Two oppositions, and why in the long run, they may not matter at all, part 3

Power is for the People’s Action Party to lose, not for opposition parties to win – this may be the bleak reality we have to face. Watching opposition parties may be more fun, but it may be more important to watch the PAP’s performance. And infighting. Full essay.

15 Responses to “Two oppositions, and why in the long run, they may not matter at all, part 3”

  1. 1 a kind of chicken 31 December 2009 at 17:28

    The pap knows this and it is part if the reason why they pay their ministers so well.

  2. 2 Tan Ah Kow 31 December 2009 at 18:26

    Fully agree with your sentiment that if there is really going to be any change, it will most probably come from a split within the PAP. The leadership in particular.

    What I might add is that there is a third possibility that the split will resemble what has been happening in Zimbabwe, which I’ll elaborate in later comment.

    In this part, I’ll address the issue of what I think the role of the oppositions within the context of your thesis, which is that oppositions actions does not matter in the long run.

    In so far as your conclusion that opposition parties are not likely to be coming close to power, I agree with you. But that is not to say that their actions in the immediate term could not be a catalyst for cracks from within the PAP to appear. To do that they will have to fight the elections in, to use military parlance, in a asymmetric way.

    Basically, the opposition should basically abandon the electorate process as:

    (a) A way to gain power, at least in the immediate term or act as a parliamentary check.

    (b) Concentrate on hitting where it, politically speaking, hurts the PAP.

    At this juncture, I am not necessarily advocating all opposition parties adopt civil disobedience SDP-style. Instead what I feel the opposition can do in the immediate term is to focus on basically hit where it hurts the PAP and making it hard for the PAP to counter.

    What is wrong with the current strategy of the non-SDP parties is that they are too focus on achieving minor gains, such as wining one GRC, bringing the percentage point down a peg here or there of PAP’s gain. Or trying to chase the elusive goal of appealing to the middle ground, when as I pointed out in previous comment, it is a nebulous ground to thread on.

    Also, the idea that they can through slow-and-steady electoral gains build up a base to later gain power is somewhat out of touch with reality. The saying the a week in politics is a lifetime for any political parties, even in mature democracies, is particularly true. Events can change so rapidly and in very unpredictable ways that any political parties will have the luxury building up strength. Beside a slow and steady build up of opposition based give the PAP time to react — i.e. change the rules or even in worst case scenario use the nuclear option (ISA).

    Given the state of PAP hegemony, and more crucially, the mindset of electorate as it stands now, frankly, opposition parties will be better off either play the long term game, like SDP concentrating on, what I call stiffening resolved of electorate by clearing the path for others to take, or concentrate their firepower by exploiting the aspect of the electorate disagreement with the status quo and augmenting it with their strength in a dissident based.

    The best electorate strategy is basically not to bother with standing in election except in constituencies where it really count, either LKY or the PM. Ok some might say, wah this is crazy, sure to loose one? This is really kamikaze action, isn’t it? Where is the logic?

    Well, the logic is this. The PAP as it stands is really no longer a political party but clique with the power centered on LKY, really. The power is does not lay with ordinary members of the PAP but the leadership and in some aspects state institutions (civil servants, glcs, etc). The glue is really LKY. So, if you really need to instigate a split in PAP the way to do it electorally is to either get LKY voted out or to cut off his proxy, the incumbent PM, or to shame him enough so that more progressive elements of the PAP leadership is willing to stand up.

    There is really no better than than the next election for the oppositions, especially those who still feel comfortable to play by the rules type, to adopt this strategy.

    The best way is to combine and stand ONLY in LKY GRCs or, if too scary, the PM. In the case of LKY, the oppositions don’t need to win, just gain enough share of votes or not loose the deposit. That will be enough to knock the halo off the demigod. The impact will be much more meaningful than win in a GRC helm by some third rate ministerial character. The alternative is to go for PM GRC, in which case, the scenario where the PM looses his seat can be quite achievable, based on the last election results.

