Low Thia Khiang’s job is to lead the Workers’ Party

You’d be surprised how many people forget a simple thing like the statement in my title. Over the last four days, I’ve had to repeat it to four different persons.

In all four cases, the conversation topic that came up was the public outburst by Goh Meng Seng, Secretary-General of the National Solidarity Party (NSP) over which party should contest the 4-member Moulmein-Kallang Group Representation Constituency: the NSP or the Workers’ Party. This was apparently one of the unresolved issues from two opposition party pow-wows held recently to divide up the constituencies in order to avoid three-way fights in the coming general election.

Goh Meng Seng (third from left) and Sebastian Teo (fourth from left) introducing the National Solidarity Party's candidates

I’ve seen a lot of online hand-wringing about how a 3-way contest will be suicide for opposition parties. Last I heard, neither NSP or the Workers’ Party seem prepared to give way.

Frankly, I do not know the latest state of play; for all I know, by the time this post is published, it might have been quietly resolved. The Workers’ Party might have agreed to give way for any number of reasons. The purpose of this article however is to argue that there are also good reasons for it not to give way, and crying “opposition unity” misses the point.

Actually, I wasn’t even going to write about this issue for the simple reason that Yawning Bread’s raison d’être is NOT to carry news, but commentary. That being the case, I have no intention of following the ins and outs of these negotiations as to which party stands where. The plan was simply to wait until Nomination Day to find out. But when I saw how pervasive this anxiety was — at least among the one-hundredth of one percent of Singaporeans who discuss politics online — the anxiety itself became comment-worthy.

Diehard anti-government types already think I am half-crazy to have said in an earlier post that there is nothing wrong with 3-cornered fights. Now I am going to argue why the Workers’ Party should field a team in Moulmein-Kallang, especially if NSP is so keen to contest it,  provided the Workers’ Party has enough potential candidates to do so.

Bendemeer Road area is part of Moulmein-Kallang GRC

It’s like this:

Low Thia Khiang, as leader of the Workers’ Party, has one supreme long-term mission: to make it the party of government. The first step in that plan must be to make it the leading opposition party. When there were more constituencies than available candidates, it was easy for opposition parties to get along and parcel the wards out. But now, when the field gets crowded, when the Workers’ Party itself has attracted more potential candidates than before, his first task must be to ensure that it is the Workers’ Party candidates who get into Parliament.

Low’s job is not to help the NSP send its members into Parliament, it is not to help the Singapore Democratic Party send its candidates to Parliament. Quite the reverse. If necessary, his job is to block them from getting into Parliament if he is at all to achieve the short-term goal of making the Workers’ Party the leading opposition force.

Let’s take three different scenarios for the coming general election:

Wildly optimistic. The Workers’ Party wins two Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) and maybe three Single-Member Constituencies (SMC), all in straight fights, yielding a harvest of 12 to 13 members of Parliament. It is extremely unlikely that any other opposition party will do as well. The Workers’ Party will be well on its way to becoming the leading opposition party. But as the name suggests, it is wildly optimistic.

Breathtakingly good. The Workers’ Party wins one GRC and one or two SMCs. That yields them about 7 seats, leaving two more to make up the minimum nine opposition members per the formula for the new Parliament. It won’t matter much which other opposition parties get these two, because the Workers’ Party will still be far ahead as the leading opposition party. I assume these two will be NCMP seats, because I consider an outright win by any other party to be slim. Even so, it would be ideal if the Workers’ Party scores well enough as “best losers” to pick up these two NCMP seats as well. That would give them nine persons in the legislature, shutting out other opposition parties.

Realistically pessimistic. The Workers’ Party only wins one SMC. No other party scores an outright win anywhere else — i.e. my 86:1 scenario that I wrote about in an earlier post. There will then be eight NCMP seats to be filled. It is in this scenario when the Workers’ Party needs to be ruthless. They need to ensure that it is they who are “best losers” in enough places, such as Aljunied, East Coast or Nee Soon, to pick up most of these NCMP seats, in order that they still become the leading opposition party in Parliament. Hence, the strategy of spoiling other parties’ chances is also a valid one — provided the party has enough potential candidates and the confidence that even in a 3-cornered fight, they can clear the 12.5 percent vote score to avoid losing their election deposit. The chances of these spoiler candidates winning is very low, but they will help the party’s candidates elsewhere to become “best losers”.

It’s like in chess: sometimes you sacrifice a pawn or two to let your bishop or knight move ahead.

So you throw in your minor candidates to fight a hearty 3-cornered fight. They block other opposition parties from becoming “best losers” and the young candidates gain experience and exposure for the future.

It is not Low’s job to lead the amorphous “opposition” to victory. It’s his job to lead the Workers’ Party to victory. In politics, one needs to be focussed to succeed.

* * * * *

Waterloo Street is within Moulmein-Kallang GRC

What can NSP do?

Again with the proviso that they have enough candidates and money to spare they can use exactly the same battle plan. They can send spoiler candidates into Aljunied and East Coast and deny the Workers’ Party an easy ride to NCMP, let alone outright victory.

It’s mad, you might say. MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction.

No, it’s not. It’s called Democracy. Let voters choose among the parties. If voters want to destroy one party and push the other ahead to be the leading opposition party, what could be a more legitimate result?

