When Mr Pritam Singh from the Workers’ Party (WP) became Leader of the Opposition (LO) in 2020, it was an occasion met with great fanfare. Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong was hopeful. “I hope to see not just more constructive debates but serious policy alternatives from the opposition,” said PM Lee.
But three years later, none of these hopes have materialised. In fact, the Opposition remains in static disarray, with nothing to offer but impotent irritation.
At the heart of the crusade to deny the PAP a supermajority is the WP. Despite making history by winning 10 seats in the previous election, the WP has failed to live up to expectations as a serious and credible opposition. And unbeknownst to them, a simple New Year Message from WP Secretary-General Pritam Singh was all it takes to reveal a party that continues to engage in divisive and populist politics. In addition to their regular flip-flopping on various policy stances (not that there were any in the first place), all of which have only held Singapore back from becoming a mature democracy.
Lies at worse, half-truths at best
Peppered with half-truths and twisted facts, the New Year message from WP was, unfortunately, a continuation of their parliamentary playbook. One that includes hawking subpar policy ideas and flip-flopping on them when caught out. Remember the time when MP Mr Jamus Lim suggested expunging the records for offenders of non-violent crimes. Did the ignorant MP even check that this may include sexual offences like child molestation in kindergartens? Or let us not forget MP Mr Louis Chua, who could not make up his mind on whether public housing was affordable or not. Finally, as if taking Singaporeans for fools, here is a party who called for the housing supply to be reduced, only to claim that it should have been increased instead when it suited them. Over the years, one could compile a dossier of such incidents on matters ranging from taxation to immigration. After all, there seems to be no subject where WP has not done a complete volte-face in their desperate attempt to win support.
Eventually, even such political mediocrity runs dry. And when it happens, WP finds itself scraping the barrel and resorting to what incompetent people do best – claiming undue credit as their own. From redundancy insurance to paternity leave, the WP has shamelessly seized these triumphs as their ‘proposals’ and ‘impact’ in their New Year message. But are they?
The truth is that there would be no financial support for the unemployed if not for the relentless lobbying of PAP MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer SMC), who has highlighted his concerns for retrenched workers as early as 2013. And not forgetting his predecessors in the labour movement too. Meanwhile, the push for paid paternity leave is a cause MP Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) has urged for since 2016. As for housing adequacy, the subject was hardly the domain of the opposition when MPs such as Mr Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC) and Ms Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC) frequently spoke up and raised the issue in parliament.
The dishonesty at the top
Perhaps to some, plagiarising ideas and stealing credit is an insignificant act. But in the larger scheme of things, it reveals something deeper and more sinister about the WP leadership. Instead of honesty and integrity, the Leader of the Opposition, and by extension, the WP, had once again shown that they have no qualms about misrepresenting the truth (or even bulldozing their way to save their skin). Therefore, was it a surprise that former WP MP Raeesah Khan lied in Parliament, only to be shockingly told by WP leaders to take it to the grave? In this instance, one could say that the rookie MP was only mirroring organisational behaviour. As for the party leadership, the glaring lack of empathy is now out in the open. To save themselves, WP leaders have not just thrown their loyal activists under the bus. They made sure that a tractor comes next to grind the wounded into total incapacitation.
There was a time when WP, having steered clear from drama-ridden hunger strikes, might have been a contender as a serious opposition. But in recent years, they have betrayed themselves as a hotchpotch of misguided individuals, more keen on selling half-baked ideas rather than advancing Singapore’s interests. And at times when they are not playing to the gallery, do we need to remind readers of how they grossly mismanaged residents’ hard-earned monies at their town council? With millions of dollars lost, it is a serious enough debacle which led a high-court judge to describe the conduct of WP leaders as egregious and blatantly dishonest.
A floundering party without a stand
Finally, the most tedious question remains – what exactly do the WP stand for? Are they the progressive left as bleeding heart liberals made them out to be? If so, why did the LO lift the whip instead of coming to a unified stand on 377A? Many would have also noticed the party had failed to condemn the brutal act of terrorism during last year’s Parliamentary debate on the Israel-Hamas conflict, forcing the PAP to intervene and ask them to state their stand clearly on terrorism.
As we drew a blank from their New Year message, it does seem like a squandered opportunity for the WP to make their position known.
More importantly, beyond that false bravado about safeguarding democracy and preventing Singapore from falling back to a one-party state, maybe we have overestimated what WP can offer beyond the hokey wisdom of ‘the Government can do more’. After years of disillusionment, we have long come to the conclusion here is a party not guided or governed by sound principles. Whatever the PAP proposes, all the WP needs to do is say “don’t do or do more’’.
In the end, to say that the PAP is allergic to an opposition presence is an unfair assertion. In fact, nobody wants Singapore to embrace diverse voices more than the PAP. It was in this spirit that the Government, despite its supermajority, introduced the Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme – through which the likes of Sylvia Lim first came into Parliament and then later with experience became elected MPs. Likewise, PM Lee established the Leader of the Opposition as an official role. One that comes with staff support and resources in the hopes of building up a more credible opposition.
Today, an increasing number of Singaporeans are craving for a more diverse parliament. But in our quest for more representation, the worst thing we can do is to credit WP with false attributes and worse, policy achievements which they didn’t earn. From where we can see, the WP, under the current leadership, is just a floundering party without any political backbone.
Photo Source: Straits Times/ Patrick Tay via Facebook