A merger of minor opposition parties unlikely to succeed

Last Sunday's article ("Might the other opposition parties merge?") discussed the merger meeting involving the Reform Party (RP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), Singaporeans First (SingFirst) and People's Power Party (PPP).

Perhaps follow-up questions should be: "Can a merger of the minor opposition parties succeed?" and "Is such a merger relevant to Singapore voters?"

First, if history is any guide, such a merger is unlikely to succeed. Both RP and NSP have had prominent comings and goings, while SingFirst and PPP both have secretaries-general who ran in previous elections with other parties. Such party-hopping does not bode well for a merger.

Party-hoppers do not seem to distinguish any ideological difference between the parties they have been members of. They move because of personality incompatibilities rather than political ones.

To be relevant, a merged party has to offer a different ideology, better ideas for governing Singapore or greater organisational capability than the WP or SDP.

Party-hopping and the founding of new parties may also be driven by the egos of those who enjoy being big fish in small ponds, or perhaps puddles, and who relish the media coverage given to party leaders at election time.

With members who have neither ideology to bind them nor the willingness to subsume their egos, a merged party can only be a doomed enterprise.

Second, such a merger would be irrelevant to Singapore voters. The minor parties occupy positions on the political spectrum between the Workers' Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

To be relevant, a merged party has to offer a different ideology, better ideas for governing Singapore or greater organisational capability than the WP or SDP.

Voters showed decisively in the recent general election that they did not believe that the smaller parties offered any of these.

In fact, the contesting of seats by minor parties may have reduced the possibility of more elected opposition MPs in Parliament because first, they ate into mainstream media coverage of the WP and SDP; and second, they raised voters' fears that there was a real danger of the ruling party losing power as all seats were contested.

The minor parties should heed the call of political commentators like Dr Derek da Cunha, who suggested that they disband and that the personalities behind them leave the political scene ("Singapore far too small for more than three parties"; Sept 13). Singapore would be better off.

Tan Soon Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'A merger of minor opposition parties unlikely to succeed'. Print Edition | Subscribe