3 weeks ago, I reflected on my past decade of journey with the WP with a FB post. We had our annual Members’ Forum today. As I listened to the various sharing by the party’s leaders and selected members, I reflected further on the journey I as well as the Party had made in this past decade.
My entry into politics was belated and sudden. In the 2000s, I began to take more interest in local politics and in policy making. I was serving on a couple of government policy committees and also wrote regularly to the forum pages. But various factors held me back for several years from venturing further to the alternative movement, fear being the biggest factor. I felt that the political monopoly was unhealthy and was disappointed with many government policies prior to 2011. I had felt that the ruling party was losing their way and deaf to what was happening on the ground. There had to be stronger political competition for Singapore to be more resilient. With GE2011 looming, I approached the Party and found my way to become their candidate for Joo Chiat SMC. With the narrow loss of 388 votes (1% of the votes), I entered parliament as NCMP and was co-opted into the CEC. That began my journey in an event packed 2011.
2011 was a milestone year in Singapore’s politics, the worst ever showing by the ruling party since independence and the first ever loss of a GRC in the supposedly impregnable GRC system, a clever political innovation to entrench the PAP in power. It was followed by two further consecutive by-election losses for the ruling party in 2012 and 2013. To the PAP’s credit, it was able to shift back to the left to recapture support. Coupled with the passing away of our founding PM and SG50, the political pendulum swung back very dramatically in 2015 – so dramatically that it surprised political observers, the press and even the PAP itself.
One of the ruling party’s key strategy has been to keep the opposition weak. Fear became a powerful factor. People became frightened even to vote for the alternative, even though our votes are secret and I am convinced they are, being a participant and witness to the electoral process. People fear their estates becoming rundown or losing their jobs. More importantly, fear has kept many good people from offering themselves to the alternative camp for a long time. Without candidates deemed electable, PAP can stroll any candidate into parliament especially via the GRC route. And their MPs do not have to do much in parliament because the number of opposition voices are so few and their opponents will be weak again at the next elections.
I had approached the WP in 2011 because I had seen that it was responsible, rational and respectable. It was a branding built deliberately over a long period by then-SG Low Thia Khiang, even though it made him unpopular with some members especially with some long-time members. WP started to attract capable and educated people onto its team. Over the past decade, I have seen that progressed even further, not just in WP. A couple of other parties have managed to attract professionally successful people. My personal belief is that each party should find their own branding and direction. A mega alternative party formed with just the aim of being anti-PAP will not last and will be damaging to the alternative cause when it flops.
The PAP had also made managing town councils into a test for whichever party wishes to win elections, because residents will be worried if their communities are not run properly. While I find it reasonable to expect elected MPs to prove their worth on the ground, I find it unreasonable to withhold public monies to opposition wards for estate upgrading (that has changed post 2011 but even so, biases and challenges remain for opposition wards for funding). I also find it absurd that computer systems built with residents’ funds can be denied to opposition wards.
Fast forward 9 years since Aljunied GRC was won by WP, there has been no rubbish piled up three storeys high. Yes, there were hiccups especially at the hasty handover with incomplete data that plagued the financial reporting for years. The earlier computer system taken over from Hougang TC was insufficient to meet the demands of a GRC that included Hougang SMC and later Punggol East SMC. That too has changed since then with a new IT system whose development was overseen by MP Png that is now capable of what PAP-led TCs can do It took time to build such a system. And having gone through hell from being deprived of an IT system, I believe WP is willing to share their system with other alternative parties if needed. That will remove one big banana skin in our political system, unfortunate though that Singaporeans should even have to deal with this in the first place because such as system should be from HDB and then charged back to any TC who wishes to use it on a cost recovery or reasonable cost basis. There was also the decision to outsource the town council operations out commercially. That attracted much scrutiny, provided avenues for attacks and eventually a long court case. I am sure with perfect hindsight, the MPs and WP would have avoided a lot of the mistakes. What is encouraging is that the TC has taken over the running of the operations itself for several years already with directly hired employees managing contractors, MND report card on the AHTC operations are in line with that of PAP-run TCs, corporate governance report is green, auditors have now given a clean unqualified financial report, and the TC is operating with surpluses.
The PM has recently said that Singapore needs a “first-class political leadership” to work with a high-quality public service. His interpretation of that is a monopoly of the political positions by his party. First class political leadership will need to go through the fire of competition to be pushed, just like how companies in the private sector need to be innovative to excel and be relevant. Leadership should not be ordained nor should leaders be allowed to stroll into parliament because of opposition is deliberately made weak.
2020 will be another elections year. The road to a first world parliament is long. The foundations have to be build. In my journey in blue, I have seen the components being built. Eventually, it is for Singaporeans to decide. Majulah Singapura!
Note: The post contains my personal views which are not necessarily that of the party’s.