This article first appeared in TR Emeritus on 2 Feb 2015. We have received permission from the author to post it on our website.
By Celia Lim
While Singaporeans First is a new political party, it seemed to have strong candidates and supported by people with solid grassroots and civil service experiences.
I must confess that I had secretly hoped both Tan Jee Say and Ang Yong Guan would not leave SDP – starting everything from ground zero is never easy. Furthermore, I was thinking then that by leveraging on SDP’s resources and together with some SDP members, both of them would make the SDP a formidable opponent to the PAP.
However, I do recognise the logic and merits of both men setting up an entirely new political party from scratch. Now, I can only hope that both SDP and SingFirst could each secure at least one GRC in the coming general election. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend in our parliament!
The name ‘Singaporeans First’ sounds strange to me. However, I must admit that the name also reflects those loud and bitter cries of many Singaporeans at the ground – cries which the PAP Government either could not hear or chooses not to hear! The party’s name, therefore, carries a loud message on whose rights and benefits it will be fighting for. This is my own interpretation of the party’s choice of name, I have not met any of the people in SingFirst.
The new citizens – a growing niche market
I also sensed a certain cleverness or slyness in the choice of ‘Singaporeans First’ as the party’s name.
As we know, only Singaporeans have the right to vote in elections. Whether a person is a new citizen or native citizen, he has a vote in his hand.
With the PAP’s aggressive import and conversion of foreigners to new citizens, the market size made up by this group of voters could be significant; unlike in the past, this group of new citizens has now become a significant niche market!
Given PAP’s over-investment (on taxpayers’ money) on branding itself locally and internationally, the probability of new citizens giving their votes to the ruling party is believed to be high. But it is unlikely that 100% of the new citizens are political fools. There will definitely be a significant number among this group who are wise enough to know the importance of having effective check and balance in Parliament, especially new citizens who came from strong democratic nations. So long as a political party does not campaign against new citizens in open, there is a good chance it will get the votes of this sub-group of politically wiser new citizens. And in a neck-to-neck race, these votes may tip the scale!
In this connection, I would like to take the opportunity here to suggest that any politician of the Opposition Camp who wishes to criticise the new citizens should do so only behind a nickname. It is not a clever idea to let the local media labels your party as an “anti-new-citizens” party! By all means, criticise the large presence of foreigners here, but don’t campaign publicly against the new citizens – because some of them will give you their votes.
Multi-cornered fights in the next general election
Given the extremely sour or bitter ground, given that the Opposition Camp chooses not to fight under a single umbrella, it is only realistic to expect several constituencies to have 3 or even more cornered fights. I think it is unavoidable. But I guess it is not the end of the world for the Opposition Camp.
Realistically, neither the PAP nor any opposition party is able to field strong candidates in every constituency. In addition, it is a fact that there are some opposition parties which used to be inactive, weak or do not have reasonably good candidates.
As long as the opposition forces of a 3-cornered fight comprises a much stronger and an obvious weak teams, there is still a hope that the much stronger opposition team will attract all the anti-PAP votes and beat the PAP team.
It will be a political tragedy if two equally strong opposition teams end up competing against each other in the same GRC, because opposition supporters and middle-ground voters who wish to vote against the PAP will get confused over which opposition party to vote for. And in such a terrible case, the PAP is almost guaranteed a victory – and that PAP’s victory means the Opposition lost two strong teams in just one single fight! Such a wasteful loss is unacceptable to opposition supporters!
Hence, in the coming general election, it is not enough for opposition parties to predict where will be the PAP’s weaker constituencies, there is also a strong need to ‘smell out’ where the other opposition parties’ strong and weak candidates will be contesting. If negotiations hit deadlock, the stronger teams may even have to make the unpleasant decision of gate crashing the weaker teams’ territories – hopefully, such a scenario can be avoided.
Some netizens hold the view that opposition supporters are able to tell which opposition party to vote for; such netizens often quoted the case of Punggol East by-election where WP’s Lee Li Lian secured nearly all the anti-PAP votes and achieved a nice victory. But in that by-election, the confusions were very much less – given WP’s brand name in that area, Lee Li Lian was making a second attempt (after a respectable loss in her first attempt), and the Reform Party did not have strong ground support in Punggol East. The situation would be a lot more complicated if strong teams from SDP, SingFirst and WP contest in a GRC such as Tanjong Pagar. Or, for example, if SingFirst and WP decided to join in the contest along with the best team of NSP in Tampines GRC.
Please, opposition parties, we do not want to see any accident on nomination day of this coming general election!
Personally, I doubt the next general election will see a new ruling party or a coalition government. But I believe denying the PAP a 2/3 majority in parliament is a realistic hope. And I prefer a multi-parties parliament – because only then, the opposition parties are willing to seriously talk about forming a united front against the PAP.
Here is the link to the original article:
Editor’s note: We have amended the author’s use of “Singaporeans First Party” and “SFP” to Singaporeans First and SingFirst respectively, as these are the terms we would prefer to be acknowledged.