“Let’s hope they have learnt from past mistakes and put up a more credible showing this time around. After all, up to nine best losers have got seats reserved for them in the next Parliament as Non-Constituency MPs” (Opposition Parties Need More Than Unity, Mr. Mano Sabani).
The commentary by Mr. Mano Sabani, “Opposition Parties Need More Than Unity” (March 12, 2011), neglects one important point: that politics is not a zero-sum game. The outcome of the imminent General Elections would not be premised upon a list of purported expectations, and it is definitely not solely dependent on the preparation and performance of the Opposition parties, and their corresponding candidates. While Mr. Mano is right to highlight the fact that Opposition politicians have a lot to prove if they are to make significant inroads, he has overlooked the fact that methodologies adopted by the incumbent Government are equally important determinants for the outcome.
There are genuine socio-political and economic dissatisfactions on the ground; with ordinary Singaporeans lamenting over the relentless increase in the cost of living, the widening income gap, worries over infrastructural developments with the respective flash floods and public transportation congestion, housing and healthcare woes et cetera. The articulation of this unhappiness has been augmented by the proliferation of social media channels, commentary websites and weblogs; with groups and individuals constantly questioning the status quo. These platforms operate as “echo chambers”, where disgruntled citizens share perspectives and freely air common frustrations. The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) policies may be “tried and tested” over the past decades, but voters would be more cognisant of the PAP’s administration throughout the previous term. Carrot-and-stick tactics might no longer be as effective.
Bearing the aforementioned in mind, the contesting Opposition parties would naturally be empowered with a slight advantage in the polls. On the one hand, dissatisfied individuals would be eager to express their vocal disappointment with the current state of affairs; on the other, young and informed voters would be enthusiastic to shake things up, and give Opposition politicians the chance to voice their opinions and bring about new changes.
Beyond the considerations of candidate quality, policy viability and party stability, individual voters would also be looking out for commitment over the past years, sincere grassroots and community involvement, as well as the ability to turn rhetoric into action. Politicians hoping to contest in an area without having been involved in the communities’ activities or functions would be severely disadvantaged, since they have no understanding of the area’s challenges and concerns. Regardless of one’s working experience or professional background, the candidates must be able to negotiate expectations so that they do not end up making empty, unconstructive promises.
Opposition parties are not as disadvantaged as they have been put up to be, and would stand a decent chance in a fair fight if they keep a keen ear on the electorate and reach out consistently with conviction. Shedding the comforts of conservatism might be daunting; but we would never know if we staunchly refuse to step out of our comfort zones.