have brave the fire by treating these people as some nothing more than abstract entities.

4. Dr. Huang - August 20, 2007

Hi Tan Ah Kow,

Don’t give Ned a hard time. He means well.
I am sure he has no intention to demean anyone.

Having read Ned’s posts and having corresponded with him via blogs, I know where his heart is. It is in the right place.

We know the opposition operate in places where angels dare not tread, and I have the greatest respect for all of them, no matter where they belong.

The opposition has their work cut out for them as the PAP lead by PM Lee has seemingly captured the middle ground and apparently are able to satisfy the needs of the majority. I am not inviting flames- just stating the obvious.

How does the opposition, in such a difficult scenario, then make itself relevant in a materialistic society such as Singapore?

These are pertinent questions to ponder over.


5. Ned Stark - August 20, 2007

Thanks Dr Huang for your kind words.

Anyway, you have raised an issue, how does the opposition make itself relevant? Maybe to be more precise, how can the opposition effect a transformation of the complaints against the PAP into votes for the opposition?

That I must say is very difficult. As can be seen there are many who allude to the opposition’s inability to be an alternative as a reason why they still vote PAP notwithstanding the numerous gripes one has. And thats the reason why I created this post. To show that it is not necessary for the opposition to have any skills in governance (and as an aside, that governing skill has nothing to do with being a scholar and if people still insist on using academic ability as a guide to governing skill then the WP lineup does include several who fit the bill). To show that the Opposition in its current form could have played a role if events in GE 2006 had played out differently. To show that the opposition can still play a role in the next GE.

That said, it all hinges on the voters. If voters can somehow see things in such a perspective, rather the ruling party perspective (that you have to provide a solution, that opposition has no experience in governing), then it is possible that they will start to cast their vote in such manner.

That said, if Tan Ah Kow, you still believe that I have dissed the opposition in anyway, i refer you to my previous posts:


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