February 2, 2013
INSIGHT: BY SEAH CHIANG NEE
INSTEAD of reacting exuberantly, the resurging Workers Party (WP) has been talking up its own political weakness.
What’s more, it has also been heaping praises on the achievements of its rival, the People’s Action Party (PAP), which it defeated in a by-election last week.
What is going on?
Political analysts say one possibility is that they reflect the party’s concern that the current bout of anti-PAP sentiments could spread too quickly and weaken the government before the opposition is ready to
Surprised by its victory, some Singaporeans are seeing it as a prelude to the 2016 general election, with the ruling party suffering further losses.
The campaigning has shown some extent of public bitterness over immigration, high cost of living and over-crowding.
The polling result told part of the story. The government lost the relatively safe Punggol East seat that it won only 20 months ago.
Its 54.5% majority in 2011 was overturned by a shocking 11% vote swing to WP.
More surprisingly, these voters came from a cross section of the people, ranging from young to the ageing, from professionals to blue-collar workers and housewives. It cut across genders and races.
It wasn’t just passive support. Videos of large rallies clearly revealed the strong feeling.
It was not lost to the Workers Party.
A veteran political observer said the WP leadership is apparently concerned that the anti-government sentiments were spreading too quickly for the good of stability.
In a clear sign of caution, the party cancelled the traditional gathering place on Polling Day (Jan 26) for its supporters to await the results.
“We hope you can wait for the results at home,” a statement said. Still, 5000 noisy fans celebrated in neighbouring Hougang.
Subsequently, leaders advised Singaporeans not to read too much into this victory or to regard it as a future trend.
Instead of firing up party fervour, Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang told Singaporeans that his party was too small to be able to form an alternative government.
“I do not want to give the people false hope,” he added. “We are not ready... We don’t have as many resources as the PAP. This is just the beginning for us.”
It would take at least 20 years before it could challenge the PAP’s dominance.
“I don’t think the Workers Party can challenge PAP’s standards in the near term,” Low told Lianhe Zaobao.
His comments seem to reflect a concern about the possibility of the PAP being voted out of power before his party – or any opposition – is ready to take over.
Low’s humility is not without foundation. The PAP has been in power for nearly 50 years and holds a large arsenal of constitutional and non-legal tools far too powerful for its rivals.
An example: Despite its rising popularity, the Workers Party could only field 23 candidates to contest the 87 Parliament seats in the 2011 election.
This was three candidates more than in the 2006 election.
Although its prospects are brighter now, it is unlikely the party could find enough qualified candidates to contest all seats in three years’ time.
Workers Party chairman Sylvia Lim was also a similar voice of moderation.
Political parties here need to avoid partisan politics, but work for the people, said the Aljunied Member of Parliament.
Lim, who is a lawyer, said: “If you want us to take over the government now, this is not the time. But it doesn’t mean we are not building up towards that day.”
However, in another speech, she praised the ruling party’s economic achievements.
“You have to give credit where credit is due … I think the PAP is very proactive in macro-economic issues and finding niches to make Singapore globally relevant and competitive,” she added.
Such tolerant attitude at a time when public unhappiness against the PAP is rising has raised mixed reactions.
While it has gained the admiration of a broad number of Singaporeans who, although angry, still hanker for a PAP government.
“Most strongly want it to reform itself to care for Singaporeans but are reluctant to vote it out of power – at least for now,” said a former journalist.
It is these people, from the broad middle, that had been turning away from the PAP towards supporting this moderate opposition party.
But it has also suffered some erosion of support from youths who condemn its “meekness” in speaking up against government “excesses”.
These people want faster changes and are relying on more outspoken parties to represent them.
“In this sense a two-party system is inadequate in Singapore. We need one or two more which are more active,” said an analyst.
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information