“All the more, Singapore should celebrate the way election candidates here stood up for their beliefs, despite the personal sacrifices and hardship involved” (Make The Most Of Political Talent, The Straits Times Editorial).
For Singapore to make the most of its political talent, without side-lining or forgetting the candidates who were not elected (ST, Sept. 16), two things need to follow: first, these individuals should express a willingness to be involved in public discourse; and second, in turn, the People’s Action Party (PAP) dominated-government has to – beyond its conciliatory, post-victory platitudes – be receptive to perspectives mooted by these individuals in the future. And perhaps in the process even open channels for meaningful conversations.
A common lament – which is not necessarily fair, given the entrenched networks of grassroots organisations which have been perceived to be advantageous to the PAP candidates, especially during the hustings of the general elections – is that politicians from the opposition parties only appear in a constituency just before the campaign period. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, for instance, infamously described them as nomads who do not have an interest in the welfare of the people. However, the former Joo Chiat SMC highlights a consequence of gerrymandering, and a difficulty of working the ground.
Yet it is in the broader public sphere where credible influence and impressions are more sustainable. Beyond the non-constituency members of parliament who are empowered by the parliamentary platform, those not amongst these “best losers” can champion causes on their own. During the campaign period, and most ubiquitous at the many rallies, candidates from the opposition parties made impassioned speeches on socio-economic issues which matter to them. I was, for example, struck by speeches made by software engineer Koh Choong Yong of the Workers’ Party, who spoke from his own experience and therefore focused on reasonable proposals for special needs children and their parents.
Not forgetting the party manifestos and alternative policies – at least the more constructive ones – which should facilitate a healthy contest of ideas in the years ahead. And since few articulated a long-term vision for Singapore, this could be a starting point for contributions.
The political arena is far from the only space through which these individuals can make their voices heard. Civil society, non-profits, and academic circles can house these political talents too. Pragmatically, these endeavours would help the opposition parties make a stronger case in the lead-up to the next general elections. More importantly, the diversity in viewpoints would not only enrich policy processes in Singapore, but should also galvanise a more active citizenry to be engaged in political exchanges beyond the ballot box.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.