    Such a strategy would not only be a cost-effective way for the opposition to play by the rules but also make it attractive for the electorate that belongs to the disagreement rather than dissident type to really make their displeasure known, without destroying the PAP. For the opposition, either way, it is a win-win one. It would not attract new legislations to curb their electoral prospect, with the NCMP scheme they could still be represented in Parliament, whilst not burden with inconsequential need to play town council politics. More importantly, to then be able to engage in serious policy discussions. More importantly, they can concentrate their limited resources to a cause that has most profound effect.

    It is also extremely hard for PAP to counter such a move. They cannot be seen to pin their survival on LKY staying — sell the ideal that without LKY or PM the country will collapsed. If PAP win they cannot say they got a mandate, particularly, if LKY got a pretty low score by his demigod standard.

    Conclusion is yes, in the long run, the more likely scenario is for a split to occur within the PAP to bring about political change but the oppositions can be the catalyst for change, if they play their cards right!

  3. 3 Tan Ah Kow 31 December 2009 at 19:34

    In your examples of models where political split in the PAP might occur, you have noted several models but there is one possible model that may be applicable to the Singapore context, maybe not in all aspects but some of its form, Zimbawe.

    The PAP in many ways don’t resemble the LDP in that it is more monolithic as opposed to being driven by factions. It is as I have indicated a party that is not quite a political party in the conventional sense. It’s power based is not from the party grassroots but from outside the party. So you will not likely see split within the party. You might get characters falling out from the party but not necessarily from the main power-based — i.e. the PAP leadership and institutions from which the leadership is drawn. So in a sense, the PAP will not be splitting as such. Establishment figure that has jumped ship is not new, see JBJ, Francis Seow, or more recently Tan Kian Lian but it has not split the PAP.

    Like the situation in Zimbabwe, you have a strong man acting as a glue for the parties. In the kind of situation, you will find that people benefiting from the status quo clinging desperately. Hence, despite the dire state of the country’s economy, it is still dislodging ZANU-PF has not been easy. Even with an insider, morgan tsvangirai, who eventually lead an opposition party the process was by no means straight forward. Certainly not as cleanly as you witness in Japan. The reason is simple, there are external forces keeping the ZANU-PF in power (Zimbabwe regional countries) and internally, pressure for change is dissipated by emigration, and electoral in capacity to pressure for change.

    Ok may be in the Singapore situation, we might not be a basket economic case, but the forces to retain the status is not unlike the situation in Zimbabwe.

    Much as we detest “foreign interventions” that fact of the matter the presence of foreign business in our economic fortune is so seizable that it some indirect influence will be felt. So even if you have character falling out of PAP and wanting change, must also be prepared to engaged the international community if they hope to institute political change (much like Anwar, Morgan Tsvangiri, etc).

    Like Zimbabwe the opportunity to emigrate can help lessen the impact of poor policies. That is largely what is happening in Singapore.

    The list of similarities are there but the conclusion is that the kind of change witness in Japan and the other examples you cited might best be optimistic scenario. We could be undergoing a more painful not dissimilar to the situation in Zimbabwe.

  4. 4 anony 1 January 2010 at 09:40

    The truth hurts after reading all 3 parts of your essay. It would be almost impossible for PAP MPs to instigate dissension within the party if they differ on policy direction as all PAP MPs have gone thru a very rigorous process of selection. Once selected, recruited & holding positions they all sing to the same tune. You cannot differentiate one apart from the other becos they are all clones of one another. Take the LKY master mould of governing template & replicate it on each PAP MP. You see it in their mannerisms: way they talk & express themselves, rebut citizens & opposition, self-praise themselves.

    By the time the PAP MPs realize that they have been done in by their own policies with the tragic result that Spore is forever ruined, it would result in 2 scenarios. Firstly, the only way that PAP loses power completely is when there is a foreign intervention, be it thru military force or peaceful merger. I would hope for a peaceful merger preferably with Malaysia. China is way too domineering and brutish, you need only look at Chinese history over the centuries to know what I mean.

