After the tumultuous events of the last 6 months, the Hougang by election has finally been announced by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Speculation had been rife until recently that the battle for the Single Member Constituency (SMC) was going to be a multi corner fight between almost all political parties in the Singaporean political landscape.
These rumors were put to rest last week when political players such as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Singapore People’s Party (SPP), National Solidarity Party (NSP) (link) and Mr Tan Jee Say publicly declared that Hougang must remain in the hands of the opposition and Workers’ Party (WP) (link). These interest groups called for opposition unity in the face of a battle against the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the WP stronghold.
All these calls for opposition unity sound good on paper but one has to ask the question: Are the other opposition parties really looking out for the WP and the voters’ interests? Hougang has historically been known as a WP stronghold since the party captured it 21 years ago in 1991. Within that period the WP has had ample time to solidify its supporter base and build up its own brand in the national zeitgeist. The WP of today is wildly popular with the Singaporean opposition supporter and is probably seen as the sole credible opposition party that presents any likelihood of challenging the PAP in the popular vote in many eyes.
The other opposition parties and politicos are definitely keenly aware of this. So it stands to reason that all outside parties know that they would be committing political suicide if they decide to make Hougang a multi cornered contest. Anyone outside of the WP and PAP getting involved in this tussle will be viewed as a political opportunist and will be tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion, doing irrevocable damage to their own respective political brands. Any political observer in Singapore would have come to this conclusion long ago. So it is disingenuous for the other politicos to claim that they are not contesting in Hougang for the sake of opposition unity when the fallout implications are so clear to any political strategist.
Instead of just backing off from Hougang for the sake of survival and claiming that they are doing it in the name of opposition unity, the opposition could put their money where their mouth is and try something new and radical: They could all enter the Hougang race, get their writ of nomination submitted and declared as candidates on nomination day and on the ballot.
And then as soon as they are confirmed as candidates, they turn around and declare that they are dropping out of the race and endorse Mr Png Eng Huat, the WP candidate. They can tell their supporters and the Singaporean voters that the country matters first and campaign for the WP. The opposition parties can use their rallies to drive home the message that Mr Png IS the best candidate to vote for. Yes the opposition candidate’s names would be on the ballot. But the parties can tell their supporters to vote for the WP candidate. Yes they will probably end up losing their deposit. But the entire opposition will gain something bigger than what they would have had if they had run in Hougang and lost: Political credibility and political good will.
Yes, it is a risky and costly gambit to play with no guaranteed physical returns, but think of what the public at large will think of the other non WP parties if they go ahead and pull this trump card to play. It not only guarantees the WP the combined opposition vote, it will completely change the political scene in Singapore. Everyone will finally see our opposition is united and committed towards taking on the incumbent PAP. Such a strategic move would completely throw the PAP off guard and put them on the defensive against a truly united opposition. Now that is real opposition unity that I could believe in.