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