    I will only give 2 credits to LKY for his rule: first for the revival of the Malaysia merger way back in the 1990s though it was shot down by Malaysia’s ex-PM Mahatir, on hindsight we should have done it given Spore’s small domestic base. Secondly, for steering Spore towards high economic growth from the late 1960s to end of 1980s. Though this 2nd credit attributed to LKY’s foresight is contentious as Spore’s economic progress was achieved at the expense of China in a deep coma arising from the harsh Communist years without a market economy. Whatever else he has done, IMO, constitutes a huge liability & outweighs those 2 credits.

    It is very chilling to think of the implications of the recent announcement that PAP has just revealed another succession plan contrasting very sharply with Opposition’s non-existence of any succession plan. It is even more chilling when you see the futility of democracy ever developing when you see Spore citizens voting in a PAP majority continously.

    I equate the Spore citizens-PAP alliance as equivalent to sadomasochism (S&M). Spore citizens seem to enjoy the abuse and humility they get from S&M tactics of PAP. Its like a sweet-sour orgasm of sexual pleasure & pain that Spore citizens love to partake with the PAP wielding the whip.

    Just witness the latest LKY interview with National Geographic, they do not mind getting bashed, spitted on & humiliated in front of an international audience, if those abusive words were ever uttered by Obama or Gordon Brown, they would be castigated by their citizens swiftly.

    Lastly, just looking into the crystal ball, I think the GE is most likely in 4th qtr of 2011, this year, 2010 seems too soon. By 2011, the IRs would be off the ground, the Universal Studios & Sentosa casino would be running for one year by then, and the PAP will of course say “see, we told you so, its good for Spore.”
    And if Chiam ever contests a GRC: I only see 2 extremes in voting % here: he succeeds with a razor thin margin of 50.1% to 50.5% with a marginal difference of a few thousand votes. The national average voting % is: Opposition overall, 33% to 38%, though I think 38% is way over generous still.

  5. 5 Mr Khoo 1 January 2010 at 10:41

    I am not sure whether our heavyweights born in the 1950s will actually be able to create such a split within PAP. Let’s assume all the heavyweights are resentful at having been passed over, and one of them decided to act by heading up an opposition camp. What would motivate the other heavyweights to rally behind him? They have no chance of landing the top job (it would be another 10-15 years of waiting either way), so they would probably be more comfortable playing second fiddle in PAP and keeping their big bankrolls, than becoming a turncoat and having the entire machinery work against their retirement plans. Creating a split must also be soundly backed by a critical mass of popular support, and I don’t think any of our heavyweights can individually build the same kind of clout held by Anwar and Ozawa without inducing some form of preemptive clampdown early on.

  6. 6 Goh Meng Seng 1 January 2010 at 15:34

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the three parts of analysis. There are points that I would agree as well as disagree.

    It is counter-intuitive to view that Japan, as a homogeneous is more relevant to Singapore rather than Malaysia which have similar racial mix in reverse. Even if Malaysia’s racial mix is totally in reverse to Singapore, but the crux of winning is still the same; it lies in the Malays’ votes.

    I do not see the possibility of PAP breaking up, even in the post-LKY era, least now. They are bonded with lots of interests embedded, especially for the million dollar annual pay and the good positions in GLCs, GIC, Temasek or otherwise, after their term. This is the system that is designed for incumbents’ stability. You could hardly find anyone who could say NO to the top in PAP’s rank unlike those old guards that have faded away. Least, anyone daring enough to do a breakaway and challenge the very basis of PAP’s power base.

    I guess I would have to withdraw myself totally out of opposition politics if I truly believe in your analysis. Well, maybe so in future when things turn out the way you suggested. 😉

    Goh Meng Seng

  7. 7 KiWeTO 2 January 2010 at 14:51

    Point of Clarity:

    The PAP doesn’t pay its ministers well. The SG government does. Whoever controls the government in turns controls the purse-strings. This very statement by “a kind of chicken” shows the general confusion that the PAP has abetted as to associating party=government.

