Might the other opposition parties merge?

Opposition party leaders at the second round of talks to avoid three-cornered fights held at NSP headquarters on Aug 6, prior to GE2015 on Sept 11. Post-election, PPP’s Goh Meng Seng mooted the idea of the multi-party meeting.
Opposition party leaders at the second round of talks to avoid three-cornered fights held at NSP headquarters on Aug 6, prior to GE2015 on Sept 11. Post-election, PPP’s Goh Meng Seng mooted the idea of the multi-party meeting. ST FILE PHOTO

Leaders of four biggest losers in GE2015 met within a week of Sept 11 polls to discuss working together, but talks are at an early stage

Opposition party members were dismayed at the recent General Election result, especially those from the four parties that found themselves right at the bottom.

But, shortly after, their party chiefs met to discuss possible consolidation among the opposition, which has become more fragmented with the founding of new parties in recent years.

The four biggest losers are: the National Solidarity Party (NSP), which won 25.27 per cent of the vote among the areas it contested; the People's Power Party (PPP), which won 23.09 per cent; Singaporeans First (SingFirst), taking 21.49 per cent; and the Reform Party (RP), garnering 20.6 per cent.

The RP was founded in 2008, and SingFirst and PPP, before General Election 2015. They were among seven opposition parties which made this the first fully-contested election since independence.

On the agenda of the informal meeting, called within a week of the Sept 11 General Election: whether they should form an alliance, or even merge.

EYE ON THE FUTURE

Of course, morale wouldn't be good, facing such a defeat. A lot of the leaders are not young already... but we must prepare the ground for future political players.

MR GOH MENG SENG OF THE PEOPLE'S POWER PARTY, who mooted the multi-party meeting following the opposition's poor showing at GE2015.

SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say tells Insight that some other opposition parties like the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), too, were invited to the meeting but could not make it as they "were not free".

NSP president Sebastian Teo also says that as discussions are at an early stage, it is too premature to discuss possible outcomes.

But the PPP's Goh Meng Seng, who mooted the multi-party meeting, tells Insight: "Of course, morale wouldn't be good, facing such a defeat. A lot of the leaders are not young already... but we must prepare the ground for future political players."

Separately, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan had last month floated the idea of working closer together with the Workers' Party (WP) to "present a more coordinated opposition strategy and message".

The WP and SDP were the second- and third-best performers at the polls after the ruling People's Action Party, which romped home with a popular vote of 69.9 per cent.

For the time being, however, the opposition parties appear to mostly be going at it alone, as they work out internal plans to move forward.

WHO SHOULD LEAD?

The SDP had placed high hopes on Dr Chee's comeback, hoping that it would reap huge dividends for the party. He was contesting his first election in 14 years after his bankruptcy discharge. Instead, the SDP saw its vote share dip from 36.76 per cent in 2011 to 31.23 per cent.

 

Since then, talk has started among political watchers about whether he is the best man to lead the party, given the historical baggage.

He no longer practises the brand of adversarial politics that got him sued for defamation - at a rally he had even pledged to find common ground and work with the PAP.

But some say it is hard to change perceptions of the man. Political scientist Derek da Cunha has often suggested that the party will be better off without Dr Chee at the helm. He has been reported as saying that the change in behaviour "does not airbrush out his...conduct since he entered the political stage more than two decades ago in 1992".

Dr Chee's party members dismiss such talk. Bukit Panjang SMC candidate Khung Wai Yeen, 33, says the party has not considered, nor spoken, about the issue. He adds: "We're firmly behind Dr Chee."

Indeed, Dr Chee has been front and centre of the party's post-GE activities. He has taken the lead to engage supporters online and organise a post-GE dialogue. Yesterday he hosted a talk centred on his personal life and ambitions.

 

The SDP, which arguably has been the most active among the non-WP opposition parties on Facebook, has also launched a recruitment drive for new volunteers, and says on its Facebook page that it is "already regrouping and planning our work ahead".

It adds, in a signal that it will continue to research and draft policy papers as it had done in the lead-up to the recent polls: "We're meeting in groups big and small to further shape the agenda of a positive and responsible party."

