Put political talent to use beyond the ballot box

For Singapore to make the most of its political talent ("Making the most of political talent; Wednesday), without sidelining or forgetting candidates who were not elected, two things need to follow.

First, these individuals should express a willingness to be involved in public discourse.

Second, the PAP-dominated Government has to 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 is that opposition candidates appear in a constituency only just before the campaign period.

This may not necessarily be a fair comment, given the entrenched networks of grassroots organisations which have been perceived to be advantageous to PAP candidates.

Changing electoral boundaries may also make it difficult to work the ground.

Yet, it is in the broader public sphere where credible influence and impressions are more sustainable.

Beyond the Non-Constituency MPs who are empowered by the parliamentary platform, those not among these "best losers" can champion causes on their own.

During the hustings, 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.

The candidates should also not forget the party manifestos and alternative policies - at least the more constructive ones - which should facilitate a healthy contest of ideas in the years ahead.

Also, since few candidates 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-profit organisations 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 future 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.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'Put political talent to use beyond the ballot box'. Print Edition | Subscribe