    As for Tan Ah Kow’s strategizing that the “headhunter” method of killing a party by taking out its leader in an election and thus fracturing the invisible stress fractures that exist within the party… guess it won’t cost another brave 6 anything other than their deposits and the risk to their economic lives.

    It would be interesting if the various “opposition parties” contributed members towards that GRC team. That would at least raise a few more eyebrows than if one party tried it again.

    As for the strategy of slow growth as an opposition party – some issues to consider. Is one building the party in the hope that the PAP fractures and that a senior member jumps into one’s party, or is one building a party based on belief and ideology whatever it may be?

    Afterall, if one believes that the LKY glue cannot last forever, then, what are the opposition parties doing to ensure that they can maximize their return once the glue fails?

    And as to Goh’s comment that just about nobody could say NO to the PAP… I posit that many have, and they have said NO by leaving. (unfortunately making SG as a nation poorer in intellectual/societal wealth.)

    There are plenty that have decided that they will NOT be involved in any kind of politics, and have NO opinion on any remotely political issue. Yet, they are happy buying cars and condos and bringing their kids up.

    This is the NO that our society has discovered. They participate in aiding government (chairs, committees, whatevernots), but refuse to participate politically (and not the PAP). And it is the ideology that the PAP perpetuates in school and state propaganda – leave politics to those who know better(unless you’re invited in).

    As some have put it, excessive salaries is a form of state corruption – however, I have to ask – how can the state corrupt persons to ostensibly act in its own best interest? Is it just not reward to a party’s followers for supporting the right power? When does that become wrong? When we put an imbecile in charge of the ministry of finance? In the PAP’s meritocratic ideology, could that ever happen?

    Political parties form because of charismatic leaders with a strong core of belief that resonate with its members. As YB has said, our opposition parties don’t seem to have any strong core of belief other than PAPhate. Which is no way of presenting an alternative solution.

    If the PAP-run government has put out a policy position, how can an opposition party’s position (generated by hate) be anything other than anything-but-the-policy position be generated from hate and opposition for opposition’s sake?

    They have no philosophical or ideological reasons (beyond kinder application of policy?) for arguing against the policy position.

    Whiter than white political parties aren’t going to win the prize.

    For all the ‘state controlled’ media we have, the internet has turned that game upside down as to a party getting its political message out that resonates with would-be members. Yet, this nascent society is well conditioned to not take a stand, form an opinion, unless they have been given permission by authority to do so.

    And that is our greatest failing in society- waiting for someone in authority to act. What happens when the policeman is unavailable because he is busy, distracted, or worse, paid off to be unavailable?


    • 8 Tan Ah Kow 3 January 2010 at 02:01

      In advocating the strategy of contesting only in LKY or the PM(1) constituencies, I am not suggesting that we could electorially “decapitate” the PAP by getting LKY or the PM voted. My point applies primarily to the NEXT election and how the oppositions can do to give it the greatest impact given their current strength and the hegamony of the PAP. In the long term, I fully agree with Yawningbread that change will come when the PAP cracks(2).

      As it stands now, if the NEXT (NOT 10 or more years down) election is to have any lasting impact, the opposition will need to produce a election result that will profundly shock the status quo. This means the opposition must produce enough win and overthrow the PAP (party and all other associated institutions) or produce a hung parliment oppositions combined to win more seats than PAP, but the PAP still the largest single party, to clip the ability for the PAP change the constitution. Either of these two prospects are UNLIKELY to occur in the NEXT election.

      The worst case scenario, will be for the opposition to win against third rate ministers led GRC or maybe the PAP votes fell even more than last year. All it would do is to build up unrealistic expectation and the notion that a break through has been achieved. Such result, quite possible if the sentiments on alternative media is to believe, would come in terms of dislike for current policies not necessarily a vote for alternative policies. And given the unwillingness of non-SDP parties to stake any policy positions, it is hard to see such win been consolidated. Case in point is the disappointing post-election performance of the Workers Party.

