Opposition parties agree on most seats after second round of talks

A screen at yesterday's second round of talks showing where the various opposition parties are likely to contest. However, there seems to be no resolution on three constituencies - Marine Parade GRC, MacPherson SMC and Ang Mo Kio GRC.
A screen at yesterday's second round of talks showing where the various opposition parties are likely to contest. However, there seems to be no resolution on three constituencies - Marine Parade GRC, MacPherson SMC and Ang Mo Kio GRC.PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Three-cornered fights likely to be avoided in 26 of the 29 constituencies

A second round of talks among opposition parties, to discuss how they can avoid three-cornered fights in the coming general election, ended last night with 26 of the 29 constituencies likely to see straight fights between one of them and the People's Action Party (PAP).

There was hardly any chance of a resolution on the remaining three constituencies because the Workers' Party (WP) was a no-show while Reform Party (RP) chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam left 15 minutes after the meeting started.

The WP plans to stand in two of these constituencies - Marine Parade GRC and MacPherson SMC - which the National Solidarity Party (NSP) is also set on contesting.

Meanwhile, the Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party sprang a surprise, saying that it is keen to stand in Ang Mo Kio GRC, which the RP had stated it wanted to contest.

Despite the lack of total agreement, Ms Hazel Poa, NSP's acting secretary-general, said after the meeting at her party's Jalan Besar headquarters: "All of us are quite happy with the outcome. We have ironed out almost all constituencies except (a few), because WP was not present at this meeting. There are still a couple of constituencies that we hope to be able to talk to them bilaterally (about)."

The WP had attended the first meeting on Monday, and was expected to attend yesterday's meeting. But minutes before the meeting started, WP chairman Sylvia Lim wrote to host NSP to say her party would not be turning up.

WP could not be reached for comment, but Ms Poa, quoting Ms Lim, said the WP felt there was no need to attend the meeting as it had made its intentions clear in previous discussions.

NSP president Sebastian Teo yesterday said the WP had offered to give up MacPherson SMC, if NSP stayed away from Marine Parade GRC. Mr Teo said his party had not decided on the offer, and would meet to discuss the issue soon.

WP announced last week that it is set on contesting five GRCs and five SMCs.On Wednesday night, WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had made it clear to reporters the party will not budge from Marine Parade GRC, even as it would do its best to avoid three-cornered fights.

The other unresolved constituency - Ang Mo Kio GRC helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - involves Mr Jeyaretnam's RP and the year-old SingFirst led by former civil servant Tan Jee Say.

A source said that as Mr Jeyaretnam left the meeting, he said there was nothing much to discuss over SingFirst's decision to contest Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Later, Mr Jeyaretnam told reporters that he did not walk out, and that bilateral talks would continue.

Asked what would happen if he could not resolve the matter, he replied: "Then we are going to have a three- cornered fight."

SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say said he would resolve the matter with RP.

Yesterday's meeting ended just before 9pm, about an hour after it began. At the first gathering on Monday, the parties met for three hours and agreed on straight fights in 14 of the 29 constituencies.

In that meeting, the main disagreement involved the WP and NSP concerning their overlapping interest in Marine Parade GRC.

WP chief Low told reporters on Wednesday night that the WP had to contest 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.

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.

Yesterday, Mr Teo told The Straits Times that of the parties present who voted, five supported the NSP. Only one supported the WP. While the vote was not binding, it "shows how the other parties look at things", he added.

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."

He added that WP's no-show showed the party never intended to negotiate with the rest.

People's Power Party secretary-general Goh Meng Seng added: "(It's) regrettable that they did not attend. If you are running an opposition party, you should practise diplomacy.

Lawyer Tan Lam Siong, who recently left the NSP and is planning to contest Potong Pasir as an independent candidate, also turned up at the NSP headquarters but did not attend the meeting. He told reporters he was disappointed at not being invited, saying that independent candidates were not seen as equals by the opposition parties.

He added: "I am all for multi-cornered fights. In a democracy, people should be given choices."

Former independent candidate Ooi Boon Ewe also turned up, saying he wanted to contest Sengkang West SMC and had been trying unsuccessfully to reach the WP to avoid a clash with the party there.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline 'Opposition parties agree on most seats'. Print Edition | Subscribe