The Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) overtures to the Workers’ Party (WP) are, to put it simply, upsetting to SDP supporters, one would imagine. The party’s actions have attracted criticism all round – from both sides of the fence – and deservedly so. Alex Au called the SDP’s proposal for a “joint-campaign” with the WP a “hare-brained” idea.
I would call it naive too. My jaw almost dropped to the floor when I first read about it online.
Right from the get-go, the SDP faltered, by laying its stake or claim to Punggol East – only to later propose a “discussion” with the WP over who should be sent to contest the ward. And as if that is not already seen as dishonest enough, the SDP chose to release and publish its email correspondence with the WP. It is something which I will never understand, no matter what reasons are proferred. Who would want to talk to you from now on, knowing that whatever they may say to you in private and in confidence may be revealed to the entire planet – even if you do not publish each word said?
Who wants to be coerced in this way?
And to top it off, the proposal to run a “joint campaign” with the WP – with the “joint team” sending a SDP “unity” candidate to contest. If victorious, the SDP proposed, the SDP candidate will raise SDP policy proposals in Parliament while the WP runs the town council.
Hare-brained is being nice.
It is stupidity of the highest order, and unbelievable naivete, I m sorry to say.
The only saving grace, if any at all, about the SDP’s intention behind the proposal is that it is perhaps borne out of an honest desire to avoid a 3-cornered fight. But that’s about it.
But lets be fair – no party has been without fault. WP itself faltered with its alternative recommendations for ministerial salaries, and its MPs had failed to credit the original sources of two speeches they made in Parliament. The PAP too, as anyone would argue, has faltered. So too other parties.
But certainly this SDP boo boo, to put it mildly, will cost the party not a little political credibility.
It would, however, be a pity if this misstep is all that everyone focused on – although it will in fact be the case. The SDP should have kept its options open, about whether it will be contesting Punggol East, until the very last minute. In politics, never commit until you need to. The SDP was too quick to throw its hat into the ring, and went downhill from there on.
It should have continued to focus on the issues, such as housing and healthcare for which it has alternative proposals – proposals which even well-regarded economists like Yeoh Lam Keong says is worth looking at.
I personally do not believe in opposition unity, or that 3 or multi-cornered contests should be avoided. As a voter, I would love to have as many choices as I could. For a political party and its members, however, I understand the desire to avoid multi-cornered fights – but that is for the political parties to decide.
With the PAP’s popularity ebbing, the space for a strong alternative party or parties is going to become bigger – and the party which can step into that vacant space will win the middle ground. At the moment, it is the WP which looks to be that party. Other opposition parties should therefore realise that the WP will be less enthusiastic to avoid 3-cornered fights, or to negotiate away its entry into other parties’ territories. Increasingly, the stronger opposition party, in this case the WP, will have to tread on other territories.
Opposition parties like the SDP do not seem to understand WP’s bigger and longer-term game plan. It is not about winning one more SMC. Neither is it about playing nice with other opposition parties. It is about being focused and going it alone because to do so otherwise risks unravelling the plans put in place. WP is not going to play by what others dictate because it is sticking to its long-term strategy which Low started way back in 2001 when he took over the helm at the party. And that plan is to undo the fortress of obstacles which the PAP has put in the opposition’s way. The state of the other opposition parties do not lend themselves to the plans WP has in place.
It was thus a vain attempt by the SDP to – in its bumbling way – try and negotiate a joint-campaign with the WP. It was never going to happen. It could never. It would be shocking if WP accepted such a proposal.
What now for the SDP?
It has painted itself into a corner – a corner where it cannot win. If it pulls out of the contest now, it will be seen and ridiculed as a party pooper; a party which doesn’t honour its words to contest. But if it contested, it will be seen as again a spoiler party, and one which came up with the ridiculous proposal. Its presence in the 9 days of campaigning will only remind everyone of its hare-brained “joint-campaign” “unity candidate” proposal.
It’s a tough call now. But the fault lies entirely with the SDP itself.
It is quite a shame because the SDP has a very good potential candidate in Paul Tambyah, one who could articulate healthcare policies and issues better than anyone from the WP ever could.
But as in all failures in life, it is not about how badly you fall that matters, but how strongly you get up and come back again. Perhaps that is the comfort the SDP can take and re-group. The party has gone through worse in the last 20 years.
And speaking of boo-boos, what a headline by the Straits Times: