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The proposal to the WP to work togetherto find a unity candidate has been criticised with observerscalling the idea “laughable”, “ridciculous”, “hare-brained”,etc.$CUT$
It seems that the ire was directed onthree different levels: One, that the proposal was unworkable giventhe differences between the SDP and WP; two, that theMP’s work as a parliamentarian and his town council duties are inseparable;three, that the idea of the SDP taking the MPship while the WPrunning the Town Council was disingenuous. Let me address eachquestion in turn.
We are acutely aware that the platformsof the SDP and WP are distinct and separate. This, however, does notmean that there are no areas of commonality and, more importantly,that the two entities cannot work together despite our differences.
In the world of political governance,coalitions abound. In Germany, for example, the Christian DemocraticUnion (CDU) runs a coalition government with the Free Democrat Party(FDP). Both parties have different ideologies and policies – theCDU is conservative while the FDP is liberal in itsorientation – but have found common ground to work for thecountry’s greater good.
There are numerous other examples ofcoalition governments: Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, India, NewZealand, Sweden, etc. No one can gainsay that these coalitions runstable and effective governments.
It may well turn out that in thenot-too-distant future, Singapore will have to turn to a coalition ofparties to form the government where power and responsibilties areshared. If we cannot accept the coming together of parties working to serve the residents despite our differences, what do wedo if an election results in no party garnering more than 50 percentof the seats in Parliament.
Parliamentary and town councilduties
The second criticism of the SDP’s unityproposal is that the MP’s parliamentary responsibilities and towncouncil duties are all roled into one. Separating them is inherentlyunworkable.
This is not true. Not all MPs inSingapore are involved in the running of the Town Councils. In a GRC,for example, one MP chairs the Town Council while the rest play minorroles in the day-to-day administration of the estate.
In fact, prior to 1989 when TownCouncils were introduced, the MP’s role was purely legislative. Theidea of parliamentarians taking on municipal duties was met withwidespread cynicism that the PAP was using it to scare voters againstelecting opposition MPs because, as thinking went, only PAP MPs werecapable of administering Town Councils.
But how can an MP from one party runthe Town Council controlled by another? Would there not bedifferences? The SDP would enter into such a pact with theunderstanding that the MP would not interfere in the running of theTown Council and the management of the Town Council leaves the MP toconduct his parliamentary work. Each party pledges to perform itsrole to the best of its ability.
The workability of such an arrangementis only limited by our willingness to cooperate and find commonground. If parties are not able to resolve differences when it comesto running a constituency, how do we run a country when we are calledto do so?
Taking the glamour
The third crticism revolves around theidea that the SDP only wants the easy and glamourous task of holdingthe MPship while giving the WP the odious job of cleaning the estate.
Again, this is untrue. First, there isnothing easy about an MP’s duties. Legislative work requires muchresearch and study that are conducted away from the public eye. TheMeet-The People’s sessions are anything but glamourous with much timespent in social and community work.
Town Council work, on the other hand,cannot be said to be unappealing. It requires sound managerial andpublic relations skills. Those managing an estate have direct accessto residents which allows for grassroots networks to be built,something that every political party desires.
Isn’t such an arrangement adhoc? Whathappens at the next general elections? If the model serves theresidents at Punggol East well and they want it to continue, whycan’t it?
But why should the SDP hold the MPshipand not vice versa? We have never said that the roles cannot bereversed. We would be equally happy to run the Town Council and leavethe MPship to the WP. But whichever role each party assumesnecessitates the parties coming together to present their cases andworking out the differences.
The only reason why we proposed an SDPcandidate is that the WP already has seats in the House to advanceits legislative programme. The SDP has drawn up alternative policieswhich it is able to articulate in Parliament which, otherwise, wouldnot be heard.
After all is said and regardless ofwhether it is done, the main objective of the SDP making such a proposal is to resurrect the idea of the opposition parties workingtogether. The effort must go beyond the five-yearly act of meetingjust before an election to parcel out constituencies for contest.
Far from laughable, we maintainthat our proposal is eminently workable. The idea of a unitycandidate may be novel and untried, but does it mean that it cannotwork? Why can’t it be examined rather than ridiculed and dismissedout-of-hand?
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple,once commented that Apple couldn’t emerge in Singapore because thecreative and risk-taking factor is not encouraged by the system here.His view should not be restricted to the realm of computers.
In trying to overcome the PAP behemoth, it is useful to recall Apple’s motto: Think Different.