Round 2 of Opposition talks ends after an hour with claims to just 3 constituencies unresolved

Representatives from the various opposition parties at the second round of talks to discuss constituencies on Aug 6, 2015.
Representatives from the various opposition parties at the second round of talks to discuss constituencies on Aug 6, 2015. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Round Two of opposition party talks to discuss constituencies and how to avoid three-cornered contests appeared to fray at the start but party leaders emerged after an hour-long pow-wow with all but three constituencies now likely to see straight fights between the opposition and the ruling People's Action Party.

But the prospects for a resolution did not look all that bright in the beginning as the Worker's Party (WP) was a no-show, and Reform Party (RP) chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam left just 15 minutes after the meeting started.

There was no immediate word on why the WP did not attend, but Mrs Hazel Poa, acting secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party (NSP) - which hosted the all-party talks at its Jalan Besar headquarters - told reporters that WP chairman Sylvia Lim had emailed the party earlier to say it would not be attending.

In the email, Ms Lim said the WP had already made its position clear at the first round of talks on Monday.

On Wednesday night, WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had made clear to reporters that the party will not budge from the areas where it had staked a claim, such as in Marine Parade GRC, even as it would do its best to avoid three-cornered fights.

Indeed, two of the three unresolved areas from talks on Thursday night involved the WP and the NSP.

As party leaders adjourned and the media was allowed in to the meeting room, a chart projected on the wall showed that the WP and NSP remain locked in their claims for Marine Parade GRC and the MacPherson single-seat ward.

The other unresolved constituency involves Mr Jeyaretnam's RP and the year-old Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party led by former civil servant Tan Jee Say - who told reporters at the end of the meeting that he would work with the RP to resolve the matter.

Earlier on Thursday evening, Mr Jeyaretnam left the meeting but then returned to speak to reporters to emphasise that he did not walk out - and that bilateral talks would continue. But he noted that the WP did not attend.

He also said his party had shown a great deal of flexibility at the first round of the all-parties talks on Monday as the RP and NSP, for instance, resolved their claims over the Radin Mas and Pioneer single-seat wards. The NSP agreed to give up on Radin Mas and the RP relinquished its claim to Pioneer.

But at Thursday's meeting, the RP then ran into issues with SingFirst, which wanted to contest in West Coast and Ang Mo Kio - both GRCs which the RP already staked claim to.

But at the end of the meeting, the chart showed that West Coast was left to the RP.

Thus it is appeared that it was just their claims over Ang Mo Kio GRC that remain to be resolved.

However, Mr Jeyaretnam disclosed earlier that SingFirst had also approached blogger Roy Ngerng about being a candidate for them in Ang Mo Kio.

This was after Mr Ngerng had said that he was interested in contesting there with the RP. Mr Ngerng has already submitted an application to join the RP.

Mr Tan explained when asked that he has been talking to Mr Ngerng for some time already and having heard that Mr Ngerng had an interest in SingFirst, he was merely asking Mr Ngerng if that was the case.

Thursday's meeting ended just before 9pm, about an hour after it began. At the first gathering on Monday, the parties met for some three hours.

Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs) Party / Parties likely to contest
Bukit Batok Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)
Bukit Panjang SDP
Fengshan Workers' Party (WP)
Hong Kah North Singapore People's Party (SPP)
Hougang WP
MacPherson National Solidarity Party (NSP), WP
Mountbatten SPP
Pioneer NSP
Potong Pasir SPP
Punggol East WP
Radin Mas Reform Party (RP)
Sengkang West WP
Yuhua SDP
Four-MP Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) Party likely to contest
Chua Chu Kang People's Power Party (PPP)
East Coast WP
Holland-Bukit Timah SDP
Jalan Besar WP
Marsiling-Yew Tee SDP
West Coast RP
Five-MP GRCs Party / Parties likely to contest
Aljunied WP
Bishan-Toa Payoh Joint team from SPP and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
Jurong Singaporeans First (SingFirst)
Marine Parade NSP, WP
Nee Soon WP
Sembawang NSP
Tampines NSP
Tanjong Pagar SingFirst
Six-MP GRCs Party / Parties likely to contest
Ang Mo Kio RP, SingFirst
Pasir Ris-Punggol Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA)

Earlier in the evening, as parties started to gather, new information emerged that the WP had offered not to contest the MacPherson single-seat ward if the NSP - which is also keen on it - gave up its interest in Marine Parade GRC.

NSP president Sebastian Teo told The Straits Times that WP representatives had made the offer at Monday's meeting.

"(WP) said they will take Marine Parade and give up MacPherson (to us). But if we go to Marine Parade, then they will not give up MacPherson," he said.

At the end of Monday's meeting, which was attended by nine opposition parties, including the WP, 15 out of 29 constituencies appeared to still be headed for three-cornered contests.

The main disagreement involved the WP and NSP's interest in Marine Parade GRC.

WP chief, in his comments to reporters on Wednesday night, said the WP had to contest in Marine Parade following the change in constituency boundaries which will see it absorb the Joo Chiat single-seat ward at the next election.

The WP lost to the PAP in Joo Chiat by a slim margin in the 2011 general election.

The NSP on the other hand, believed it should get first dibs as it contested and did well in Marine Parade in the 2011 election. The party polled 43.4 per cent of valid votes against the PAP's 56.6 per cent.

Mr Teo also told The Straits Times that at Monday's meeting, a vote was taken on whether the WP or NSP should contest in Marine Parade GRC. Both parties involved in the deadlock could not vote.

Of those present and who voted, five supported the NSP and only one supported the WP, he said.

While the vote was not binding, he said that it "shows how the other parties look at things".

Despite these disagreements, the all-parties meeting on Monday was cordial, Mr Teo insisted.

He also dismissed a media report that the NSP threatened to contest in Aljunied GRC, which is currently held by the WP: "That is not correct, we didn't say that."

"During the discussion, someone asked the WP how they would feel if the other opposition parties formed a team and muscled in on Aljunied GRC," he explained.

"It's not quarrelling, it's just a hypothetical example. But (the media) just focused on that."

Asked if the NSP would back down from Marine Parade GRC, Mr Teo said: "From the very beginning, we already said NSP will not initiate three-cornered fights. But it doesn't mean that when people force us into three-cornered fights, we will surely give way."