Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Role of Opposition - Putting Spurs into PAP's thick hides

Firstly, I would like to wish all my readers and Singaporeans at large a very Happy and Prosperous Lunar New Year ahead.

Recently I have given an exclusive interview as the Secretary General of NSP to TOC. I have talked about the vision of Singapore's Political development for the next decade or so, especially during the Post-LKY era.

Recently someone asked me about what have I done for the voters of Tampines and what is my game plan for winning the Tampines battle in time to come. I have responded about the need to take a bigger role than just Tampines itself.

In both instances, I have touched on the uncharted waters that I am sailing through; a path that has never been taken before by any opposition parties.

I have put forward a totally REVAMPED strategy which was loosely used in opposition parties in the past. A Minister-Policy-Specific strategy. There are a few dimensions to this strategy and motivations of using such strategy. We have long heard about how PAP is not held accountable to their policy or management failures. Applying such policy will address the need of extracting accountability from the ruling party.

Secondly, it will make the PAP and its ministers work harder to review some of the absurdity in their policies and do it right. Last but not least, it will raise the standards of political engagement from personality attacks to one that is geared towards open, matured and rational policy debates to work for the betterment of Singaporeans.

All in all, I would say that the whole idea of being opposition members, to lend MM Lee's famous words, is to PUT THE SPURS DEEPER into PAP's HIDES, to make them worker harder and faster for the people's interests.

Many people are anxious about having opposition parties to win more seats but have little idea about what that actually means. Winning seats is just a means to an end. The fundamental basis of power, is the people, for the people, by the people.

Many people always demand opposition parties to come up with "solutions". But one should know that policy solutions need rigorously examination. While we could give a generation direction, policy specifics need to be examined very closely with data analysis. Opposition parties do not possess the necessary data sets to do such work, neither do they have a whole army of civil servants and think tank employed by the government to do the necessary policy research. Policy ideas could be mentioned but whether these ideas are feasible or not would need much in depth research by civil servants and think tank who are equipped with the necessary tools and data sets.

The role of the opposition, thus, should not be entrenched in providing all nitty gritty specific solutions but rather, to act as an agent that keep the government in checks with good articulation of the flaws and ills of the policies put up by the ruling party. Opposition's fundamental role is to use the competitive mechanism provided by the electoral system as a leverage to extract a better deal for the citizens.

My vision for Singapore's political sphere for the next decade is for it to develop into a multi-party proportional representative system. The citizens will be provided with the opportunity to make INFORMED CHOICES by open, matured public political discourses and debates. The political system is more about policy specific debates rather than personalities. A healthy and fair competitive environment for all political players to express their ideas and ideals.

Opposition parties should not conduct themselves in such a "quiet" way. The media should make sure that it provides a balanced treatment and exposures for opposition parties.

Many people asked about "what have you done for the voters". Most people think that only the incumbents could "do something" for the voters by writing letters for them, meet them to talk about their woes, run their town councils and such. But we must always remember that the FIRST PRIMARY ROLE of a MP is to debate policies in parliament, making sure that such policies are in the best interests of the people.

I believe that opposition members who are yet to be voted into parliament have a role to play in "doing things for the voters". I have experimented it with the announcement of my intended contest in Tampines and providing my views on what went wrong with our HDB policies. Campaigning it on the grounds to explain the problems that Mah Bow Tan's HDB policies will bring to our younger and future generations.

All such actions have put SPURS into PAP's thick hides. Within a short span of a few months, HDB has done a few somersault U Turns on its policies. One of the most dramatic U turns come from the fact that they are planning to build more rental flats after drastically reducing the numbers for last few years, even when MM Lee has openly expressed objection to have rental flats for Singaporeans.

This is just a little "out-of-the-box" experimental political engagement that I have embarked on. It has proven its effectiveness in making the ruling party to do it right for Singaporeans.

This is the kind of leverage that the competitive elements provided by the electoral mechanism could give us. Opposition members should walk out of their old conservative ways of conducting political engagement and start to utilize such leverage to try and get the better deals for our people.

Walking or working the ground is no longer about knocking the doors and saying Hi and Bye. It could and should be more than that. We should be talking about politics and policies to our citizens, making comments on complex issues in the simplest terms as possible. Issues that are close to the hearts and minds of the citizens.

To win the seats, you have to win the confidence of the voters that you can and will be an EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION MP in parliament who will always safe guard the interests of the people.

Running a Town Council is important but just a distraction that PAP wants to put into opposition and voters' minds. To run a Town Council properly, we will need to employ professional Building and Estate managers. You simply cannot expect a doctor or a lawyer to run the Town Council all by themselves. Their more important primary role is to voice the concerns of the people in parliament to keep the ruling party in check.

