“Singapore voters will be persuaded only if the opposition parties unite and form a single party to contest the People’s Action Party (PAP)” (Only A United Opposition Can Succeed, Mr. Paul Chan).
Whenever a General Election is imminent in Singapore, there would be a chorus of sentiments from the ground putting forth the proposition that it is imperative for the Opposition politician and parties to unite under one umbrella organisation. Mr. Paul Chan’s letter, “Only A United Opposition Can Succeed” (February 27, 2011), is no different; with the assertion that a single party is necessary for the Opposition to break the People’s Action Party (PAP) hegemonic dominance in the administration. However, such proposals – even if they are considered in the long run – remain unconstructive; on the contrary, coercing these elements to coalesce might be detrimental for the Opposition’s eventual objective of achieving critical mass in the Government branches.
There are a few reasons why the aforementioned is impractical and unworkable. First, simply merging different parties together would mean that weaker individuals and ineffective groups would be conveniently subsumed into the association. Given the challenging roles and responsibilities of Opposition politicians, competition between parties – in the form of leadership calibre, manifestoes, and overall quality – is desired to ensure their abilities.
Correspondingly, since the immediate goal is to increase party credibility and convince the electorate of their capabilities, the parties cannot compromise on their policy proposals and recommendations. Since they are motivated by varying ideals – though with the common purpose of serving the people – there are momentous differences in their suggestions for Singapore’s economic and socio-political conditions.
Current divides within Opposition parties – epitomised by the series of resignations and confusing developments in the Reform Party (RP) – contrasted against solid parties with well-developed and articulated game plans, showcases the gulf in preparations and administrative foundations between the existing parties. If the Opposition parties were to make a conscious decision to merge now, valuable time and resources would certainly be wasted on deciding members for leadership positions, fussing over petty bureaucratic matters; instead of tangibly focusing on substantive policy issues.
Simply calling for unity of the Opposition without proper justifications will hardly convince Singaporeans of their overall readiness to challenge the status quo. Nonetheless, what Opposition parties can – and should – do is to discuss the distribution of their candidates across the electoral map, so as to prevent three-way fights. This would minimise Opposition votes being spread out between two challengers; more importantly, with contests in all of the constituencies, it would comprehensively offer every eligible Singaporean the chance to cast his or her vote in the ballot box.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.