The Temasek Policy Review

A critical review of Singapore's policies from the ground

The rise of the Workers Party spells possible demise for the other smaller parties

Posted by temasektimes on May 30, 2012

Despite the odds stacked against them – from the Yaw Shin Leong sex scandal, reports of party disunity and relentless attacks on the integrity of its candidate Png Eng Huat, the Workers Party romped home to a convincing victory in Hougang with 62.09% of the votes.

Though Hougang is considered a impregnable ‘fortress’ of the Workers Party which has held the ward for over twenty years, many had expected a vote swing to the PAP in view of the circumstances under which the by-election was called following the sacking of ex-MP Yaw Shin Leong over alleged personal indiscretions.

The Workers Party seems unprepared during the election campaign either with numerous mis-steps which could prove fatal to other parties. Even WP Chairman Sylvia Lim admitted that the party did not expect to win more than 60 percent of the votes.

The margin of victory for WP boils down to two key factors – its brand name and the prevailing sentiments on the ground that Singapore needs more opposition voices in parliament to check on the government which are likely to propel the WP to further electoral gains in the next election regardless of the candidates they field.

The Workers Party is likely to continue growing for the following reasons:

1. For the last twenty years, the opposition was kept weak and divided with only two MPs in parliament – former Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong and Hougang MP Low Thia Kiang. With Mr Chiam entering the twilight of his political career and his party not running any constituency, Mr Low naturally becomes the de facto opposition leader and the nexus of support for all opposition supporters.

2. With six MPs and two NCMPs in Parliament, the Workers Party is now the largest opposition party in Singapore with the increased media exposure likely to attract more supporters and potential candidates into its ranks.

3. The Workers Party’s slogan of ‘Towards a First World Parliament’ resonates deeply with Singaporeans despite an underwhelming performance in parliament and so long its MPs continue to portray themselves as a ‘constructive’ force to check on the ruling party, it will continue to draw support from Singaporeans even if they are ineffective.

4. Unlike other parties, the Workers Party have years of experience in running Hougang and doing well in Aljunied will inspire confidence and trust in Singaporeans.

5. The Workers Party have a mix of experienced politicians like Low Thia Kiang and Sylvia Lim as well as young leaders such as Gerald Giam and Pritam Singh to take the party forward into the future. No other opposition parties boast of so many talented and credible individuals within its ranks like WP. 

Given the limited resources and support available from the public, Singaporeans are likely to throw their support behind the Workers Party which has a base to build on, rather than other smaller parties which have little chance of winning against the PAP.

The statistics in the last General Election speaks for themselves: The Workers Party scores 47% against the PAP’s 53% in straight contests overall. Even its worst-faring GRC team managed to garner 42% of the votes which was higher than most other parties.

In a three-corner fight in Sengkang West SMC during the 2011 General Election, the Workers Party candidate Lee Lilian managed to obtain 43% of the votes causing another opposition candidate Desmond Lim to lose his deposit.

The result of the contest is clear: The Workers Party is the ‘number one’ choice for opposition supporters who will unite behind it rather than split the votes with a weaker opposition party.

As the Workers Party continue to grow and attract better candidates into its ranks, it will be able to field more candidates in future elections making the prospects of multi-cornered fights inevitable and with its strong branding, the candidates from the smaller parties will risk losing their election deposits like Desmond Lim.

With the Singapore People’s Party in disarray, the National Solidarity Party having the same centrist position as the Workers Party and the Singapore Democratic Party still in a process of rebuilding and rebranding itself, it is hard to see how they will be able to compete with the Workers Party for the same pool of voters.

The Workers Party is likely to make further inroads in 2016 by winning Joo Chiat and East Coast GRC which it narrowly lost in 2011 while the other parties are unlikely to win any seats, thereby paving the way for a two-party system to emerge in Singapore.

Unless the Workers Party self-implode and suffer a split like the PAP in the 1962, it is hard to see how the PAP is going to stop it from winning more seats in the next General Election.

As for the other parties, they should seriously consider merging with the Workers Party like what the Barisan Sosialist did in 1988 to stand a better chance of winning a seat in elections or risk remaining on the fringes of Singapore politics forever.

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