Thursday, October 24, 2013

Half Way Bell Check of SG Political Parties - SDP III

It is never easy to write a "fair assessment" of other opposition parties which do not have any seats in Parliament. We cannot use the same yardstick as PAP or WP to assess them because they have neither any opportunity to demonstrate their skills in parliament nor running any TC.

There are three main areas which I would look at these two parties, mainly

1) Organization functions, growth and stability
2) Consistency in ground work
3) Policy literature, deliberation and strength which includes commentary, press statements on various political issues etc.

All these are important parameters to gauge whether an opposition party without seats could be successful or having better chance to convince voters of their abilities in its future election bids.

Voters mentality is that they may give you "chance" but you must first show them what you are capable of, in terms of consistency in ground work, appearance on the ground and your ability to talk sense in your policy statements and published stance on various political issues. Of course, the potential of the party will also depends on how well the party is managed and growth.

SDP's Struggle on Keeping Gains and Talents

Ever since GE2011, SDP has been consistently losing talents. Part of the reasons was that most of these "high profile" candidates were not empowered by the party to become new stakeholders by appointing them as Cadre members. This in turn deprive them the opportunity to participate in SDP's CEC elections which could provide SDP the necessary party renewal.

SDP has performed reasonably well in GE2011 without its Secretary General Dr Chee Soon Juan's direct involvement in its rallies and public appearance during the election period. Thus somehow, it gave SDP a very important signal that without Dr Chee, more voters are willing to give SDP candidates with "good caliber" a chance to serve them. Of course, this may create a sense of "crisis" to the SDP leadership that the new batch of candidates may over-shine or take over the party. Thus if we look from this perspective, it is not that difficult to understand why post-GE2011 for SDP ended up with the loss of critical talents.

The only person who was new but elected into SDP's CEC was Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha but even he has quit SDP. The latest reports on Dr Ang Yong Guan has indicated that he would most probably moved on to Singapore People's Party with Mr. Tan Jee Say who have left SDP earlier to run for the Elected Presidency. Michelle Lee has long been seen putting up WP's blue T-shirt. Thus, it basically means that SDP has lost the WHOLE Holland Bukit Timah team which happened to score the HIGHEST among SDP's contested constituencies. i.e. SDP has lost its whole A TEAM.

Although SDP has since recruited new talents like Jeremy Chen who was involved in drafting the new Housing policy, but I think the lost of the whole GE 2011 Team A will reflect quite badly on itself. It will create doubts on both voters as well as other potential talents who might have second thoughts of joining the party after witnessing such losses.

The Best Website But....

If you make a thorough comparison of SDP website with other political parties, you will find that it is best professionally designed with good videos and even shopping cart for selling books to raise funds. Apparently, it has spent a lot of effort, time and most probably money in building up its website. However, something is just not right. First of all, there is no link nor information of who are the key CEC members of SDP listed on the website. Secondly, most of the books listed on sales are written by Dr Chee and even on the "FAQ", its first objective is to defend Dr Chee from the accusation that he "kicked" Mr Chiam See Tong out. Then it went on to stress that its Party is driven ideologically by Dr Chee, listing his books and such.

But it is interesting to note that SDP manages to get very talented people to help with its publication, website designs and video creation. It is a strength unmatched by other parties.

Ideologically Based on Dr Chee

It is not difficult to conclude that SDP has been built around Dr Chee by the look of its Website and literature published. Thus it seems that SDP cannot live without Dr Chee and the reverse may be true as well. This would mean that at present, any attempt to renew its top leadership would mean totally impossible because it has been so entrenched in one single man's presence in the party.

When you see Photos, you see ground work

SDP ground work has been "well documented" in the sense that each ground activity will definitely be reported on its website accompanied by photographs. However, if you observe very carefully, consistency on ground work is lacking. Consistency requires weekly engagement on the ground. There are sales of their newsletter Democrats and door knocking but these were not done regularly right after GE2011.

Ground work is more than just public visibility or photo shoot exercise. It is nice to put photos on website for netters to see but what matters most is what the ground knows of your presence.

Strength of Ideology, Policy Views and Political Literature

SDP professed to be strongly "ideologically rooted" by "Democratic Principles". Over the years, it has also developed a massive amount of political literature, thanks to Dr Chee working FULL TIME on this political front.

SDP has been able to provide timely comments, press statements and media responses for various issues, ranging from political stance, policy issues etc.It has taken its initiative to formulate various policy papers like Healthcare, Housing etc. These are good efforts even though we may not agree totally with their views.

It has also been actively sending its members, particularly younger ones, to participate in international or regional political events.However, the effectiveness of such overseas activities on local political scenes. But at least, there is some form of political education process.

