The Multi-Cornered Conundrum of Punggol East

The Singapore Democratic Party in a press release on Thursday said that they intend to contest the Punggol East By-election if one is called, to replace the seat vacated by former Speaker of Parliament, Michael Palmer, after his resignation.

Since then, many online commentators have argued and chastised other opposition parties other than the Workers’ Party whom had previously contested the constituency winning 41.01% of the vote.

Now this prompted the SDP to respond on their website with the following:

Persecuted and hammered in every conceivable manner, opposition parties have been deprived of the expertise and resources to craft an alternative vision for Singapore. As a result, we have been mired in fighting for democracy (rightly so), a tactic that the PAP has countered by raising the ridiculous spectre of the advent of chaos and turmoil should the incumbent lose control over Singapore. But times are changing and the opposition cannot remain in that mode. The opposition cannot just bank on the sentiments against the Government and ride on it into Parliament. We need to talk about a different type of politics, one that appeals to the hopes and aspirations of the people, not feed on their fear of the unknown. For if we are going to build a Singapore that is going to confidently embrace the future, we must do more than just curse at the darkness, we must light the candle and point the way forward.

And I agree.

As a disclaimer, I am a member of the Workers’ Party and while I certainly and unequivocally support my Party’s candidate whoever he/she is, in the possible by-election, I do see the value of having multi-party contests even though they have generally benefited the ruling People’s Action Party the most.

Why?

For a very simple reason. The Workers’ Party in our 2011 General Election, have called on the electorate to move this country “Towards a First World Parliament” and in such a Parliament, we have multiple political parties representing diverse segments of society. A political party can only represent a certain group of the electorate and views, and any policies they propose and enact is bound to leave a certain group of people behind. The world isn’t homogeneous and everybody has different views and beliefs. You may believe in same-sex marriage for example, while majority of the population may not but yet at the same time, are these views not deserving to be heard? Political parties form because they believe that something needs to be changed. They form to fight for certain causes but as parties grow bigger, they risk alienating parts of society that do not bring them the most electorate votes.

In mature democracies, cause-based and niche political parties exists to fill in that gap. Parties like The Pirate Party, The Greens and even George Galloway’s Respect Party to name a few.

If we truly call ourselves Workers’ Party supporters and supporters of democracy, we should not be chastising other opposition parties for contesting as all political party’s existence is to compete. Instead, let us focus on putting forth our own party platform and ideas to the electorate and let the people decide whose policies are better suited to represent them. Let there be debates. Let there be criticisms. If we really want to move forward, we need to see ourselves as not Anti-PAP but Pro-Singapore.

If the People’s Action Party wins in such a contest, so be it. It means we have not been working hard enough to convince the majority of the electorate that our policies are the best for them. We need to work harder.

Don’t be the very hand of self-censorship that had stifled this country’s cultural and intellectual growth for the past 47 years.

At the end of the day, the people who benefit from such battle of ideas is the People of Singapore. The people we all serve.

Let me leave you with a quote by Mr. Lee Kwan Yew in 1955, when he and his party was still in Opposition.

“But we either believe in democracy or we not. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from the any democratic processes, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed… If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought.” - Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition leader, April 27, 1955

Update (11:47pm 28 December 2012): Added a quote by LKY and a new sentence near the end of the article.