Battle lines drawn to differentiate opposition from PAP

Several opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party (WP), have drawn clear lines in the sand to differentiate themselves from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) at the upcoming polls. In doing so, they have also hinted at the key issues and themes that they plan to campaign on.

PAP and the opposition parties both agree that the Sept 11 polls are significant for Singapore's future. But they differ in how these would shape the best possible future for Singapore.

The opposition also wants to focus the voters' minds on the last 10 years in contrast to the PAP's emphasis in recent months on its role in Singapore's 50 years of independence.

For the WP, a better future can only come about with a people empowered to take part in the decision-making process to make the Government more transparent, accountable and responsive, said party chief Low Thia Khiang in a message posted on the WP website after his nomination yesterday.

He asked: "Should you empower yourself to participate in the decision-making process to shape your own future and the future of your children and grandchildren in the next era of Singapore?"

Mr Low's remarks contrast with the PAP's calls for Singaporeans to give it a strong mandate and strong leadership and its insistence that recent policy changes are not the result of a larger presence of opposition MPs in Parliament since 2011.

Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah said it was a fallacy that more opposition MPs would make the PAP work better, while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking of opposition members in Parliament, said: "It's the quality which counts. It's not the numbers."

On the other front, Mr Tan Jee Say, chief of Singaporeans First (SingFirst), appears to be zooming in on the last decade, particularly the policies and changes under PM Lee, who took the job in 2004.

He cited the Government's decision in 2004 to build casinos, which he believed has caused problems such as broken families by fanning the gambling addiction. He also touched on the influx of foreign workers. "Yes, certainly things have changed drastically since he (PM Lee) took over," Mr Tan told reporters yesterday.

The moves by the opposition parties are aimed at preventing the PAP from seizing the narrative from the outset and milking the advantages of a nation's gratitude, mere months after the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

For the WP, which has adopted "Empower Your Future" as its election slogan for the 2015 polls, focusing the voters' minds on themselves could also dilute the emphasis on the town council issue that has dogged it since 2013.

The WP also hopes to nudge voters to keep pushing its long-term bid to build a more balanced Parliament - a process that got a huge boost in the 2011 polls when a team led by Mr Low won Aljunied GRC.

This could explain Mr Low's remarks yesterday: "Before 2011, the ruling party cruised along with policies that led to escalating cost of living, employment and retirement insecurity, and strained infrastructure due to runaway immigration.

"Your vote changed the course and led to U-turns; change for the better is only beginning. We need to continue the change by sending more Workers' Party candidates into Parliament. You can empower yourself to make decisions for your own future."

Separately, by focusing on the 10 years under PM Lee, opposition parties can avoid being seen as negating the legacy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, whose passing continues to evoke strong emotions among Singaporeans.

At the same time, they hope to deny the ruling party the feel-good effects of SG50.

For the WP, it is focused on a different timeframe - the four years since 2011 when the party made big strides - to try and show it had made a difference.

This could be seen in how WP's rookie candidate Leon Perera, one of the panellists in a television dialogue shown last night, said: "The decade before 2011 saw changes that many felt took Singapore in the wrong direction.

"The population grew rapidly without sufficient infrastructure to support it. Many suffered. Things have improved since 2011."

Drawing the battle lines early on could benefit the opposition parties in limiting the PAP's advantage in holding an election in the SG50 year.

But whether these lines might shift and what impact they could have on voters on Polling Day will depend on how the campaign pans out and also how effectively and consistently the parties stick to the battle lines.

This article was first published on September 2, 2015.
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