On Saturday, The Straits Times ran a special entitled “What’s The New Normal”, in which reporters looked at the present dynamics in Singapore’s political scene, and explored whether things have changed significantly. Exactly one year after (May 7) Singaporeans took to the polls (here) and expressed their desire for greater representation – with the People’s Action Party (PAP) just winning 60.14% of the votes and the Workers’ Party (WP) winning a group representation constituency (GRC) – where do Opposition politicians, in particular, go from here?
Exploring The Status Quo: Craving For More Policy Discourse
1. It should be established right from the get-go that given the breakthroughs of the General Election in 2011 – which many had heralded as a “watershed” – the expectations heaped upon the Opposition members have been tremendous. It would not be easy negotiating around an environment that has been dominated by a single party for a very long time.
2. Opposition politicians – especially some members of parliament (MP) from the WP – despite a relatively respectable beginning, might have found Parliament rather challenging to adapt to. The Yaw saga notwithstanding, Mr. Pritam Singh and Mr. Chen Show Mao were unfortunately mired in plagiarism controversies, when astute netizens pointed out that the former’s speech in Parliament contained large parts of an online publication, and the latter had reproduced an existing article on his own FaceBook page.
Although it was later clarified by both gentlemen that the authors of the commentaries had expressed the willingness not be quoted directly (no attribution was necessary), it gave the opportunity for their PAP counterparts – as well as online observers – to make accusatory remarks. Some, cognisant that the MPs had obtained prior permission, lamented that the acts made the individuals seem as if they had no tangible opinion of their own, or were not able to articulate their perspectives and aspirations in an effective manner.
These setbacks are unlikely to disrupt the political gains that have been made; nevertheless, more constructive concerns should be articulated in the public sphere.
3. Having delved into provincial matters, it is time for parliamentarians on both sides to take a more active role in engaging in policy discourse (within Parliament, as well as in the community). It is intriguing that most – if not all – of the first-term PAP politicians interviewed by The Straits Times chose to reflect on their on-the-ground grassroots experiences, and made little or no reference to broader socio-economic dissatisfaction. I feel that it is important for backbenchers to be more active in these circumstances, because they get to gauge the pulse of their constituents, and to express dissatisfaction or issues.
Along the same tangent, the quote by Assistant Professor Reuben Wong aptly summarises what the WP, with its presence in the Parliament, should endeavour to do in the upcoming year (though the WP, in fairness, had to learn the ropes with its new Town Council). Quite surprisingly, it has been the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) which has pushed forward with the introduction of alternative plans and proposals (here); even before its recent introductions, Dr. Chee Soon Juan had explained the importance of engaging on issues (here). For the WP to heighten its credibility and influence, it should also begin to contemplate and consider different policy recommendations based on or adapted from its campaign manifesto, to offer Singaporeans alternatives and solutions.