The Singapore People's Party (SPP) appears to have more pressing leadership-renewal issues to reckon with. Its leader, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, is now 80 years old, and his wife, party chairman Lina, is already 66.

The party, which won 27.08 per cent of the vote in areas it contested, has had problems renewing its ranks and so makes it "less attractive in each election", Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan has said.

Mrs Chiam appears cognisant of this, saying last month that she intends to find and groom new blood to take the party forward, and will stay to mentor younger members.

"If the party needs me to lead or to be their mentor, I will still be in politics. I will not quit politics just because I lost this time," she said.

So far, and in the past few years, SPP has not unveiled any young members who have the potential to take over. Academic Loke Hoe Yeong, 31, who wrote the first part of Mr Chiam's biography, published last year, has been touted as a potential leader. But party insiders say the assistant secretary-general has left the central executive committee.

Mr Loke declined to comment when asked, but tells Insight he is currently writing the second part of Mr Chiam's biography, and "am currently not very active in the party".

The other new members who joined just this year, such as lawyer Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, 52, and social activist Ravi Philemon, 47, do not seem to be fully integrated with the party brass. They largely ran their own election campaigns despite contesting under the SPP banner. Mrs Chiam could not be reached for comment.

CONTINUING TO HELP

Meanwhile, Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chief Desmond Lim Bak Chuan is continuing his party's charity efforts for needy households in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC - where the party contested and won 27.11 per cent of the vote.

Mr Lim, who leads an initiative called the Dedicated Locals' Caring Community, has, among other things, visited low-income households, provided free lunch for the needy, and taken senior citizens for free dental treatment.

"We are looking to expand our community and social activities in Pasir Ris-Punggol," he says.

Two other opposition politicians have launched their own initiatives in the wake of the polls.

One of them is Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chief Benjamin Pwee, who contested Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC as part of a joint team under the SPP banner. He has returned to the DPP.

He tells Insight that he is starting a Bishan-Toa Payoh Community Collaborative, to better reach out to PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) and help both residents and merchants in the GRC.

 

He is gearing up for a launch by the end of this month. For a start, it will create a job-matching registry for residents, link up volunteer tutors with children in low-income households to provide free tuition, and start a group-buying scheme so that merchants can enhance their bargaining power with suppliers.

The NSP's Kevryn Lim, 26, has also continued to champion equal rights for single parents, which was her pet cause during the hustings.

The single mother said in a Facebook post last month that she has launched a foundation, called Caps (Care, Assistance and Parenting Support), for single parents here.

One of its main aims, she says, is to fight for equal benefits for unwed mothers. It is also seeking donations in the form of daily necessities such as milk powder and diapers to be extended to single parents facing financial difficulties.

WALKING THE GROUND

The Reform Party (RP) meanwhile has continued to walk the ground, says chairman Andy Zhu. Its focus has been on Ang Mo Kio and West Coast GRCs, where the party contested.

Mr Zhu tells Insight that a party election, which was postponed due to the General Election, is due soon.

The polls saw an injection of new blood for the party, with lawyer M. Ravi, blogger Roy Ngerng and career counsellor Gilbert Goh joining right before the election.

 

Mr Zhu says the trio have indicated they will remain with the party and have no plans to resign, although Mr Ngerng had told reporters last week, when asked if he would continue in opposition politics: "At this point, I am going to focus on putting food on the table."

For SingFirst, the party has completed its post-mortem and is thinking about how to move forward, says party chief, Mr Tan.

He did not want to comment on whether the party would continue its outreach efforts, saying: "The next General Election is four, five years away. We are not WP. If we are elected, we will then see what we can do."

For the PPP, which is the youngest political party here, Mr Goh's priority is to hold its Ordinary Party Conference by the end of the year.

There, it will elect its central executive committee so that the party can apply for a newspaper licence next year, in order to publish a party organ for distribution.

He says the party will do a review of its new media approach, and hopes to start its grassroots activities by the first quarter of next year.

He adds: "We have a long way to go to win back middle-ground confidence, which we feel we have lost."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'Might the other opposition parties merge?'. Print Edition | Subscribe