37 Responses to “Low Thia Khiang’s job is to lead the Workers’ Party”

  1. 1 Goh Meng Seng 21 March 2011 at 01:34


    Your argument could only be valid if and only if this is just some simplistic game theory. In reality, strategic considerations aren’t that simple.

    It is not just the “fear” of losing elections deposits that matters, in politics, public opinion is the key battle ground.

    There are two schools of thought here. Some people may feel that their parties may not be affected by bad press or turn of public opinion if they go into 3 corner fight but that is just too optimistic in Singapore’s context.

    The very uproar over your articles which suggest 3 corner fights are alright demonstrate the very mindset of the voters. i.e. They DO NOT WANT TO SEE 3 corner fight because they feel that the ruling party PAP has not been weaken enough yet to warrant a 3 corner fight.

    Undoubtedly, some people may think like you but I believe majority of Singaporeans do not share such views. My assessment is that the voters will ABANDON BOTH parties which are involved in 3 corner fight in GRC, especially so when NOT ALL SEATS have been fully contested.

    This is the context which we are looking at. Such negative views may just spill over to other constituencies which the two parties involved are contesting.

    Die hard Anti-PAP voters may abandon the party which is “perceived” to be the “spoiler”.i.e. the party that has no moral claim as well as being seen as one who destroy opposition unity which result in helping PAP to win. This segment of voters consist of about 20% to 25% of total voter cohort and they are spread across Singapore.

    Let’s say only half of these die hard anti-PAP voters chose to spoil their votes in whichever constituencies such party is contesting, could they possibly be “best losers” to get NCMP seats, least win any wards at all?

    Personally, I would not be that arrogant to disregard the public opinion of this group of voters. Not only the Election Deposits depend on them, but all other wards my party contesting will risk devastating impact as well.

    Goh Meng Seng

    • 2 D 21 March 2011 at 13:10

      Hey Goh Meng Seng, why don’t you just shut the hell up and let the Workers Party do thier best?

      Can’t help but feel sometimes you and your party of clowns in NSP are just “placed” to cause 3 cornered fights and bring down the rest of the opposition’s chances.

      • 3 Jeremy 21 March 2011 at 14:11

        Hey D,

        why don’t you just shut the hell up if all you can do is inject non-constructive jibes under the cover of anonymity.

        If Goh Meng Seng is open enough to engage this blog’s readers in civil discourse, he deserves a fair hearing and intelligent argument.

        Can’t help but feel sometimes you and your kind are just “placed” to cause a nuisance to proper discourse and impede civil society in Singapore.

  2. 4 mr.udders 21 March 2011 at 02:44


    Please use the term ‘anti-PAP government’ instead of ‘anti-government’ from now on.

    There are two reasons for my humble request:

    1. I assume most people – yourself included – use ‘anti-government’ to mean opposing the actions, beliefs, values, etc. carried out or held by the current government of a country.

    But it also holds connotations of negativity i.e. the phrase can be misinterpreted or misused to paint a picture of people who are against any form of government whatsoever.

    I’m sure you know how dangerous this is, especially in Singapore, where people enjoy taking words at face value.

    2. ‘Anti-government’ is really a misnomer in itself; the people are against a PAP-dominated government and its associated disadvantages, not against government per se.

    Unfortunately, we’ve been socialised to think that “the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP”, hence our continued misuse of the phrase.

  3. 5 LiveJustOnce 21 March 2011 at 03:11

    Dear Bread

    Firstly, I wish to say I am an avid fan of your commentary posts.

    I beg to differ on some of the your perspectives on the journey of Workers’ Party in becoming the party of government.

    Well said of the possible routes Worker’s Party, under the leadership of Low, might undertake to gain as much representation in Parliament and become the leading opposition party, including the nomination into 3 or 4 cornered fights in GRCs and SMCs.

    Based on an assumption, which you called Mutually Assured Destruction, and I fully agree, PAP most likely would be returned to power in the particular constituency, and it may even happen with scenarios of PAP not getting an outright majority of more than 50%. I consider this an disservice done by the 2 or more opposition parties to the electorate of the constituency by entering into these fights.

    One of the common ground or aims of each opposition party proclaimed, on the behalf of the electorate, is to bring accountability and checks on the system, aka PAP Government. I agree that Low Thia Khiang’s job is to lead the Workers’ Party, however, it cannot be said of a good leader to forsake this aim when PAP is returned to power due to 3-4 cornered fights with no outright majority. Although Workers’ Party might gain a number of NCMPs and become the leading opposition voice, it is still a whisper without the votes of the electorate in becoming an elected MP. 2011 is not an election year of fighting other oppposition parties but only the incumbent. Maybe in 2016.

    Democracy is an abstract word, idea and concept to each individual, especially to the man and woman on the street, who has a right to vote. Given the state of democracy our electorate is in, where information transparency is in question, with the mainstream media reporting inclined to certain party and the doubt of the online media being able to influence an sizable electorate to cast votes for the opposition, the men and women on the streets might not be decisive enough on their ideal opposition party candidate. Mutually Assured Destruction. PAP back in power with 49% of the electorate’s votes.

    Thus, on behalf of the men and women on the streets yearning to give a chance to any opposition party, aiming to bring accountability and checks on the system, aka PAP Government, I earnestly urge the opposition leaders to agree on avoiding 3 or 4 or 5 corners fights in this coming election. Give us a chance to give you our votes to bring you into parliament as our elected MPs.

    Singaporean man on the street

  4. 6 Sopbox 21 March 2011 at 04:04

    Your article starts out by purporting to speak from the interests of WP. However, your conclusion reveals your real stance:

    “No, it’s not [MAD]. It’s called Democracy. Let voters choose among the parties. If voters want to destroy one party and push the other ahead to be the leading opposition party, what could be a more legitimate result?”

    It is not in the interest of the Opposition to pull each other down in an attempt to satisfy your views on democratic legitimacy. It is in their interests to send as many people into Parliament as possible (as full MPs and not just NCMPs).

    The strategy you’ve described will utterly detract from this goal, because:

    1) As you said, it is mutually assured destruction. If WP tries to cannibalise other party’s votes, other parties will do the same thing, and no single Opposition party is strong enough yet to win in a three- or four-corner fight.

    2) The vast majority of Opposition supporters still see them as a single entity and do not want to see Opposition “infighting”. Very few people think like you. So a party who adopts this strategy will only alienate a large amount of their supporters.

  5. 7 nspyg 21 March 2011 at 09:03

    Sigh, citizen of Singapore do not want to see 3 corner fight. End of the day if that is their agenda then I will say one thing, he is not fighting for the people. The job as opposition now is to SEND as many Good opposition candidate into the parliament, people with the passion to serve. I do not wish to see another PAP in the parliament again who just want to win. Every where is evolving why we still stick to the old concept of 2 parties system.

  6. 8 Gard 21 March 2011 at 10:27

    Why does a candidate want to join the opposition instead of the incumbent?

    Being ruthless or pursuing MAD is contradictory to the one of the assumed answers to the above question. Surely the candidate has opportunities too to speak up within the party, etc.

    Bear in mind that the incumbent, while by no means perfect, has actually been a benevolent monarchy so far.

    I like to approach this by thinking that the opposition candidates are inherently motivated to change the system, in terms of greater diversity, greater tolerance, greater voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, and perhaps greater democracy, etc.

    A opposition party leadership that espouses ruthless competition or MAD with the aim of crushing other oppositions, frankly, would not have resonated much differently from the incumbent. Why, isn’t one of the reasons people find discomfort with the incumbent was how it treats the opposition?

    In addition of the bipartisan US model, one can also look at the other models around the world, such as Switzerland.

    In alternative models, the party leaders seek to cooperate where they can, and work actively towards compromise and resolution. This includes the possibility of allowing other opposition parties to come onboard – to create a more diverse government as opposed to the single party rule right now. It would even include nurturing other leaders not from your own party. (of course, agree to disagree on some issues.)

    You are right in saying that Mr Low’s job is to lead the party. It also depends on what you mean by ‘leading’ and who are the people you are ‘leading’ and who are the people you are up against.

  7. 9 YP 21 March 2011 at 10:37

    I was brought here by a New Asia Republic Facebook post and after reading your argument I feel compelled to respond to it. I just want to point out your flawed premise which only comes at the end in the line “It’s called Democracy. Let the voters choose among the parties.” No, it’s not a democracy, and certainly not with a capital “D”. The authoritarian nature of the regime and the severely skewed playing field that the opposition works in due to government manipulations is widely known and I don’t need to elaborate on those here. In a system with fair rules and conditions, where every party has equal chances of gaining power, yes, each party should strive to best the others on their own merits. But in such a repressed system as Singapore’s, the ideal strategy is that of opposition unity so as to collectively maximise its standing and chances. This, of course, is not the only strategy, or the most important, amid the myriad challenges and unfair institutions that the opposition faces. But it would be disingenuous to think that intra-opposition competition would be good for the opposition.

    You might make the argument, based on the reality that there is no short-term prospect of a united opposition in Singapore (looking at all the conflict both within and between parties), that each opposition party should maximise its chances even against other opposition parties. But you shouldn’t make this argument on the basis of Singapore being a democracy where all parties purportedly face similar conditions. That is not to say that elections in, say, the advanced liberal democracies are perfect. But one shouldn’t mask the inequalities in the political arena in Singapore.

  8. 10 yawningbread 21 March 2011 at 11:54

    Except for Mr Udders’, all the above comments do not engage the issue, for exactly the reason I have pointed out: they still speak of a mythical group called Opposition with a capital “O”. There is no such thing. There is no leader; parties don’t all share the same political ideas. They can barely stand each others’ personalities.

    Moreover, all the above comments make a huge assumption: that they represent what voters would want.

    I also consider the idea that voters are so wedded to the notion of opposition unity that they would punish any “spoiler” at the polls to be laughable. Why would most voters care? Most voters (67 percent at last count) are quite happy with a PAP government. Some of these would be prepared to consider voting for another party. But precisely because they are quite happy with a PAP government, having an opposition party push into Parliament is not a MUST for them. Because it is not a MUST, opposition parties spoiling each others’ chances is not a MUST NOT.

    Yes, the 20 percent die-hard anti-PAP types might care. But the biggest mistake many opposition parties have made election after election is to assume that swing voters think like die-hard voters. They do not. That’s why parties that fail to see clearly and fail adjust their rhetoric fail to attract swing voters.

    And once again I repeat: If the PAP acts undemocratically, does it excuse others if they did so too?

    • 11 Gard 21 March 2011 at 14:06

      1) I agree that the idea of opposition with the big ‘O’ is outdated. But it does not remove the implication – at this point in time, that a central theme of these alternative parties is to erode the dominance of the incumbent. We could well have a Christian Vegan Party or Gay Communist Party. They would still be called ‘opposition’ to whatever the incumbent stands for.

      2) No single party can truly represent what ALL voters want. The point of departure is then to give the voice to the voters which support it.

      3) Some of these parties may well be the minority voices. In a democracy, these minority voices should matter.

      4) Minority party leaderships know these, and they can pursue options other than pure competition to achieve their goals. ‘Cooperation and compromise’ is one, so is ‘give-and-take.’

      5) For example, the Christian Vegan and Gay Communist may well support the repeal of 377A. In exchange, the Christian Vegan are supported by the Gay Communist to promote counselling and restorative therapies.

      6) Over time, this cooperation may soften any hard stance and create new avenues of thinking. A party ideology cannot be cast in stone. The party has to evolve with time, to nurture new generation of leaders to deal with new challenges, to work with other leaders.

      Finally, there is a ‘fixed-pie’ thinking in your article: “if I cannot have what I want, I should deny others to it.” To the optimist, there can be another way: the ‘growing pie’ thinking.

      My point is not to rebut your ‘three-corner contest’ argument but there is nothing to logically follow that three-corner fights should be an ideal outcome if other outcomes have not been carefully considered.

      • 12 Gard 21 March 2011 at 14:19

        I used the hypothetical (and extreme) examples of those parties to illustrate the difference in the leadership required to work for cooperation and compromise. Would you agree with me that one of the roles of the leaders is not just to ‘lead’ but also to ‘educate’ his/her followers? Which is easier: to command your men to charge, than to nurture the thinking in your men to know when to charge and when to retreat?

  9. 13 prettyplace 21 March 2011 at 12:16

    I have to Thank You, for this article and so should The Opposition.
    You have touched on a crucial issue which definetly needs a remedy asap, a very timely article.

    I just hope all seats are contested before a 3-cornered fight. It will not be right to provide the PAP party an avenue to say that there was an anomly.

    Now, your views on Singapore’s democracy is quite wrong.
    Goh Meng Seng, touched on something right, the public opinion.
    I think Singaporeans agree to competition but do not want to see anyone losing deposits. It would perhaps make them guilty. It would certainly make me guilty, just because we still have that under-dog mentality, brought about by the monopoly.

    The Opposition should break the monopoly before they can engage in free competition. It is also economic basis.

    Each opposition party should understand that their long-term survival will depend on breaking the monopoly. If they don’t it, it is just a matter of time, of them fading away. If they do not combine their resources, how will they ever increase their market share.

  10. 14 Goh Meng Seng 21 March 2011 at 12:35


    It is not “Opposition Unity” that we are looking at but rather, “common aim” of anti-PAP voters.

    The common aim of hardcore Anti-PAP voters as well as some enlightened middle ground is to weaken PAP’s hegemony of power. It does not necessary mean that they want “opposition unity” in the first place but rather, they want to see the effect of reducing PAP’s monopoly of power.

    Going into 3 or multi-corner fight is working contrary to such aim and in which, will put this group of voters off. Nothing to do with “opposition unity”, really, just that opposition parties are not working towards the end result of breaking PAP’s monopoly. They are two very distinctive different perspective.

    Goh Meng Seng

  11. 15 ST 21 March 2011 at 14:48

    Goh Meng Seng wrote: “It is not “Opposition Unity” that we are looking at but rather, “common aim” of anti-PAP voters.”

    I’m Singaporean, 34 and never voted once (never had an opportunity). I’m not sure how many people would consider themselves as purely anti-PAP voters, I myself am not. I want the opposition parties to tell voters what they can or want to do; not just being anti-PAP.

    As Alex has written… having a 3 or multi-corner fight will go some way in ensuring that the parties stand for something aside from just being anti-PAP… and I will look forward to that.

    • 16 Sgporean 21 March 2011 at 20:55

      Hi ST,

      Last election, 33% voted for Opposition. I guess most are anti-PAP voters. The rest were swing votes.

      Why don’t you just vote for PAP instead of the Opposition, isn’t it easier to justify your vote? The swing voters had their personal reasons not because of what the Opposition ‘can or want to do’.

      My guess is that you are like YB and most of the 66% voted for PAP are not pro-PAP but just want your comfortable life under PAP to be maintained even if you have personal reasons to vote otherwise. You guys just want a brain sex during election to release your tensions.

      Perhaps the video on Sylvia’s speech on ministers’ pay can help to push you out of your comfort zone. If not, go and find your own.

  12. 17 cy 21 March 2011 at 15:01

    i don’t see WP adopting a spoiler strategy.

    They are only in two 3 corner tussles in Punggol East SMC and Moulmein-Kallang GRC. NSP/RP/SDP/SDA are also involved in at least two 3-corner tussles elsewhere.Does it mean that other parties are also adopting spoiler strategies? of course not,with their limited resources.

    Similarly,WP also has limited resources,they can’t afford to adopt a spoiler strategy. It just happens that the constituencies selected are places where they have done some groundwork and confident of winning or doing well.

    Is Desmond Lim worth their effort adopting a spoiler strategy? Desmond is not likely to score high among the losers. NSP’s team was only revealed after WP indicated their interest there. So,you can’t say that WP is spoiling Tony/Hazel chances of being the best losers since they don’t know who is contesting there beforehand.

    If WP goes to NSP’s stronghold,Tampines GRC, then this will be considered a hostile act and definitely is a spoiler strategy.

  13. 18 Loh 21 March 2011 at 15:46

    I would agree with YB that a 3-cornered fight serves democracy. But that’s only true in a perfect world. Here in Singapore, the ruling party’s stranglehold on parliamentary seats is so strong the opposition parties should try to increase their chances of winning a seat whichever way they can. Avoiding 3-cornered fights is definitely one of them.

    In a 3-cornered fight, a strong opposition candidate can still win against the ruling party, as was demonstrated by JB Jeyaretnam when he won 51.9% of the votes in Anson in 1981. Then, Harbans Singh also contested and lost his deposit when he got only 1% of the votes. The rumours are probably untrue but many people perceive Harbans Singh to be a PAP mole.

    If Low decides to compete in Moulmein-Kallang, his team would be considered strong only if he is part of the team. But as it is, chances are he will probably not be part of the team there. It’s more likely, if he decides to contest a GRC, he will form a team with Sylvia Lim to fight in Aljunied. In such a scenario, it would be hard for voters like myself (an anti-PAP government voter) to choose between the NSP team and the Worker’s Party team. Such a scenario will only benefit the ruling party, which honestly, is the last thing I want to see happen.

    But then again, I would agree with Alex that my views are representative only of those who are anti-PAP government.

  14. 19 Ya 21 March 2011 at 18:52

    The best scenario of a 3-corner fight is to treat PAP as invisible party. Voters can than decide which oppositions to get the mandate and which opposition take the NCMP seat in their GRC.

    Alternatively, all opposition parties should deny themselves the NCMP offered and deprive the voters of different voices which has no impact in parliament. Only than, voters will think carefully whether to give PAP or opposition the mandate to vote in parliament. Otherwise, voters will have the complacency to vote for PAP thinking NCMP for opposition is equally good.

  15. 20 Aloysius 21 March 2011 at 20:56

    Diehard anti-government types already think I am half-crazy to have said in an earlier post that there is nothing wrong with 3-cornered fights.

    Precisely. This is a case when the interests of opposition parties and that of voters do not match.

    3-cornered fights are only bad for the opposition parties, because they inject unpredictability for their vote shares. If there were a 1 v 1 fight, the opposition party could at least predict they would poll between x and y percent. But with an additional rival, it’s hard to win, let alone predict their losing share. Furthermore in recent electoral history, 3-cornered fights have always resulted in one party losing its electoral deposit.

    It’s called Democracy. Let voters choose among the parties. If voters want to destroy one party and push the other ahead to be the leading opposition party, what could be a more legitimate result?

    I strongly agree with you. But I’d call it ‘market consolidation’. 3-cornered fights will force the worst-performing losers to bow out of politics permanently, so strengthening the more established. The worst performers shouldn’t cry baby and accuse other parties of snatching their vote shares; they are simply not good enough.

    Responding to Mr Goh’s comments,

    Some people may feel that their parties may not be affected by bad press or turn of public opinion if they go into 3 corner fight but that is just too optimistic in Singapore’s context

    Public opinion definitely matters. But from what I see in the mainstream media, the WP and NSP have the most positive publicity. They seem strong and confident. But right now, his ‘assessment’ that voters will totally ignore the opposition in these 3-way fights betrays his lack of confidence. The WP might be worried, but at least in public they are not talking about it, and Mr Low is even talking about opposition renewal.

    So public opinion will sway where?

    Die hard Anti-PAP voters may abandon the party which is “perceived” to be the “spoiler”.i.e. the party that has no moral claim as well as being seen as one who destroy opposition unity which result in helping PAP to win.

    I believe elections are not won by winning over the minority hardcore, right? It’s the swing voters, the middle guys, who perhaps matter the most. Drop this minority and you can gain more from the middle group.

  16. 21 Chee Ken Wing 21 March 2011 at 23:27

    Democracy aside, I think the game theory works in WP’s favour if they were to compete in some 3-cornered contests. Let’s say that Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC fall to the WP. That would give them 6 seats.

    The only way to sweep the other 3 seats (NCMP) would be to ensure that they are the best losers in at least 1 SMC and 1 GRC. In such a scenario, they must ensure that other opposition parties contesting in weaker PAP constituencies should have their vote percentages diluted.

    Since NSP’s Moulmein-Kallang GRC team looks like the strongest of all other rival opposition groups, the WP needs to contest in that constituency to dilute NSP’s vote. Then if WP manages good results in say Nee Soon or East Coast and one other SMC, there is a fair chance that we could see the beginnings of a 2-party government (81 PAP, 6+3 WP).

    If you ask me, I would prefer a stronger single-party opposition presence in parliament compared to multiple seats won by smaller, less established parties. Given their different ideologies, it would probably be worse to see opposition parties differ or even bicker in parliament compared to having opposition MPs from a single party voting in a united block against some policies put up by the ruling party.

  17. 22 Gard 22 March 2011 at 10:03

    It would be good to have some more details about this ‘three-corner fights.’ The devil may be in the details.

    1) Should an opposition party be concerned about the potential payout from a three-corner contest?

    E.g., an party may jump in, but end up with loss of deposit, successfully or unsuccessfully eroding the other opposition party’s vote?

    From your article, I can’t tell. I’m reading that WP should just jump in if NSP wants that ward bardly, provided enough resources to do so.

    2) If the choice to jump in is made, who would be sent to contest? Your strongest team or weakest team? Middle-strength team?

    Let’s go back to 2006 where WP fielded two teams, one to Ang Mo Kio and one to Aljunied. The stronger of the two was in Aljunied.

    What could NSP or other opposition have (preferably) arranged in engage in three-corner fight with WP? The statistics should make it easier to work out some strategies.

    3) There seem to be no mention at all on the response of the incumbent towards three-corner fights. Are you saying that whatever the incumbent does does not matter in determining the optimality of three-way? What’s your proof?

    If the incumbent is excused to act undemocratically but opposition parties must act democratically, (a clause implied in your article?) what is the optimal response of the incumbent towards a three-corner fight?

    Would it be optimal for the incumbent to fight two oppositions simultaneously or to focus its vote dilution efforts to only one of the opposition? Of course, it’s based on the the relative strength of the three-corner; but we can always think through the various strategies, game-theory style.

  18. 23 market2garden 22 March 2011 at 10:38

    “YB Article – It’s called Democracy. Let voters choose among the parties. If voters want to destroy one party and push the other ahead to be the leading opposition party, what could be a more legitimate result?”
    Yes, it’s democracy. But I would prefer to label it as “Balance of Power” – be it 3/4/5-cornered fights. Superpower AP is to increase sphere of influence in the parliament – numbers (MPs and NCMPs) and established itself as leading APs; Middle-Power APs is to maintain its position and at the same time to contest more seats for the preparation of Post-LKY era. Weak-Power APs (especially new parties) has to fight for survival to contest SMCs.
    And equally important, not every APs view itself as a member of so-called “Opposition Camp”. So let’s talk less about opp unity, realistically APs should work together (cooperation) to reduce the hegemony power of current ruling party, it would only be achieve that APs correctly interpret the voters’ behaviour to such extent that it is able to garner most votes based on Greatest Common Divisor (GCD).
    “LiveJustOnce 21 March 2011 at 03:11 – Based on an assumption, which you called Mutually Assured Destruction, and I fully agree, PAP most likely would be returned to power in the particular constituency, and it may even happen with scenarios of PAP not getting an outright majority of more than 50%. I consider this an disservice done by the 2 or more opposition parties to the electorate of the constituency by entering into these fights.”
    If more than 2-cornered fights were inevitable, and if APs-combined votes garner about 51% at least, let’s be also a bit consolation that the ruling party though win the seat, but it loose substantial ground to the APs. And there will be hope for APs in GE 2016 / 2015 “generally”.
    “LiveJustOnce 21 March 2011 at 03:11 – 2011 is not an election year of fighting other opposition parties but only the incumbent. May be in 2016.”
    It’s just happen to be not all APs thinks so, in particular 1 or 2 supposedly stronger APs view this GE as preparatory stage for GE 2016 / 2015. APs are at the different stages of organizational life cycle – birth, growth, mature, decline / dead / renewal.
    “Gard 21 March 2011 at 14:06 – I agree that the idea of opposition with the big ‘O’ is outdated. But it does not remove the implication – at this point in time, that a central theme of these alternative parties is to erode the dominance of the incumbent.”
    The idea of opposition with the big ‘O’ is for MSM convenience, no such thing exists. Past, present and future there are only ruling parties and non-ruling parties (alternative parties) in SG.

  19. 24 yawningbread 22 March 2011 at 11:30

    Ng E-jay’s response can be seen in this article he wrote:
    3-cornered fight is a scorched earth policy that will backfire

    I couldn’t figure out from the essay the answer to the question: Backfire on whom?

    • 25 Sopbox 22 March 2011 at 17:38

      Backfire on all opposition parties and on the people who want the PAP voted out. Though of course it won’t mean much to people who don’t really care about voting the PAP out and are only interested in seeing a particular democratic process being played out (i.e. free-for-all fight between all parties).

      The point you are not getting, and which people have repeatedly made, is that the democratic system is not fair to begin with. And the only way to make it fairer, is to start by voting the PAP out.

      You keep retorting, “Just because the PAP acts undemocratically doesn’t excuse others from doing so.” There are two problems with this statement. Firstly, avoiding three-corner fights is hardly undemocratic. Politicians have a right to choose where to contest. They have a right to form coalitions with other parties or to coordinate strategy. This is all part of a healthy democracy and it happens in other countries too.