Utilizing the Minister-Policy-Specific strategy will be a good way in trying to refocus the voters' minds to the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of voting for their MPs. When they are considering whether to vote for opposition candidates, their primarily concern should be whether these candidates could help to safe guard their overall interests in parliament. Whether they have the ability and capacity to put up good policy debates in parliament.

Of course, fundamentally, whether they could really "PUT THE SPURS DEEPER INTO THE RULING PARTY'S HIDES" to make them work harder and better safe guard their interests.

Goh Meng Seng


beefeater said...

While most will agree the PAPees deserve deeper spurs into their hides, many prefer more than that.

Like BBQ medium rare to well done !

Anonymous said...


Please limit your discourse to couple of paragraphs at the most, as some of your articles keep on going and going and going without any end in sight......Akin to artifacts from the (ir)rational propoganda from PAP spin doctors (ahem....oxford/cambridge scholarships do come in handy).

Go Tampines and may we provide a viable alternative to current regime and expose their fallacies to the genuine stakeholders of Singapore.

Good Luck.

Fievel said...

Good article. I like you social intent and political method.

Thank you

Fievel said...

Good article. I like your social intent and political method.

Thank you

BryanT said...

Firstly, GMS talks about his revamped strategy call “Minister-Policy-Specific” which is supposedly meant to extract accountability from the ruling party and make it work harder. He stressed that it is also to raise the standard of political engagement “from personality attacks to one that is geared towards open, matured and rational policy debates”.

I doubt GMS's sincerity in shifting political debate away from personality attacks. One just have to look at the parochial (and very “personal”) language used in his recent blog entry titled “HDB [sic] Homeless Policy” to discern his underlying strategy. What do they say about a leopard not being able to change its spots. I suppose in this case, the leopard has gone on to acquire a forked tongue as well.

Even the name of the strategy, Minister-Policy-Specific, is a give-away. We need political parties to cover the wide spectrum of issues that are of concern to Singaporeans. The fact that NSP, and specifically GMS, seems pretty hung up on HDB policies is very clear.

It is to specifically attack the NatDev Minister as the party intends to contest Tampines. Hence the name of the strategy speaks for itself - specifically target the policy, so as to specifically target the Minister, so as to specifically target the ward. If none of us reminds NSP early enough, it will soon become a one-policy-one-minister-specific-party. So much for gearing debated towards openness and maturity.

Secondly, GMS gave lame excuses for for not wanting to get “entrenched in providing all nitty-gritty specific solutions”. The purported reason is that opp parties do not have a “whole army of civil servants and think tank”.

The REAL reason why most opp parties do not to indulge in nitty-gritty of their alternative proposals is that doing so will sometimes (inconveniently) expose their shortcomings, flaws and fallacies. Of course it is politically more expedient to highlight how GOOD their alternative proposals can be, than to admit how BAD they can look once we examine the (missing) details. One can also take it as a attitude of plain laziness, slip-shoddiness and a bad case of "pot-shot"-itism. The leopard spots prevail.

In that case, GMS was definitely gravely mistaken to propose that opp parties should stop conducting themselves in such a “quiet” way.

In my view, if the opp parties can't come up with robust and well-reasoned counterproposals, they should remain as quiet as possible.

PS. The spurs used in the picture look pretty “ornamental” and are probably not very effective against thick hides. If my frail eyes are not failing me, the spurs also look a bit “religious”. Maybe NSP should just stick to a plain old whip.

A concerned Citizen said...

Dear Byran T,

I had a headache reading you comment. it is kinda of white bias. I think GMS is echoing what most other people are saying.... Policy failure by the Minister MBT.

I dunno but I think MBT should keep quiet as well if he cannot give a creditable and logic statement because so far his reply thru MSM always make me angry and frustrated. Maybe its just me

BryanT said...

It is fine for GMS to echo what "everyone else" is saying.

But as an opposition member attempting to gain a parliamentary seat, my belief is that he should NOT be simply just borrowing on the people's spurs to impale the ruling party's hide.

It is easy to criticise AFTER-THE-FACT, but is he able to make a counter-proposal to improve public housing? Of course, politicians will also resort to words such as "more flexible", "more responsive", etc. These, to me are NOT proposals.

Finally, I have this feeling that many opposition members will hide behind statements similar to what GMS made, that the opposition does not have a “whole army of civil servants and think tank”. Therefore they can poke and prod, but are not obliged to properly rationalise and backup their actions and words.

BTW, one important thing I have learned in life is that what "everyone else" is saying is always correct. Opposition parties will ignore this possibility, because they need to play the populist game.

BryanT said...

Sorry, last comment was addressed to "A concerned Citizen". I omitted.