SINGAPORE, June 30 — Without the usual big meeting of their leaders to do some horse-trading before the polls, opposition parties here have largely hammered out agreements one-to-one or in loose groups in the run-up to the July 10 General Election (GE).
While most multi-way clashes have been averted thus far, some opposition leaders are concerned, ahead of Nomination Day today, about surprise contests and walkovers without having a bird’s-eye view of the plans being hatched by all parties.
Opposition leaders said that a meeting of all the opposition parties had been impossible because of restrictions on social interactions for the best part of the last few months. There are also time constraints, given that the polls are less than a fortnight away.
The crowded opposition scene has 10 parties vying for seats this GE. Two are out of the race — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will sit out this election to avoid three-cornered fights, while the Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party has disbanded.
People’s Power Party (PPP) secretary-general Goh Meng Seng said that opposition parties were heading into the polls with less certainty this time around without all parties coming together.
He is gunning for the single seat at MacPherson, after the National Solidarity Party (NSP) agreed to drop a contest there to avoid a three-way fight.
“We are going in blind. So I hope the voters can forgive us,” he said.
“I am very worried that some constituencies will not be contested, while some may have three-cornered fights.”
As late as yesterday evening, at least one party was still scrambling to avoid a three-way fight before candidate nominations are due to be filed today.
Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) secretary-general Desmond Lim said that he had managed to reach Mr Lim Tean, who heads the Peoples Voice party, late yesterday, requesting that he withdraw from contesting in the Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC). But Lim Tean had insisted on it, he said.
SDA is contesting the constituency as it has done in the past three GEs, with Desmond Lim saying he himself had spent 13 years on the ground there.
Asked about the three-way fight last Friday, Desmond Lim told TODAY that Peoples Voice's intention to contest at the GRC “without even giving a courtesy call” means that Lim Tean “has already made up his mind and is determined.”
“If he dilutes SDA’s chances, we will let the public know what we know about why he wants to enter a three-cornered fight,” he continued, adding that he has evidence in the form of a voice recording.
Last week, Lim Tean told TODAY that he is in a WhatsApp chat group, named Vision 2020, with the leaders of other parties, including PPP, the Reform Party (RP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
They use it not only to keep in touch but to discuss politics. Mr Desmond Lim is not in the group, which was started at least two years ago.
PSP assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai told TODAY that this chat group is used by the opposition leaders to exchange views, rather than engage in proper talks on possible three-cornered fights.
“The main talks about cooperation among opposition or alternative parties are not from the chat group, but one-to-one conversations,” he said.
Leong added that many opposition leaders were not interested in roundtable talks, but were keener on engaging in bilateral talks. Such bilateral talks had been under way since January, he said.
Some of the opposition parties have chosen to form informal pacts.
PPP is in an informal alliance with RP and DPP. SingFirst had been part of the alliance before it was dissolved.
RP chairman Andy Zhu said that besides avoiding three-way contests, the alliance would collaborate in other areas, such as sharing contacts to get the best quotations from vendors.
This, Zhu said, was a “vast improvement” from past elections where parties have largely been going it alone.
Because RP has resolved most of its clashes, it does not need the regular opposition roundtable talks that happen before the election. Zhu, however, acknowledged that it is “much better” to have everyone around the table so that the intentions of all parties are clear.
RP and Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s PSP look set to face off with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the Yio Chu Kang ward, after negotiations between the two opposition parties came to a head.
Both RP and PSP spoke publicly last week about the matter and neither appears to be backing down.
Trust in leaders to 'make right decision'
Other parties have had a smoother process.
Singapore People’s Party secretary-general Steve Chia said that his party is not expecting surprises on Nomination Day, since it had already ironed things out with PSP during the circuit breaker in April and May when containment measures for Covid-19 were in full swing.
In March, PSP had indicated its interest in contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, but has since dropped it from its line-up of nine constituencies. SPP is fielding candidates in the GRC.
Chia said: “We are not involved in horse-trading like other parties.”
NSP secretary-general Spencer Ng said that many discussions have been taking place between parties and these have “turned out pretty fine so far.”
NSP’s talks with PSP, for instance, led to NSP dropping the Pioneer ward to avert a three-way fight.
Reno Fong, NSP’s president, said that his party had also been talking to PPP and Peoples Voice.
Fong said that a meeting of most opposition parties, hosted by Dr Tan in November last year, had paved the way for direct talks among parties.
During that meeting, most parties had more or less disclosed their plans for the GE. “As such, it allowed for all the respective party-to-party talks afterwards,” he said.
While Fong said that his party did not expect three-way fights in Tampines and Sembawang GRCs, where it is contesting, he said: “We trust that all responsible opposition leaders will make the right decision and concentrate on the area they have been working on to stand a better fighting chance.”
The newest opposition party, Red Dot United, had spoken to many opposition leaders, including Dr Tan, Goh and Lim Tean, before settling on contesting Jurong GRC to avoid giving any party “a shock.”
Its chairman Michelle Lim said: “We respect the others in the opposition space a lot.”
Responding to TODAY’s queries, SDP would only say that it was not caught in three-cornered fights.
At an online press conference last week, Dr Chee Soon Juan, SDP’s secretary-general, said he was glad to hear that efforts had been made to avoid three-way fights this GE.
“We will continue to make sure to encourage the opposition to focus their energy and their attention on the PAP in this very crucial election,” he said.
While many opposition parties have been striking deals with one another, the Workers’ Party, the main opposition party here, has been reluctant to tie up with other parties.
Its secretary-general Pritam Singh told TODAY that its decision not to take part in an opposition alliance was consistent with its stance in past years.
“It is a good thing that Singapore has multiple political parties that voters can pick from, and we are inherently different parties based on different political principles and styles of politics,” he said. — TODAY