Activists, SDP discuss future of opposition after GE defeat

(From left) Blogger Alex Au, Mr Terry Xu of The Online Citizen, Mr Rafiz Hapipi of Maruah, Assistant Professor of Law Jack Lee of Singapore Management University, writer Sudhir Vadaketh and political analyst Derek da Cunha at yesterday's post-electio
(From left) Blogger Alex Au, Mr Terry Xu of The Online Citizen, Mr Rafiz Hapipi of Maruah, Assistant Professor of Law Jack Lee of Singapore Management University, writer Sudhir Vadaketh and political analyst Derek da Cunha at yesterday's post-election forum organised by Maruah.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Opposition parties can move on from their defeat at the general election by distinguishing themselves more strongly from one another in the coming years, civil society activists and observers said.

They ought to propose unique policy platforms, present them as alternatives to the People's Action Party (PAP) and build a strong party brand, they told a post-election forum organised by human rights group Maruah yesterday.

Some parties can even speak up for new citizens, socio-political bloggers Alex Au and Terry Xu said.

"To build a brand for a party, you cannot escape the question of ideology," added Mr Au.

But panellist Sudhir Vadaketh said this would put the parties in a Catch-22 situation as most Singaporeans want the PAP to form the government. And while parties need alternative policies, these might make them unelectable as voters do not actually want them implemented.

This year's polls saw the PAP's share of the popular vote jump 9.8 percentage points from 2011 to 69.9 per cent. All eight opposition parties contesting saw their vote share dip.

Some speakers felt opposition parties should not meet ahead of the polls to decide where to stand and avoid three-cornered fights as this reinforces voters' perceptions that they are one and the same.

But they are not, others said, citing how the Workers' Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) saw smaller dips in vote share of about 5 percentage points, compared with other parties.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha said Singaporeans vote out of self-interest. "If a majority stays with the status quo, it is for a very simple reason: They are beneficiaries of the current socioeconomic and political set-up," he said.

At a separate forum, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan criticised what he saw as the lack of a level playing field for opposition parties. He said the Elections Department had to be independent and the People's Association had to be dismantled.

Without "meaningful change in the fundamentals", opposition parties here will be like puppies chasing their tails, unable to effect sustained change because of a system "stacked against the opposition in a very undemocratic way", he added.

He called on opposition parties to work closer with civil society groups and opinion leaders.

"When your country is in such a precarious situation and you say no, I just have to be neutral, to me it does not make sense," he said.

Dr Chee, who last week floated the idea of working with the WP, also said both sides have not met.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Activists, SDP discuss future of opposition after GE defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe