The Straits Times today roared with the headlines “Nine members leave Reform Party”. Not just your ordinary members, but five of them were from the party’s highest decision-making body, the Central Executive Committee; and some of them had been introduced to the public as election candidates. Whether the resignations will affect the party’s electoral performance is uncertain. But the damage has been done: in Singapore where the dominant rule of the PAP is partly due to its internal strength, fragmentation in any opposition party will dent the overall reputation of the movement. Singaporeans are used to stability and firmness in politics, and impressions of disunity and chaos are the opposition’s worst nightmares.
I’ve read the Reform Party’s online press release and the response to it by its ex-members. Apparently they had some undisclosed disagreements, followed by a leadership tussle in which one faction decided to quit. Incredibly, this party had held a ‘pre-election rally’ at Hong Lim Park in January, and some who had spoken on stage then are no longer with the party just a month later. The series of events which is unfolding now is as complicated as it is dramatic.
What should the ordinary S’porean take note of this? It’s unlikely the Reform Party would fight a vigorous campaign with the departure of some potential candidates just a few months before elections might be called. Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the secretary-general of the party, declared before in a press interview that his party aims to contest in places where there have not been electoral fights for a long time, such as West Coast GRC. Though it might be too soon to pronounce failure, for now Jeyaretnam has to ensure he can carry out his promise. With the exodus of the party’s election-calibre candidates, the party also has to deal with a double whammy of reasserting its credibility, that it is here to stay for the long-term. If it fails to do so, then S’poreans will be denied an alternative political choice, leaving the PAP to continue its dominance, for good or ill.
The biggest gainers from this latest opposition fall-out is, of course, the PAP. From last year to now, the few hot-button issues have been largely neutralised – 1) the govt has intervened in the markets of private property and HDB flats, 2) PRs and new citizenships have been halved, 3) and inflation, while threatening to erode purchasing power, has been temporarily resolved with the recent Budget handouts. Lastly, however, is MM Lee’s remarks on Malay/Muslim integration – I don’t know if this would be a key issue if Malay-Muslims are not satisfied with the ‘official’ response. But all in all, the ground is sweet for the PAP to maintain status quo or even seize one opposition seat, which looks extremely unpredictable.
The Reform Party’s self-destruction just made it easier for the PAP. Oh well.