The Punggol evolution?
As expected, the Punggol-East by-election has generated much excitement. The four-cornered fight, involving the People’s Action Party (PAP), Worker’s Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and Reform Party (RP), has many questioning the wisdom of three opposition parties entering the fray as it would split the so-called “Opposition vote”.
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) even earlier proposed a collaborative effort with the WP that would see both parties backing a single SDP candidate. If the candidate was victorious, the WP would run the town council.
Criticism of a four-cornered fight as well as of the SDP’s proposal, however, raises some rather pertinent questions about the evolving democracy in Singapore, which I think warrant serious discussion. I contend that the Opposition parties should not be castigated but that, rather, the four-cornered battle should be viewed as a positive step in the evolution of Singapore politics.
A vibrant democracy should welcome diverse electoral participation and competition. It should focus on the election of the best possible candidate, not encourage the pooling of resources merely to prevent the election of another.
Singapore’s various opposition parties, many still in the process of finding their feet, must compete at every available opportunity, constantly testing themselves and in the process learning valuable lessons. Their standing back, merely so that the “Opposition vote” is not affected, would not bode well for democracy or its development.
A FALSE DICHOTOMY?
Let us also evaluate this notion of the “Opposition vote” that we seemed to have come to accept, as part of a dichotomy in which only two options exist: The incumbent and “an Opposition”. A vote should not be rendered down to simply a choice between the two, especially when many parties are present in the picture.
Instead, a vote should be presented to the party that offers the best plan to the people. This battle of ideas and platform would spur the parties to learn and grow with each election. If as individual voters we do not accord each party the honest opportunity to convince us of its suitability, how can we expect a competitive and mature democracy?