Monday, October 22, 2007
There often is an undercurrent of chorus regarding the dismal state of opposition parties in Singapore. While part of the reason is due to the uneven political climate faced by these parties. There are other factors that they ought to consider as well if they desire to have any credible, successful chance of winning seats and representation in parliament. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, and more suggestions will be forthcoming in the nearer future.
1. Stop Fighting among yourselves.
In a majoritarian system of parliamentary democracy where the winner takes all and the winner really is the person who finishes “first past the post” – 50% plus 1 vote. The first thing opposition parties should do would be to quit their own internally divisive agenda and to unify themselves as one. Efforts to conglomerate and unite various minority factions in society should be the first serious activity that they do. An example would be the 4 way fight in Cheng San GRC in the elections several years ago. Having a four way fight guarantees the incumbent party a win. A similar analogy in United States government would be how a third party candidate (libertarian party, independent, etc) takes a higher proportion of votes away from the two front runners. For example, Ralph Nader is said to have taken more votes away from Al Gore than George Bush in the 2000 elections – leading the way for Bush to claim the presidency. Within the context of a single-member constituency, the seats that opposition parties often target, there should be ideally just two candidates headed up for such contests – one from the PAP and one from the Opposition. No more and No less. Cooperative Game Theory strategies are obvious when it comes to such instances of maximizing polling victory. With too much internal strife and politics among the various opposition parties that bridge across economic, social, political-action and ethnicity. Its time that you guys got your act together and worked as a team instead of horizontally oppressing each other.
2. Focus on Bread and Butter Issues.
While enviable and admirable. The constant focus on human rights and Singapore’s actions in the international arena should instead be appealing to voters instead. And in Singapore, appealing issues are JOBS JOBS JOBS, WAGES WAGES WAGES. Period. Enough of the talk shop regarding censorship, Singapore’s International Actions, Freedom of Speech issues and so on. While these issues are very important. They aren’t going to strike a rapport with the Median and Mean of voters where abstractions of international theory and political philosophy is far removed from their hand to mouth existence, the need for healthcare and survival and what matters close to their hearts. It is far more important to focus on physical and critical issues rather than abstract political and social theory. No doubt, its very ideal to speak about such matters. But to the average Singaporean that comes forth for the rally and compares both parties at a glance. It simply boils down to this – which party provides a better economic platform for that particular voter. Its no surprise that elections are often held during good economic times. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that elections held during a time of economic difficulty often result in worst votes for the incumbent party. To get the largest share of votes, one has to focus on the issues that matter to the largest portion of people within the electoral district. The other philosophies on the agenda that appeal to a much smaller and intellectual politically concerned voters can be co-opted into the party’s plan. But ultimately, go where your electorate desires you to go to. Your voters are very often taxi drivers, hawkers, fresh university graduates, new families and those who are below the mean/median of the economic ladder. Do your research on the electoral district you are challenging and provide solid action plans. Not empty promises. Details Determine Destiny, as they often say. And in many cases, the opposition party in Singapore is often found to be loud in voice, but small in real practical action.
3. Recruit Talent across Minorities and Ethnicities.
Opposition Parties cannot continue to put their strongest candidates in Single Party constituencies alone. Since race and ethnicity is a factor in politics wherever you go, it would be better for opposition parties to get their act together in co-opting good quality talents to formulate possible group representative slates that can credibly stand for election. The word is CREDIBLE. In Singapore terms, and as much as this embodies elitism in many forms. This would mean a relatively well educated, articulate and knowledgeable person. While race and ethnicity should not be a factor in talent. The reality in Singapore is that it is. So instead of complaining that it is difficult to recruit across racial and ethnic boundaries, take action early on to make up for the anticipated difficulty in the future. If the opposition can credibly put forth a group of candidates in many electoral districts on elections day. What happens is that even if they do not win, they will start to gain a measure of credibility among voters. You need group candidates who can speak well, converse well and can give proper and good answers to the crafty questions in politics. Instead of fear-mongering, propose solutions. Instead of complaining about the current standards of governance, propose addition measures that may make the current means better. Even if these ideas are stolen and “co-opted” into the winning parties plan later on. It will be a triumph for integrity and a signaling measure of public policy credibility. Politicians are supposed to fix problems for their people. So quit whining about the issues and start fixing them. If you are tired of million dollar salary ministers, then do a better job than them and charge less at the same time!
4. Take a less combative role in politics. Instead, go upon the co-operational route.
While some may see this as a form of selling out. If an opposition member or an opposition party desires CREDIBLE and a respected place both in elections and in parliament. He should instead of vigorously and violently opposing all measure in local politics, instead take a softer stance of cooperation. Martin Luther King was known as a great civil rights leader in the philosophy of non-violence. However, without a violent reaction or oppression from the police (non-violent crackdowns are the norm in Singapore – with warnings and implicit threats like video surveillance being the norm) it will be difficult to gain credibility among Singaporeans if the state-dominated media label’s one as a troublemaker or martyr. Booker T. Washington is famous for his Atlanta Compromise as a way for African-Americans to gain a step ahead in civil rights. While they were not yet equal, they were able to work within the system and gains some concessions slowly through the period of time. Without a violent reaction or crackdown on opposition politicians by the PAP government in Singapore, the concept of a non-violent means of social protest will not work. Non-violence worked extremely well in the United States because the authority of the states government could be relieved and overruled by the Federal Government (see Selective Incorporation of the 14th Amendment and the Bill of Rights). In Singapore you do not have this luxury of an independent judiciary that is free from the reigns of political pressure to rule in a free and open manner, especially in areas like politics. A good number of every-day Singaporeans have a high opinion of the courts in Singapore when it comes to commercial and other litigation areas. However, it is obvious that this might not be so in political arenas. Anyone desiring to know more can simply google or read the books by famous dissenters such as Francis Seow or Chris Lydgate. Instead of being seen as an antagonistic and hostile force in politics, the cooperational route has worked relatively well for people like Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and perhaps Steve as well.