SDP has put up various policy papers and some of them are quite impressive. However, many of those who helped to put up these policy papers, the brains behind all these, have left the party.

Policy papers alone will not get the party candidates elected. Each candidates' strengths and weaknesses count. Thus, it would be awkward if the party goes to GE with all these policy papers without the brains behind them.

The Linked Fate of SDP and Dr Chee ?

One of the biggest political blunder SDP has committed in post-GE2011 was the positioning of SDP by Dr Chee during the Punggol By-Election. Quite a number of SDP members and supporters I have met back then, expressed disappointment as well as frustration of Dr Chee's handling of the by-election issue.

Many acknowledge Dr Chee's contribution to the party for the past decades and had assumed that the fate of SDP will be linked to Dr Chee. However, some in the party, in increasing numbers, start to think that SDP would do better without Dr Chee as its leader. The Punggol By-election was a point that ignite such confidence crisis on his leadership.

Dr Chee will be able to contest in next GE but it was reportedly said that someone close to him has put up a "matter of fact" comment that he should quit politics altogether if he doesn't win the next elections. Unfortunately I don't see how he could win when all his able generals have left the party one by one.

I personally feel that Dr Chee should have opened up the party for renewal, accept the fact that the party has performed much better in last GE without his public participation and it is time for him to sit back as party advisor instead of taking the front driver seat. It doesn't reflect well if the party could put up an individual as its candidate during GE but in the end, was NOT promoted as the party's cadre members for whatever reasons. This is especially so when the candidates in question, are all very well qualified.

It would be irresponsible for a party to put up a candidate whom it doesn't trust to be its cadre member but deems fit to be an MP in parliament representing Singaporeans, unless there are really valid reasons to refuse such promotion for these candidates.

Especially so for a party that advocates Democracy, it should first practice it openly instead of just merely playing lip service about Democracy.

Cadre System and its Folly

The Cadre System is practiced in most political parties in Singapore, except for a few. The Cadre System is set up to prevent infiltration by opponent's agents so to disrupt leadership continuity or placement. However, the Cadre System has become a tool for incumbent leaders to control who can contest and vote in party leadership election. Most of the Cadre System only empowers the CEC or even just the few party leaders to decide who can be or not be cadre members of the party.

Thus, if the CEC or leaders are to preserve their own power and position in the party, the only thing they need to do is to appoint more members that they trust to vote for them during CEC elections. This will create a bad vicious power inbreeding and made renewal extremely difficult if the leaders themselves refused to step down.

During my time in NSP, I have made a couple of proposal to improve the Cadre System (or Congress Membership) in NSP. CEC will not be the only entity that holds the power to promote and appoint cadre members. The Cadre members themselves can propose and approve cadre membership during Party Congress. This will strike a balance of power between the need to prevent infiltration while avoid power inbreeding among the CEC members. I have also proposed to give Party Congress of cadre members the only power to remove critical assets like MPs. The CEC basically cannot sack any MP (if they have any) due to politicking, but have to seek the Party Congress endorsement in doing so.

This is to prevent the similar situation where SDP CEC sacks Chiam See Tong from party membership back in the 1990s due to differences in opinion and politicking.

Democracy - The Balance of Power

SDP has to show that it is serious about what it advocates : Democracy. The fallout of its team of promising candidates in the last GE indicates a serious systemic problem within the party framework.

While it is "norm" that parties may field candidates who joined the party at the very last minute but it must be cautioned that any candidates fielded by the party will be seen as someone whom the party has confidence in serving the constituents. Thus it is illogical for the party not to have the confidence in these candidates to become stake holders of the party by promoting them into cadre members.

The party structure will also need to be seen as transparent,accountable and open to constant renewal. It must also be seen as balance in delegating power instead of being seen as a "One Man Show", else it would be ironic contradiction for a party that advocate Democracy but in reality, practice dictatorial management style.


After the departure of Vincent Wijeysingha, I am rather pessimistic about SDP's future. No matter how many good policy papers it has produced in the past, political contest in Singapore is still reliant on individual personality on the ground.

A party cannot progress with massive loss of experienced, good candidates, especially from its A Team. It will setback the party's advancement and dent the party's credibility if the reasons for losing these candidates is due to internal politicking or the lack of trust in these candidates. 

Unfortunately, rightfully or wrongfully, Dr Chee will be seen as one leader who have dampen the progress of his party TWICE in history. I do not have high hope that Dr Chee could win the GE when he keeps losing good candidates. He may have the best Website and so on, but he lacks the appeal to the voters at the center who will decide winners.

Goh Meng Seng

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