Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can the SDP become a mainstream opposition party?

Written by Ng E-Jay (source)
11 May 2011

In the 2011 general elections, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) was the most improved party. Not only did they field 11 candidates in a bid for 2 GRCs and 2 SMCs, they managed to increase their percentage share of the votes in the constituencies they contested from 23.2% in GE2006 to 36.8% in GE2011.

While their performance still does not match WP or NSP, it clearly means the SDP has totally cast aside its underdog status and it now has the potential to become a mainstream opposition party. With continued hard work, they have the potential to become a household name and anchor themselves firmly in Singapore opposition politics.

However, the road ahead will not be easy. The SDP faces not just the PAP, but also the WP and NSP in an effort to brand and market itself to Singaporean voters.

The 2011 elections have shown that elections is a numbers game. The more candidates a party can potentially field, the more bargaining power it has at the negotiation table in deciding which party gets to contest which constituencies to avoid 3 cornered fights.

In this round, the WP and NSP had the most bargaining power because they have the most potential candidates on their slate. Parties like SDP and RP were left to pick up the crumbs.

The next time round, if the SDP wishes to expand its contest areas, it needs to greatly increase its slate of potential candidates. That not only means embarking on a serious recruitment drive over the next 5 years, but also getting top notch potential candidates into its fold.

In GE2011, the SDP had a pleasant surprise for the electorate, in the form of Vincent Wijeysingha, Tan Jee Say, Ang Yong Guan, and Michelle Lee. In GE2016, if the SDP wishes to be on par with WP and NSP at the bargaining table, they must recruit several more Vincent Wijeysinghas and Michelle Lees, and show not just voters but also other opposition parties they can attract serious talent into the SDP team.

Intra-party capacity building therefore must be an over-riding objective of the SDP between now and the next general elections.

Another area that the SDP must look into is ground work, working the grassroots and engaging the residents in the long quiet years in-between the polls. It is during this time, when the glare of the media is turned away, that the party must reach out to residents and begin the slow and arduous process of establishing themselves at the ground level. There will be no immediate gratification during this period. Only during the polls will the rewards come.

A third aspect the SDP must seriously consider is divesting itself completely from its chequered past. That means giving up its previous civil rights agenda, and studiously avoiding being associated with any sectarian interests, so as to avoid annoying the electorate.

In particular, the SDP cannot go back to street demonstrations or campaigning for freedom of assembly, however important the freedom of assembly is in order for democracy to be established. The electorate is not ready, and not willing, to consider such ideals yet.

The resources of SDP are much better spent fighting the electoral battle and fighting to win the hearts and minds of residents, rather than getting arrested and trying to turn the Subordinate Courts into a political theater.

If the SDP can focus squarely on bread-and-butter issues, and be seen as engaging the electorate rather than as confronting the government, that will go a long way toward re-branding SDP as a credible and respectable opposition party.

SDP – A very unique party

The SDP is a very unique party. Its political ideology is very rigorous, being founded on the concept of equality and justice for all Singaporeans. The SDP has the most well articulated and well reasoned manifesto out of all the political parties.

The SDP can articulate its values with a kind of precision and intellectual rigour that no other opposition party, not even the WP, can duplicate as yet.

Furthermore, the quality of candidates that the SDP attracts can easily match those of any political political party — PAP or opposition.

I have enormous faith that if the SDP:
  1. performs its grassroots work diligently,
  2. maintains its level of intellectual rigour
  3. maintains its party discipline,
  4. continues to expand the party aggressively, and
  5. commits itself to fight electoral politics constructively and credibly,
there is no doubt victory will be within reach at the next general elections.

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