SDP challenge in Punggol – what kind of democracy?

SDP’s recent announcement that they intend to campaign in the still-withheld Punggol East SMC by-election has sparked more than a few comments from political watchers expressing both support and stern condemnation. While everyone is fretting (or smirking) over a 3-, 4- or 5- cornered fight, many might not realise how differently Singaporeans think about democracy (albeit OUR democracy).

It seems that by and large what is supposed to be a system where the people, the rakyat, are represented by a candidate (and party) that speaks for their interests in parliament, decades of PAP over-dominance and gerrymandering have birthed democracy’s Singaporean midget-child, PAP vs “the opposition” where most Singaporeans see everyone who is not PAP as members of a vacuous and rag-tag group collectively known as “the opposition”.

As injurious as this concept may be for a system that is supposed to represent the rakyat, it seems to be something that Singaporeans have settled for in the meantime, ignoring the differences between the left-leaning SDP, the centre-left-but-appears-centre-right WP and the ever-enigmatic but definitely right-wing PKMS. While purveyors of fine democracy like Chee Soon Juan may balk at this like Gordon Ramsay does at McDonalds, our quasi-democracy is still a reality that he has to deal with, since it is the electorate that can’t tell the difference between one party and another, let alone the various policies that they have laboured over.

Now we all may think that this is good news for the PAP – blurring the identity of their opponents, diluting the dissenting vote and stating “in-fighting” among the other parties (why is it called in-fighting when they aren’t even in an alliance?) but here is where it will start to fall apart – when the PAP’s own policies inevitably fail (all things eventually do), and the PAP can no longer keep up the media and PR facade required to save their face, they will slowly but surely become another faceless party in that mass, with apparently nothing special to offer to Singaporeans.

Then it will be a time of “anyone will do” and perhaps the decades of pettiness, unfair political plays, high-handedness and morally dubious practices will lose PAP more votes at a time when it needs them the most.

In time, Singaporeans will figure that they need someone who takes an actual political position that represents their interests, and so far the SDP has presented itself most consistently in this manner. Whether it turns out that SDP is throwing pearls before swine still remains to be seen.

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