COMMENT: The PAP should get a move on…

Dr Tan Cheng Bock in 2017. (Yahoo Singapore file photo)

For a country that is said to be politically apathetic, we seem to have no dearth of political views. Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s possible foray into opposition politics has got tongues wagging at a faster speed than usual. One camp welcomes his possible entry as a shot in the arm for opposition politics, while the other derides him for attempting to do a “Mahathir” resurrection. Then there are those who think he shouldn’t associate himself with “losers” and tarnish his political reputation. That he should stand as an independent candidate.

I think the opposition’s courting of Dr Tan is only to be expected. For years, the motley crew of smaller players hasn’t been able to come close to even winning a parliamentary seat. It doesn’t help that the Workers’ Party has never seemed keen to lead the pack, preferring to build its own image and following.

And it is still sticking to its position. Asked about the WP’s absence at the talks with Dr Tan, its media spokesman Daniel Goh would only say that the party “is going through a leadership transition and is focused on organisation-building to better serve Singaporeans”.

Note that even Mr Chiam See Tong’s Singapore People’s Party did not throw its hat into the ring, although he had initiated such an alliance in the past. His wife SPP chairman Lina Chiam said its priority is “intensive ground engagement to understand the feelings and sentiment of Singaporeans”. But, she added, “we are open to having a conversation with Dr Tan Cheng Bock to hear his views and thoughts about the future of Singapore”.

(Take a look at the quotes. They’ve certainly learnt to speak like bureaucrats.)

So an opposition alliance without the WP and SPP?

Besides the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), People’s Power Party (PPP), Democratic Progressive Party, Reform Party, Singaporeans First, the “alliance” includes an unregistered party called Peoples Voice, which former NSP chief Lim Tean has applied to form.

In my view, while including the WP would be good for electoral purposes, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t share a common vision or philosophy with the rest other than being anti-People’s Action Party.

For better or for worse, WP’s former chief Low Thia Kiang has always eschewed the driver’s seat, preferring the role of a checker in Parliament. It has yet to be seen if new leader Pritam Singh will set a different direction.

But the opposition “alliance” aren’t coy about their intentions at all. This is what Mr Lim Tean said in a speech at the Saturday meeting with Dr Tan: “Our Alliance must strive to form the next Government in the upcoming General Elections. We must offer real change to better the lives of Singaporeans. We must be a real alternative.”

Evidently, he’s caught the Malaysian bug, and believes that the PAP can be trounced by a Singapore version of Pakatan Harapan. Mr Lim also suggested that people who think otherwise are “in denial” and cites the “winds of change”.

I don’t think the Singapore situation is anywhere like the circumstances that led to the downfall of Barisan Nasional. We are beset by problems of prosperity, which is what I call income inequality. We grumble about car park fees for teachers and whether our meritocratic system can carry us forward. Our G leaders might seem callous to us (cue rise in gas, water and electricity prices), but they are not corrupt. Our economy is still humming along. And while there are things that bug us (and will always bug us) in the economic, social and political landscape, I don’t think we’re doing badly at all.

But I do think the PAP should sit up and take notice of what’s happening at the other end of the political spectrum. The WP has a new leader. The motley crew seems eager to get its act together. On the other hand, the PAP appears to have flubbed the political succession process – despite what it might say about giving potential successors time to cut their teeth.

Yes, it seems to be doing its damnedest to put the contenders in the public eye, and to have them interact with people. I guess this is so that the public would have a measure of the person who would finally become first among equals. But I wish the PAP would just hold a vote among its members to decide the issue, because the public certainly doesn’t have a say in who becomes Prime Minister – not at least till the general election.

It might be true that people vote for the political party and not the individual. But by party, they look at the man – or woman – in charge. That person is the personification of the political party and what it stands for. And we must have time to measure the person against Dr Tan, if and when he decides to take up offer of opposition leadership.

I know what people will now say. That it’s not just the party or the person, but the policies. Sure, and that’s a great advantage the PAP has. But it’s nice to know there is a face behind them.

Related stories:

Tan Cheng Bock open to leading proposed opposition coalition

Opposition politicians that I met are not ‘3rd rate’: Tan Cheng Bock