What Makes a Good Party?

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Do we vote based on people or party? Actually, both. Since we have covered what makes a good MP, we should, too, think about what makes a party worth voting for!

Political parties have certain fundamentals that attract different groups of people, in theory. Some parties such as the SDP are very clear in this, fighting for civil liberties and human rights. The PAP has centred itself on meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty.

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In practice, there are some troubles with this approach. Due to the horse-trading, voters never actually have a full spectrum of political parties to select from. In West Coast but a WP supporter? Hard luck. East Coast but a human rights activist? Not sure if the WP will be as suitable as the SDP in this regard! Unfortunately, this has introduced the label “PAP versus opposition” in most places, except in places with three-cornered fights. I am sure Tam Lam Siong isn’t feeling too pleased with the lukewarm reaction from his former comrades.

Therefore, voting for or against the party is a legitimate difficulty, except if voting decisions are centred on the PAP. The “PAP or opposition” dichotomy has allowed the opposition to garner many votes which would otherwise have not gone to them. An example: many may probably not agree with the manifesto some parties put forth (e.g. RP), but with the resentment they try to stir and some slogans such as “transparency” and “generosity”, voters can be swayed to vote anti-PAP, even if they may not actually support the RP. Is this the way forward? Probably not; voting simply because the other choice is not fantastic does not move towards constructive politics: voting for a party should be because the voter believes in what the party does!

Here’re three ways to judge if a party is really worth your vote.

1.) Track Record

 

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Political parties have track records, just like people. For instance, one knows how the SPP ran town councils for twenty-seven years in Potong Pasir. One should also be aware of the behaviour of certain politicians both in and outside Singapore. One example of a positive track record: the SPP, despite not being the ruling party, did not sway from giving excuses of its management of its town council; it simply went on managing it to the point that Potong Pasir has a distinct identity. One example of a negative track record: recall of a politician who scandalised Singapore’s judiciary overseas and lamented about a lack of political progress overseas. That person is Chee Soon Juan. Besides the familiar story on his betrayal of his mentor and the inability of his party to retain talents, his behaviour outside Singapore should cause serious doubt for anyone voting for the SDP. After all, if a political party believes in advancing Singapore’s interest, the last thing it should do is to criticise the very motherland overseas. For parties with a track record, it is clear that the track record should be a primary deciding factor in decision-making.

Reading manifestos is one thing, but checking on the fulfilment of promises being expressed is a good way of checking if a party indeed has a positive track record.

2.) Party Capability

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Not every party has won elections. Some have indeed no track record to show of. How then, should such parties be assessed? Through calibre. However, to assess the party on its calibre can sometimes be a difficult one. For instance, the NSP has never won a seat in Parliament even if it had contested elections since 1988. In that case, checking the candidate line-ups will be quite relevant. Does the party attract the right type of people, capable of the dual role of constituency and parliamentary duties?

Candidate slates tell many stories. It speaks of the types of people that naturally gravitate towards the party. For instance, if the slate is made up of many members from other political parties, does that mean that its party members are truly committed to the fundamentals to the party? If a party always fields candidates of a particular type, could it highlight deficiencies in terms of the perspectives and views a political party has towards issues? A while back, the PAP was accused of having too many “civil servants”. This trend has reversed sharply. Only the polls will tell if this accusation has been satisfactorily rebutted.

3.) Commitment

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In every election, there will be a winner and the rest losers. Do the defeated continue holding onto their posts as far as possible? For instance, when the SPP was defeated (narrowly), Lina Chiam stayed on and continued her walkabouts. This can be contrasted with the Singfirst, which was shown through the horse-trading sessions that they could care less about the specific constituencies. First, they conducted walkabouts in Tampines GRC. There were also talks about Ang Mo Kio GRC, but eventually settled on Jurong GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, which are different areas demographically. One could either claim that Singfirst could not hold its ground during the horse-trading sessions, or is simply an opportunistic party looking for “the path of least resistance” to Parliament. Neither explanation is satisfactory.

I could end the article here, but there is one last note about the “PAP versus opposition” dichotomy that has surfaced. The recent moves of the WP snubbing other parties such as the NSP has suggested that the WP would be charting its cause towards being the second party in a two-party system reminiscent of the UK or US. As history would show, once the second party is entrenched, most other parties will never become a credible political force. If a two-party system is to be believed in, it is simply “PAP versus WP versus the rest”, not quite the narrative that we were silently convinced to believe in. Even if this were true, are our opposition parties really that homogenous and content to stay that way?

 

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About the author

Donavan Cheah

Donavan is currently a Physics student at the National University of Singapore. Besides Physics, he enjoys commenting on issues ranging from education, public policy and even speculating on the future of the country. Formerly from Breakfast Network, he plans to further hone his capability at writing.

Through FSAAM, he hopes to bring readers through seemingly complicated matters in Singapore in simplified manners, illuminate often-forgotten yet important topics for discussion in Singapore’s socio-political context. Hopefully his care for the country will indeed be reciprocated with a maturing society capable of making decisions that will set Singapore in good stead for the future.

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