What voters want?

It seems the NSP and WP are going into a three-cornered fight at Moulmein-Kallang GRC, and many people believe such a fight should be avoided. Their reason? Both opposition parties will split the ‘anti-PAP’ vote and result in a PAP victory. I think that’s a very simplistic view. It’s either for or against PAP, and granted that elections are for incumbents to lose, S’poreans are not dumb in choosing any Tom, Dick or Harry who declares himself as an ‘opposition’ politician. Look at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their sorry defeats in 1997 and 2001, where father and son lost their electoral deposits respectively. Or the fact that independent candidates have consistently done poorly.

But commentators still speak of ‘Opposition’ unity, as if capitalizing the word can magically bound the parties together like a Body-Binding curse. They reckon that if every party meets the PAP straight-on in all wards, they stand the best chance of decreasing the PAP vote share, or even the number of seats which the PAP currently holds. That is, of course, ideal for the opposition parties. But is it ideal for VOTERS?

Goh Meng Seng, the secretary-general of NSP, asserted that:

1) Singaporeans want to have credible opposition MPs in parliament
2) Singaporeans want opposition to win at least 1 GRC so to put pressures on PAP
3) Singaporeans do not wish to see 3 corner fights especially for GRCs.
4) Singaporeans want to vote, wish to see as many seats contested as possible.

For point 1, that S’poreans want ‘credible opposition MPs’, it is not wrong. But it’s not right either. S’poreans want credible MPs from ALL parties. The rational voter takes it as a granted, that candidates who come out to contest have already been filtered by their parties as ‘credible’ i.e. capable, smart, no hanky-panky. Some people say the PAP has an unfair advantage because they can draw their candidates from the admin service, military or stat boards, who would seem to be more capable than the candidates which opposition parties field. But at the same time, the ‘rational’ voter might not be rational after all. Look at Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang, who have beaten PAP candidates who are now ministers (Mah Bow Tan, Heng Chee How).

Secondly, that S’poreans want the opposition to win as many seats as possible to check the PAP, this point is not what some voters might be looking out. Voters and their votes are notoriously hard to predict, unless there is a huge mood swing in the country. Who would expect Aljunied GRC to turn into a battleground GRC in the last elections? Anyway, only the opposition parties want more seats – not S’poreans. S’poreans might desire for more checks on the PAP, but this desire does not automatically translate into voting for the opposition. If a PAP candidate were to promise he would check ministers, what’s there to stop voters from electing him? And in Parliament, some PAP MPs have sounded as if they were from the opposition (Halimah Yacob, Lily Neo, Josephine Teo etc). Hence it’s too easy to assume S’poreans want more seats for the opposition.

Thirdly, who is to say S’poreans do not want 3-cornered fights? Only a few people are saying this: opposition parties, their supporters, and some smart-alec commentators. On the contrary, S’poreans in general are suffering from a ‘voting deficit’. Some GRCs have not voted for decades, and when they finally have the chance, they find out the party which has come has been inactive for as long as they have not voted (Tanjong Pajar and Marine Parade lol). They might just welcome a more established opposition party, but unfortunately no party is willing to step forward. In Moulmein-Kallang, where two established opposition parties are fighting the PAP, this might be a golden opportunity for voters there to exercise their choices diligently. NSP is different from WP, and both NSP and WP are different from the PAP. More choices = better for voters, because they can better pick the party which best represents them, in terms of ideology or personalities of the candidates.

Perhaps why opposition parties are afraid of three-cornered fights is that they fear their ideas or candidates might be drowned out. Well, that means they ain’t good enough! Greater competition can ultimately force them to differentiate themselves more, be it in their policies, plans, visions etc. This will benefit the voter MORE, rather than taking part in a straight fight against the PAP, where they force voters to choose ‘either’ and ‘or’.

In the last point, the secretary-general was correct. Most S’poreans would like to vote (even if they vote for the PAP). Voting is not just a fundamental right; it enhances the sense of belonging to S’pore and plays a part in forging national identity as well. That the opposition parties want to contest all wards so as to allow all S’poreans to vote, it is great.


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Filed under GE 2011

One response to “What voters want?

  1. Pingback: A Brief History of Elections II: 3-way fights « Politics

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