      If the NEXT election is really to have any POTENTIAL long lasting impact at all, given the situation as it is, the most optimal approach is basically to challenge LKY or the PM and not bother with the rest. The goal is NOT to unseat (quite unrealistic, I agree) LKY or the PM but if it come about great. The goal is to knock the demi-god status, enough to make people less fearful about standing up to the PAP for non-PAP folks. For the insider to be less fearful of their demi-god and possibly make a change from the inside.

      You see, if any lesser opponent don’t loose his/her deposit against LKY it is already a victory of sort. For a demi-god like LKY to not win completely outright would be significant. If in LKY constituency he has to resort to the “gerrymendering” to win, it would be telling of how low his status has sunk. Don’t forget LKY is running in a GRC, it would also be simple enough to pick off the rest of the GRC to make the overall result look suspect, As for the PM the last election has shown the probability of even unseating is not too unrealistic.

      If in the unlikely event that LKY or the PM lost and either had to be brought back to government by the PAP through some manipulation of the constitutions than it makes the PAP claims to be able to survive without these characters suspect. If this prospect don’t wake up both the PAP and the electorate on the danger of relying on these characters than one can truely say that Singaporean have only themselves to be blame.

      By only focusing only on LKY or the PM seat, it forces media (mainstreams and alternative) attention on these characters and the views they and the party represents. Not distracted by other marginal seat(3), it would force the hand of either LKY or the PM to debate the policies issues. LKY in particular has a knack of side-stepping issues and difficult questions. For example, see how he gun James Gomez over his application rather than debate issues. If the opposition cleverly uses LKY’s pronuncement over numerous issues, they could easily turn the table and debate openly on those issues.

      Since winning power is not the goal at least for the NEXT election, in my opionion, why not use it as another means to communicate, in other words to compliment alternative media. After all the election is a useful platform to communicate to people information that they might not pick up in alternative media. The election platform is just about as mass mainstream media there is for the opposition to make points across to the electorate. What would be more spectacular than a show down between LKY/the PM and the opposition?


      (1) The choice of the PM is because it would have a profound impact in that he is LKY’s son. A true proxy of the father. If Goh Chok Tong (GCT) was on the seat, this strategy of targetting GCT would not have much impact. GCT is in my opinion pretty useless and powerless character. Even LKY had a low opinion of him.

      (2) Cracks will appear in the PAP that is an inescapable thing. There will be high profile characters falling out of favour or insider disenchanted. It may not bring about a split in the PAP, which in my last comment I have used probably in error. The question is will such crack throw out insider to challenge the incumbent, much like the examples pointed out by Yawningbread. If you take the Zimbabwe example, cracks occur in the ruling party but there as long as the insider can be brought off it is still possible to hold the party together. If you have any opportunity to visit some of the Zimbabwe elites and see how they live, you would not have thought the country is in such a dire state. Even such dire state, disloging the incumbant is still a major struggle even when an insider turn challenger!

      (3) If there was any marginal seat in prospect of swinging, attention would tend to focus on what the election outcome might be. Speculation will be on which GRC will fall and reports will be on the speculation. It makes for compelling reporting but can be a distraction to other issues. If you focus on LKY/the PM only, the the ultimate results will be reflected on the PAP. The PAP than can’t say they have a mandate to govern or if either LKY/the PM score less than spectacular, it will be an indellable mark on not only them but also the PAP. The PAP can’t then say, for example, we got 51% (really worst) is a good result when one expect from LKY no less than 70% (assumed as Lee Hsian Loon once state that 30% electorate will vote opposition come-what-may).

  8. 9 KiWeTO 2 January 2010 at 14:52


    and before I forget –

    YB, thanks for another wonderful series of essays on the paradox that is Singapore.


  9. 10 Alan Wong 2 January 2010 at 19:57

    Our PM’s sole discretion to pay our Ministers a couple of millions a year in return for legitimacy to stay on as PM for as long as he wishes without any questions asked – is this not a form of money politics, pure and simple ?