      Secondly, even assuming it is “undemocratic”, I would say that yes, if your opponent is not playing fair, then you shouldn’t have to play fair too. You should beat your opponent by any means necessary so that you can then change the rules to make them fairer for everyone. It would be stupid to insist on playing fair and end up losing repeatedly, thereby allowing your opponent’s to continue with his unfair practices in perpetuity.

      • 26 Aloysius 22 March 2011 at 23:51

        Backfire on all opposition parties and on the people who want the PAP voted out. Though of course it won’t mean much to people who don’t really care about voting the PAP out and are only interested in seeing a particular democratic process being played out (i.e. free-for-all fight between all parties).

        “on the people who want the PAP voted out” – as a govt, or as a candidate or team of candidates standing in the ward? Like many others in YB’s comment thread, you’re assuming when S’poreans go to the polls, they elect the govt, when in reality other factors play out too, like how they relate to which party’s candidates etc.

        Politicians have a right to choose where to contest. They have a right to form coalitions with other parties or to coordinate strategy. This is all part of a healthy democracy and it happens in other countries too.

        Erm, and your point is…? Right now the NSP is telling the WP to shove off, so is it democratic?

        I think E-Jay’s analysis is from the opposition’s perspective. Or rather, the anti-PAP bloc’s perspective. A case of their interest assuming that of ALL S’porean voters.

  20. 27 Loh 22 March 2011 at 13:52

    I read this in the papers today – “The NSP said it was prepared to give way to the Workers’ Party and not contest the 4-MP Moulmein-Kallang GRC but only if the WP sends its top guns there. Its team must include either WP secretary-general and Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang or chairman Sylvia Lim, said NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng”.

    I would say it’s rather foolish of the NSP to hand out such an ultimatum to the Workers’ Party. Even worse, the ultimatum has now been made known to the public. Goh Meng Seng is forcing Low TK to “show hands”, so to speak. Very bad move. Never issue ultimatums because you will set into motion a series of events you have no control over.

  21. 28 Agnes Chia 22 March 2011 at 16:18

    similary, nsp or any other political parties can also decide to contest at hougang smc, no body is stopping anyone, isn’t it? if we using ‘competition’ as the basis (without the need for any form of regulation i supposed).

  22. 29 Continuum 23 March 2011 at 01:00

    Perhaps the ensuing debate can be divided into two camps

    1) Support for 3 cornered fights: a more individualistic form of democracy given a buffet of parties to vote for

    2) Support against 3 cornered fights: a more national form of democracy given the chance to vote against the hegemony of the PAP

    Voting may be individual. But are voting results individual? The train of thought is that when one votes for an opposition, is it just for the satisfaction of being able to vote for a party one chooses or is it in the hope, no matter how feeble, that one’s voted party can emerge tops?

    Another way to ask this is: do democratic processes justify democratic ends, even if the process will jeopardize the intended ends? What is one willing to sacrifice for a result?

    The key idea that YB alludes to is that there is a group of voters who prefer a particular opposition party. Such a choice implies that this group has the following characteristics (which are assumed to be mutually exclusive here and non-exhaustive)

    a)they just love this particular party for what it is
    b)they’re anti PAP and just like this opposition party which edges above the rest for them
    c)they are swing voters and they will only decide which particular opposition party to vote for on the Big Day itself

    a) type voters
    -let’s just hope they get their favorites in their ward

    b) and c) type voters
    -their dislike for the PAP is more likely to be stronger than the difference “lost” through the entry of another opposition party into their ward

    In any case (and this is not meant as a justification of any sort), striving for an individualistic form of democracy is not merely getting the biggest number of parties to choose from to vote. It also involves getting utmost and balanced information from all sides of the political spectrum.

    Also, say if one chooses a particular opposition party based on selected information, is this act itself democratic as well? And suppose one actually reads up on all available party ideologies in Singapore and truly prefers a particular opposition party over the rest, when push comes to shove and one is faced with only the PAP and another non-favorite opposition party to vote through, will such a savvy voter choose the former or the latter for another 5 years of constituency governance and Parliament presence?

    Buffet of opposition parties? Party for the sake of party’s self? One thing that YB said is right. Individualistic voting will definitely present a more democratic result at the constituency level in terms of divided votes for the 3,4 parties at the polls. But the collage of constituency results will not produce a ”higher” democracy in the end.

    On another note, if Singaporeans are that individualistic, then they almost are deserving of PAP governance. If voters are as such then in that case, it wouldn’t matter if its a 3, 4, 5,….n’th cornered fight because the PAP system strives on and rewards based on individualism. In education, in jostling for seats on public transport,….which means such voters will definitely vote for the PAP. Not my favorite opposition party? No problem, the PAP gets my vote.

    What the prevention of 3 cornered fights achieves is
    -bringing together all anti-PAP voters in terms of votes and consciousness
    -effectively, forcing voters to be less individualistic and to be looking at long term and realistic change

    Note: I do acknowledge that the term “individualistic” denotes a sense of selfishness and self-gratification. However, I do not mean nor want to associate any value-term or morality on any particular voter group favoring a particular opposition party. I am not denying the right of an individual to decide for himself/herself, which should be upheld at all times. I am only trying to make a point that individual voting is not done in isolation and should not be simply reduced to how many parties one gets to vote.