5. Its not what you say. It is what they hear.
With a media that tends to favor the opinions of the government and is supportive of the government in Singapore. Opposition parties have to work much harder at building credibility as well. Especially among an “apathetic mass” of people in Singapore, we are highly educated in practical things – mathematics, engineering, medicine, law and so on. But not very well educated in other areas of the humanities like philosophy, politics, perhaps economics and psychology when you look at the population from a holistic perspective. While this might be a generalization, the important thing is that people tend to take what the Straits Times says – even if it is complete BS, for what its worth and use it as means to justify their personal political convictions. The availability heuristic in psychology would be a good explanation for this – with a populace that is not very familiar with the systems of government, the expectations of governance and politics in general, it will be difficult for them to relate to all the aspects of politics being discussed except in issues that they have a strong emotional attachment to – namely JOBS JOBS JOBS. MONEY MONEY MONEY. Economic Survival.
6. Get Young People Involved.
America’s Universities have been accused by republican lawmakers as the last bastions of marxism. Opposition Parties should stop treating youth as second class voters. There is no need for separate institutions to reach out to youth and young people. Get youth involved in the policy making process, the suggestion and feedback loop. Giving them a separate institution might be a nice idea to separate the idealism of young people from the reality of real world politics. But sometimes, actually in Singapore opposition political party terms – it might be more than necessary to put forth a grander dose of idealism and passion from the youth into the policy making process and the political argumentative formulations. The future of elections will not be decided by powerful or richer older segments of the population, but the youth, who are growing up into a different rapidly changing world and are exposed to western ideas, culture and have certainly travelled abroad and know what life in other parts of the world is like. The future and long-term viability of opposition parties will depend on their ability to educate, co-opt and ability to build credibility among youth. Again – while it is lovely to be able to talk issues of Fair Trade, Free Speech and Human Rights with them. Let’s go to what’s important to them. Jobs. Can the opposition parties come up with a credible solution to the whole “Relevant Experience” thing when it comes to getting a job? It seems that you can’t get a job without relevant experience and you can’t get relevant experience without job. Can the opposition parties in Singapore at least voice these concerns of everyday Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans to the PAP Government and its brilliant ministers? This is what opposition politics needs to be – credible, articulate and knowledgeable about the concerns of their electorates. Instead of being merely a forum for idealistic talk shop pontification, its time opposition parties engaged issues of prior relevance in their discourse and quit treating young people as second class voting citizens.
7. Reach Out to the Youth
It is often said that Singaporean Youth are apathetic when it comes to politics. Why are they even apathetic? Simple. Have they been taught to consider a different perspective? An alternative? A Credible Alternative that does not denigrate into protests or non-violent action? Opposition parties need to do research on the youngest, most mobile and educated segment of the populace that will determine their political survival in the long term. Because they are inherently much more familiar with advancing technology. Reach out to youths using technology. A quick search on FaceBook in Singapore reveals that a good portion of Singaporeans are either “Moderates”, “Liberal” or “Very Liberal” under political views. The PAP, with its highly conservative rhetoric and panderings to the “older generation” under a confucianist ethic has easily separated its real world view of politics from the idealism enchanted by youth. This is a golden opportunity for youth to be educated about issues that they can feel more passionate about – issues of social change, justice, freedom of speech, gay and lesbian issues and their youthful concerns. In America, it is not unusual for 16-17 year old individuals to be actively involved in politics. Especially so when many of them can vote come the age of 18. National Servicemen fall into the category of youth too – as defined by the world bank to be individuals under the age of 25. Can opposition parties raise concerns for national servicemen? Such as issues of safety, issues of mental health, issues of transport and salary? Can opposition parties harness the latent energies of our national servicemen into politics? They may not be able to vote while they are serving. But come ORD. There is always the chance that reaching out to such youth can prove to be a powerful way of establishing credibility and gaining votes further down the road. The government easily alienates a good portion of national service youth during their times of service. Opposition Parties should harness their concerns and raise them in parliament or propose solutions to their duress of unfairness.
Ultimately, if opposition parties want to win representation in parliament someday. Its about time they cleaned up their act and started appealing practical issues to their electorates and champion a variety of solutions to the issues in politics. Opposition parties have to work harder in appealing to the youth of Singapore, because within another two electoral cycles, these individuals will have the capacity, mobility, knowledge and understanding and become a political force on their own. It is time to take advantage of the PAP’s appeal to “older Singaporeans” and “their loyal old voters” and to work aggressively in capturing the sentiments and issues of the youth. Additionally opposition parties need to work up on their issues of credibility. They need to field talented candidates that are well spoken, effective communicators and well versed in the solutions of public policy. Instead of working a fear-mongering or mud-slinging rhetoric or combative non-violent action, parties should be more cooperative while distinguishing their political views and solutions from the ruling party. Only time can tell if they are willing to work in unison to reach The Tipping Point and shift politics into their favor – even with a difficult political climate. Passion alone isn’t enough. It takes passion, determination and smart work to succeed in the battle it is for parliamentary representation.