Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's robust speech to People's Action Party (PAP) activists on Sunday has sparked talk that the party looks set to take the fight to the opposition in the next general election (GE), which must be called by January 2017 at the latest.
Several analysts said he was calling the opposition out on its lack of alternative policies, and its seeking to act only as a "check" on the Government, while others felt it showed that the ruling party was not taking things for granted.
Several opposition leaders disagreed with his contention that they lacked a vision and plan for the country.
But Ms Sylvia Lim, Aljunied GRC MP and chairman of the Workers' Party (WP), which has seven elected and two Non-Constituency MPs, told The Straits Times that she will leave it to the public to judge her party's performance.
"These are matters concerning the next general election and the WP will deal with them when the time comes. In the meantime, we will continue to do our work and leave it to the public to judge if we are performing a useful role," she added, without elaborating.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan rejected Mr Lee's criticism, and posted on Mr Lee's Twitter account, a link to his article published last week in the Wall Street Journal.
In it, Dr Chee outlined alternative policies in areas like housing, health care and population.
Singapore People's Party chairman and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam said Mr Lee's depiction of the next election as a "deadly serious fight" was, in fact, "a serious wake-up call for the Government to fix its many wrong and unpopular policies".
In a brief Facebook post, she also said the opposition must win enough seats to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority in Parliament - which would allow the ruling party to change the Constitution at will.
National Solidarity Party (NSP) secretary-general Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss responded to Mr Lee's comment that the opposition aimed to act only as a "check" on the PAP and did not see it as its duty to solve the nation's problems and plan for the future.
Mr Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general, said that for every "checker" in Parliament, there will be one less "doer, thinker and leader in government".
Mrs Chong-Aruldoss said ministries and think-tanks could assist political leaders. "A politician isn't a lawyer, economist and engineer rolled into one. I'm not clear as to why Mr Lee expects all three in an MP."
Several opposition leaders also shared the view of political observers that Mr Lee's tone and blunt assessment of the opposition were a clear sign the PAP will make stronger challenges as the general election draws nearer.
Political scientist Bilveer Singh said the PAP was going on the offensive, especially with its recent criticisms of the WP for how it managed its town council.
He believes the PAP will use opportunities to highlight the failing of the opposition, the WP in particular, and play up on the PAP's performance and track record of delivering on promises.
In this regard, former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng and former WP treasurer Eric Tan - who quit the party in 2011 - said the WP had not lived up to expectations.
"If the WP has a serious alternative or any policy matter they would like to comprehensively debate, they should put in a full motion and have Parliament debate it. But they have not. Not on transport issues, or housing issues, or on the CPF (Central Provident Fund)," said Mr Cheng, who served from 2009 to 2011.
Mr Tan said that while no party had all the answers, the WP "should set the agenda by offering alternative constructive ideas rather than responding to the PAP policies".
"In 2011, the WP... articulated a clear alternative model for our public transport. I did not see them engage the PAP when their public transport model broke down and needed revamping."
Former NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng warned that opposition parties risked becoming irrelevant if they did not evolve beyond performing a "check and balance" role.
This is especially as non-partisan activists have been at the forefront on social-political issues. Mr Goh said: "If opposition parties don't buck up to show that they can lead the charge, voters will be disillusioned by their passiveness."
As for Mr Lee's pulling no punches, former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said it was a sign the PAP is not taking its political future for granted.
The party was in a difficult situation - having to appear caring and compassionate "but that doesn't mean fighting the opposition gently", he said.
He also shared political scientist Derek da Cunha's view that the strategy of framing the next general election as a national fight, not just a local one, may not sway voters.
As Dr da Cunha put it: "Unless one party signals it will field candidates in all the constituencies to provide a clear-cut option to voters as an alternative government to the PAP, it is hard to see the opposition providing a national vision. In broad terms, the opposition parties are still parties of protest."
This article was first published on December 10, 2014.
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