  23. 30 Goh Meng Seng 23 March 2011 at 13:21


    It is NOT an ultimatum at all but a reasonable stand presented. Nobody is so foolish to think that they could force anyone to stand in any wards, least Mr. Low TK.

    It is rather a statement of our bottom line. We are no different in aim, to break the GRC fortress of PAP. Thus we would be glad to let WP do the job if they are sending their top guns to MK. i.e. If WP is not planning to do it, then please allow us to try to do it there.

    If WP choose to use Alex’s proposed strategy here, to do disruption to our effort, then it is really a regrettable situation. Voters will have to decide who to vote then.

    Goh Meng Seng

    • 31 Gard 23 March 2011 at 19:12

      Dear Mr Goh

      I must admire your strategy, whether conceived as an alliance or otherwise. Given that Mr Chiam has exited Potong Pasir, if Mr Low and Ms Lim were to leave their home turfs to contest in Moulmein, this situation immediately creates an spectre of PAP winning all seats – at a time when people are comfortable with incumbent rule but not comfortable with absolute power with the incumbent (since NCMPs are nominally castrated MPs), perhaps enough to swing those who have been PAP-leaning to vote for the opposition.

      A classic Sun Tze move indeed.
      “In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.”

      I wonder how many incumbent strategists saw this coming.

    • 32 Sopbox 26 March 2011 at 03:45

      Goh Meng Seng,

      I don’t understand why you persist in doing a debate by media. Negotiations between parties and proposal of terms should be done in private, away from the limelight.

      Your antics of going to the media over every issue is highly unprofessional, and makes me think that you are just trying to use public opinion to pressure WP. Do you not realize that your remarks only make the Opposition look bad, giving credence to the impression that the Opposition is disunited and always infighting?

  24. 33 Gard 23 March 2011 at 16:04

    I wish to offer a summary of my contention with this article and the earlier three-corner contest article.

    1) In promoting an idea, it is usually the case to contrast the idea with other viable alternatives. Strangely, this ‘three-corner contest’ debate has been framed in stark black-and-white choices (3-way or no). Yes, three-corned contest is good … compared to what? It’s like advising Cao Cao to attack Liu Bei and Sun Quan at the same time, and keeping silent about other options to eventually unite China.

    Are all other options really undemocratic and inferior to MAD? Cooperation and compromise? Diplomatic deal-making? Cunning political maneuvers? We are talking about democracy in practice rather than some ideal model, right?

    2) Giving the incumbent the free pass to act undemocratically while expecting opposition parties otherwise. Granted there isn’t much to do about the incumbent, but at least there should be some accounting on the incumbent’s response. For instance, one line of thinking is that the incumbent is not going to sit still and wait until an obviously aggressive, power hungry opposition party eventually train its guns on it. The incumbent may be undemocratic, but it is certainly not stupid or passive.

  25. 34 chazza boags 23 March 2011 at 18:36

    i come to only one conclusion – that not all the opposition parties are really interested in removing the PAP from power.

    there’s nothing to do with “democracy” here

  26. 35 anon 27 March 2011 at 23:35

    Hi Alex and GMS,

    A three-cornered is basically suicide since you would be lowering the bar for the incumbent pap to beat you to the post. You do not have a situation where the pap is a clear cut bad guy to beat.

    You must be realistic to concede that it does have support on the ground with its vast network. Voters must be given a clear cut choice. When you split votes even if the aggregate of votes for the two opposition candidates exceed that cast for the pap, chances are both could still lose to the incumbent whose winning chances are in fact increased.

    The situation in most wards IMO favours the incumbent in virtually all three-cornered fights.

  27. 36 Walter Jayandran 29 March 2011 at 17:44

    I humbly wish to state my view on this subject. The swing votes will finally decide the winner, and I believe this time around, this component is pretty much in a higher percentage than in previous GEs.

    In a three or four cornered fight, this group will be split but more likey to favour the incumbent rather than an opposition candidate.

    The danger of losing to the incumbents in a GRC is so real that I caution GMS and LTK and Desmond Lim to sit down and work on a compromise away from the media. If you still insist on the 3 cornered fights, then be prepared to be stained with voter distrust for a very long time.

  28. 37 chazza boags 30 March 2011 at 15:28

    since independence, i don’t think anyone has won a seat in parliament without garnering 50% of the vote, even in three-cornered fights. this applies to PAP and other parties.

    the last time anyone got into parliament without a 50% majority was in 1963. those were 4-cornered fights. the PAP and BS candidates got into parliament with as little as 40% of the popular vote.

    our political circumstances today have little in common with 1963.

    so, my question to annon and walter, is what makes you think splitting the “opposition” vote will even matter this time round? are we at some unique historical juncture which sets this election apart from those in the last 40 years? do you think the PAP will fail to get 50% of the popular votes in Moulmein-Kallang or those particular SMCs like Radin Mas, Joo Chiat or Whampoa?

    JBJ got into parliment via a three-corned fight in Anson. Harbans Singh lost his deposit. so why do we talk of 3 cornered fights like some doomsday scenario?

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