Thursday, January 24, 2013

BE2013: The Politics of the Underdog

The Punggol East by-election is proving to be a very interesting match to watch. Four parties have thrown their names into the electoral hat, but all eyes seem only to be focused on the tight race between the incumbent party's candidate Koh Poh Koon and contender Lee Li Lian from the Workers' Party. While Koh was unveiled as a fresh face of the PAP, Lee had previously contested in Punggol East during the 2011 General Elections.

David vs Goliath?

Opposition parties in Singapore are often perceived as the underdogs in a political arena dominated by the PAP. The tendency to root for the opposition stem not only from the perceived ineffectiveness and arrogance of the PAP, but also from the disadvantaged position that the opposition is placed in due to their lack of resources (e.g. funds, manpower) to compete on the same playing field with the PAP.

During the 2011 General Elections, when the WP successfully wrestled Aljunied GRC from the hands of the PAP, many saw it as a feat akin to David's defeat over Goliath. Yet two years on, some people are asking if David is slowly turning into another Goliath.

Turn of the Tide?

With 8 seats in parliament, many are questioning the passive role that the WP has taken in Parliament, and whether they could have done more to champion contentious issues such as LGBT rights and the repeal of section 377A of the penal code.

In addition, many did not take kindly to WP's stance on opposition unity, as Low Thia Khiang clarified that the WP will walk its own road because "uniting all the opposition parties is an unrealistic vision and an impossible dream". WP's reluctance to work with other opposition parties means that it will not shy away from future multi-cornered fights, as seen in the Punggol East by-elections, and this could potentially upset and sow discord with other opposition parties as well.

Something also has to be said about the poor conduct of WP supporters. The increasing popularity of the party seems to be getting into the heads of its supporters as they are emboldened into making gratuitous insults not only at the PAP but other opposition parties as well. During nomination day, nasty jeers were directed at SDA's Desmond Lim from the WP crowd despite party members' attempts to restrain them. While it may be impossible to stop all taunts, perhaps party leaders could have done more to speak out against such bad behaviour as it not only reflects badly on the supporters, but on the party as well.

Underdog No More?

Stringing together the perceived ineffectiveness of the WP in parliament, its status as a lone ranger among opposition parties, and the perceived arrogance of its supporters, it is not hard to see why WP's status as the underdog is under threat. This is especially so when it is compared to other parties with less political capital (e.g. SDP, SDA, NSP etc). For them, they will now not only have to compete against one Goliath, but two.

But for now, the WP will still be perceived by most Singaporeans as the underdog against the PAP. Yet, it remains to be seen if it will continue to enjoy the support of Singaporeans if it allows itself to be overwhelmed by its own success and arrogance.

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