    Are we not practically giving the old man and his son a blank cheque to do anything that they wishes ? It’s no wonder that the old man has the audacity to call us Singaporeans stupid and lazy !

  10. 11 castro 2 January 2010 at 20:28

    I am surprised no one pointed out the similarity between the PAP government and China under the Communist Party. In my opinion, both are in substance authoritarian regimes. Comparisons with Malaysia, Japan are not apt because these two countries guarantees basic press freedom, while China and Singapore has none to speak of. There is also no judicial independence.

    In other words Singapore is a democracy in form but a dictatorship in substance. And elections are held grudgingly to maintain the form of a democracy. The PAP has calculated and ensured that the probability of an electoral loss is minimal.

    Perhaps it is more useful to examine how autocratic states rise and fall, rather than the shenanigans that is the Singapore election.

  11. 12 teo soh lung 7 January 2010 at 11:39

    Hi Alex

    The future painted by you is indeed bleak. Just watching if the PAP will fall apart may or may not be interesting. It is sad that as human beings we cannot live to our full potentials. But then, if we have not had the experience of living free, I guess we don’t miss much and should not complain about the PAP or the opposition.

  12. 13 yawningbread 7 January 2010 at 19:23

    Oh dear, too many readers seem to think that the point of my article is that the opposition will never come to power, so why bother with them. (OK, maybe my title suggested soemthing like this – but the point of titles is to get your attention),

    I am surprised how people assume that politics will be linear and simple (simplistic).

    All I am saying is that if politics continue the way they have recently been played, no significant changes in the landscape and result can be expected – the reasons for my saying so were given in Part 2.

    But Part 3 points out that even if the opposition parties do not change their game, the game can still change, due to splits in the ruling party.

    Please look more closely at the examples I gave in Part 3. They are examples of how the palying field is destablised in three countries due to splits in the ruling party, but all three then went down different roads. In Malaysia, the split gave opposition parties DAP and PAS a chance to share power and prove themselves at state level; how they perform will determine their futures, though it is seems Anwar has to play a central role otherwise they will be marginalised again. In Japan, the defection of Ozawa in the 1990s gave an opening to the opposition Japan Socialist Party to join coalition governments, but they flunked it and now JSP is history. Mexico is the most interesting of all. Cardenas, despite splitting from the PRI, never achieved the presidency – though he argues that he did but was cheated of it. In the end it was the opposition party PAN that benefited from the split of PRI. The present president of Mexico is from PAN.

    So, people, I don’t have a simple story to tell, I don’t have any simple prediction to make. And I am not saying opposition parties will never have a chance. If there is anything I’m saying at all, it is that at the rate things are going, the opposition parties are not prepared enbough to seize chances when they arise. As the old saying goes, success is half opportunity and half preparedness. Opportunity may arise more from the stimbling of the PAP than from anything the oppostion can do, but preparedness is entirely within opposition parties’ hands. Are they doing their best?

  13. 14 Goh Meng Seng 17 January 2010 at 16:28

    Hi Alex,

    Ok, sorry for misunderstanding of your points here.

    But how DIFFERENT can opposition parties be from what they are doing now? To make an impact, how different should the opposition parties be?

    Goh Meng Seng

  14. 15 masterservant 2 April 2010 at 02:05

    Thank you all for your kind and wonderful perceptions.

    I believe the fall of singapore and pap is via the death of lky and the following year, lhl.

    it’s only after the demise of the two kings, thereafter, will there be a breath of new life for the future generation.

    the remaining king cannot hold this island as his tenure is gone, respect is no more, least to say much about the newbies.

    fresh air will come and the island will need to re-invent itself, as even today, malaysia’s largest trading partner is no longer singapore but china and did malaysia need singapore to get this far.

    riding on the china wave or india wave no longer suffice.
    this island will need to grow up maturely and i believe it will.

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