Opposition parties get set for contest

Opposition parties get set for contest
The Workers’ Party team for Aljunied GRC at the nomination centre in the run-up to the General Election in 2011.

More parties, newbies likely to join fray

POLITICAL observers often say that the academic or professional credentials of opposition candidates are not a make-or-break factor.

This is because, "while many voters might not expect sterling credentials from opposition candidates, what they do expect are candidates who are consistent, predictable and who play a steady hand", says political scientist Derek da Cunha. Indeed, opposition veteran and observer Wong Wee Nam reckons it is "heart for the people" that counts.

But this time around, some parties are reckoning that this "discount" is not enough, and are not only casting a net for fresh faces, but better-quality ones, too.

They are targeting more professionals and businessmen compared to the past, when it was a case of taking anyone who knocked on the door.

At this stage of organising the slates, the opposition is traditionally coy about naming names, but a check by Insight found new faces already on the ground.

In the case of the Workers' Party (WP), which has constituencies to run, the weekly Meet-the-People sessions of its Members of Parliament have become the training ground for likely candidates.

The other parties, meanwhile, have been trotting out potential candidates at grassroots events, forums and walkabouts.

Among these election hopefuls are quite a number of lawyers, doctors and businessmen - professions more often associated with People's Action Party candidates.

Then again, the success of the different parties in attracting new members has varied widely.

The WP, for instance, has seen a surge in the number of people wanting to join its ranks after it gained an unprecedented nine seats in Parliament - including two Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seats - in the 2011 General Election and the two subsequent by-elections. The NCMP seats are given to the opposition candidates who poll the highest percentage of votes among the also-rans.

The WP's poll success has allowed the party to develop a more formalised recruitment process than before, where it can now try out people as volunteers first, before choosing only the best and most dedicated as members, say party members.

For the majority of the smaller players, though, the last four years has sometimes seemed like a game of political musical chairs, with members leaving to join other parties or form new parties.

This year alone, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) had three members jump ship to join the Singapore People's Party (SPP), and two others leave to help set up the nascent People's Power Party (PPP).

The SPP, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Reform Party (RP) have also seen members switching teams in the past four years.

All of the parties, however, say they have amassed a creditable slate of new candidates.

Though unwilling to name just who, they are quick to attest that these new faces have been put through the paces.

Says Tan Jee Say, secretary-general of new party Singapore First (SingFirst), one of two new parties to surface: "We've done quite a bit of training. They've had walkabouts in areas they may be fielded in, and we've also trained them in public speaking, and brought in a lawyer to teach them how to avoid defamation."

Parties have also been intensifying visits to the constituencies they are eyeing, giving potential candidates exposure to potential voters.

Insight takes a look at those who are known so far.

The opposition front runner

With its success in the last election, the WP has a clear edge over the other opposition parties, and has used this advantage to attract more professionals, including doctors, lawyers, academics and corporate high-fliers.

Two of them, in fact, spoke at a rally during the Punggol East by-election in 2013: National University of Singapore sociologist Daniel Goh, 42, and law firm partner Dennis Tan, 44, of boutique shipping firm DennisMathiew.

Since then, both men have regularly donned party blues at grassroots events and weekly Meet-the-People sessions.

Professor Goh, who is also the president of the WP Youth Wing, is a familiar face in Ms Lee Li Lian's Punggol East constituency.

And Mr Tan, who sits on the board of the WP Community Fund, assists Aljunied GRC MPs Chen Show Mao and Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap at their weekly resident feedback sessions.

Two other businessmen have been sighted at these sessions and at WP's grassroots events.

Mr Leon Perera, 45, an Oxford-trained research and consultancy firm boss and former civil servant, also helps out at Mr Chen's Paya Lebar division. Mr Firuz Khan, 48, who runs a chocolate factory overseas in Wales, has served in the youth wing's council and was back recently to speak at the youth wing's Labour Day debate.

On the management committee of the WP Community Fund are at least two doctors - a urologist and an oncologist - and another shipping lawyer.

Traditionally, the WP has not been averse to fielding newer members. NCMP Yee Jenn Jong, who contested Joo Chiat during the 2011 GE, for example, joined the party only shortly before the polls.

If the party is tight-lipped about its likely candidates, it is even more guarded about which constituencies it is eyeing.

But those close to the party say it will most likely continue with its strategy of gradually inching outwards from its current Aljunied GRC-Hougang-Punggol East stronghold.

They also expect the party to contest the same areas as in the last election. Based on current electoral boundaries, this means East Coast GRC, Moulmein-Kallang GRC, Nee Soon GRC, Sengkang West, Joo Chiat and Whampoa.

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