SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) last-minute withdrawal of the Punggol East by-election can only hurt the party.
First, there will be questions over whether the SDP had wrongly predicted the possible state of play in the single-seat ward.
The SDP should know better that the Workers' Party (WP), which was first to state its interest to contest Punggol East, does not change its mind easily.
So, did the SDP get its analysis or feel of the situation wrong?
If true, the eleventh-hour pull-out should worry voters and SDP supporters over the party's ability to strategise, plan and execute.
Second, the withdrawal reflects poorly on the SDP's confidence in its own candidates.
The party has repeatedly said that it would contest, but party chairman Jufrie Mahmood had said that one factor that may change its minds is if the WP could field a better candidate.
The implied meaning was that it would back out of Punggol East if it deems the WP's candidate to be stronger than the SDP's man.
Now the SDP has thrown in the towel even though the WP's candidate Lee Li Lian, by all accounts, is not as highly qualified nor well-known as the SDP's potential candidates.
They are lecturer Vincent Wijeysingha, 42, who contested in the 2011 GE, and medical doctor Paul Tambyah, 47.
By quitting the contest now, it would invite questions whether the party deemed its men to be less electable than Ms Lee.
Third, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan's explanation that the party decided to pull out after hearing calls of opposition unity in recent days is hardly convincing.
After all, such calls were already made from Day One last month when Punggol East MP resigned over an extramarital affair.
And such calls are not new.
Being one of Singapore's oldest opposition parties, the SDP should already be aware that its intentions to contest Punggol East would elicit these concerns among opposition supporters.
The SDP has sought to refute these reasons at a press conference on Tuesday.
It said it had made house visits every night and printed publicity materials for the campaign, showing its serious intent.
Still, all other aspects of its conduct raise the inevitable question of whether the SDP was seeking the publicity that came from portraying itself as an interested party in the Jan 26 polls.
After all, posturing is a common practice among Singapore's opposition parties in the lead-up to each general election, including by-elections.
Each time polls are called, parties would stake their claims over wards they are keen to contest, regardless whether they eventually field candidates on Nomination Day.
Most times, the aim of posturing is to fend off other parties keen to compete in the same ward so as to avoid multi-cornered fights that could lower their chances of winning.
At times, it is aimed at milking the free media publicity - either for narcissistic reasons or to raise the profile of the parties and candidates among voters.
If true, the SDP may have gone too far this time round.
Its moves have raised expectations among voters in Punggol East that it was serious in contesting there. Now, these voters, and those living elsewhere, will have to think harder in the future if and when the SDP says it wants to contest their wards.
After all, the SDP was among the earliest parties to call for a by-election to be held soon and also possibly the first opposition party to hold walkabouts in the constituency.
The party's efforts intensified since the Writ of Election was issued last Wednesday (Jan 9). The party said it was going to contest even though it failed to get the WP to meet and discuss ways to avoid a multi-cornered clash.
Up until Tuesday morning, the SDP showed that it remained interested in running by collecting political donation certificates from the Elections Department.
Voters may not need to decide the SDP's fate this time. But its opponents, wherever it goes at future polls, will be sure to remind voters of its conduct in this by-election.
The party will pay a price for its deliberate or daft dithering in Punggol East - not now, but later.
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