Workers’ Party needs to grow up

By ‘Time for the Workers’ Party to grow up’, 1 June 2014, article by Chua Mui Hoong, Sunday Times

…The Workers’ Party has seven elected MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs in Parliament. It’s the leading opposition party, since no other has even one elected MP. It has said it can’t form the government yet – but can be its “co-driver”. But its position on policy issues is sometimes hard to fathom. This explains the PAP’s increasing frustration as ministers and MPs try to corner WP leaders into declaring their stand on a host of issues, as a look at Hansard records of Parliamentary proceedings will reveal.

Hence the exchange over whether the WP did “flip-flop” on immigrant growth, calling for zero growth in foreign workforce one year, and lamenting tightening curbs on foreign labour in another. On ministerial pay, too, observers will recall that it has suggested at various times to peg ministers’ salaries to the bottom 20 per cent earners, and then to the pay grade of a senior civil servant.

Ducking tough questions on policies was a good political move in the past, when all you needed to get into Parliament was the ability to connect with voters and promise to speak up for the people. In today’s political climate, however, that is patently inadequate.

…The WP’s value proposition has to evolve from one of checking the PAP government, to one where it offers a credible alternative to the Government. Realistic Singaporeans will cut the WP some slack as it’s a small minority party in Parliament, with six of its seven elected MPs serving only their first terms. But as a political party, it has been around since 1957. Leader Low Thia Khiang has been in Parliament since 1991.

It’s time the WP grew up.

In short, ST Political editor Chua Mui Hoong thinks the WP has done nothing worthwhile since the last election in 2011. We’ll leave it to Low Thia Khiang and gang to challenge that assertion, but one thing for certain is the level of ‘hammering’ that the WP MPs have been receiving, not just in Parliament but in the mainstream media. PM Lee in his recent parliamentary debate with Low called them out for being ‘tigers and heroes’ just before the elections. Trust a political commentator from a notoriously pro-government paper, who incidentally also co-edited a book by Lee Kuan Yew, to join in the fun, spouting a raging one-sided polemic that would give our PAP MPs instant orgasms just reading it.

Here’s a rundown of how the WP have been the PAP’s (and ST’s) favourite whipping boys (and girls) over the years, and why they’ll always be at loggerheads more often than being ‘co-drivers’.

1) ‘Dangerous’ policy proposals.

When the WP proposed to scrap ethnic integration policies, the elected presidency and grassroots organisations in their manifesto in 2006, Ng Eng Hen derided their ‘alternative policies’ as a time bomb that would tear Singapore apart. Khaw Boon Wan used ‘poisons’, when our PM called these ‘dangerous’. A younger Sylvia Lim was ticked off by Goh Chok Tong for having the ‘crazy’ idea of abolishing the tripartite relationship between the Government, employers and workers.

I can’t recall a time when the PAP decided to take up some ‘radical’ proposals for genuine consideration instead of snubbing them right away, something like ‘Hey guys, it sounds crazy but MAYBE it just might work!’. When PAP man Janil Puthucheary suggested the totally bonkers FREE MRT RIDES last year, nobody called him a whack job and it was implemented with some success. It would have been a different story if the WP had raised it. Denise Phua recently proposed for the elected presidency to be junked, something which the WP has previously advocated. Not a squeak from anyone so far.

2)A substandard opposition.

Chua expressed in a commentary that Singaporeans ‘have lower standards for opposition candidates than for PAP ones’, though she praised Sylvia Lim as ‘sharp and witty’ and ’eminently electable’ as an Opposition MP. DPM Teo would question in 2012 if Png Eng Huat in Hougang was the WP’s best man since he wasn’t selected for the NCMP post. PM Lee said WP’s ‘flip-flopping’ and admitting their mistakes was the mark of a ‘substandard’ opposition, though the PAP themselves are guilty of ‘policy shifts’ too.

3) Wayang party.

Ng Eng Hen termed the WP a party of ‘criticisms’, offering no solutions, hence the tag ‘Wayang party’. In 1985, veterans like Chiam See Tong and JBJ were known as ‘one-legged heroes‘ for their ‘posturing and preening’. Well, both sides are guilty of this of course, the PAP’s ‘wayanging’ more of the ’empty promises’ sort. They are in fact the architect of the greatest wayang show on earth: The National Conversation.

4) A distraction to the PAP that needs ‘fixing’.

PM Lee said the Opposition party would be a distraction to the PAP and make it harder to implement policies, prompting the infamous ‘fix the Opposition’ quip. Well he’s not going to achieve that by calling them names like ‘tigers and heroes’. If it ain’t fixed, break it.

5) A bunch of bicycle thieves and liars

In 1982, S Rajaratnam brought up the criminal records of 2 WP candidates, including one bicycle thief. James Gomez was called a liar by LKY and was challenged to ‘sue him’. DPM Teo wondered if Png Eng Huat was being ‘honest’ during his Hougang campaigning. Chen Show Mao and Pritam Singh were both hit with charges of plagiarism. All this banditry and deceit going on and all PAP had to answer for was a philandering Speaker of Parliament, and oh, some terrorist running out of prison.

6) A silent party

When Low Thia Khiang refrained from commenting on whether Wong Kan Seng ought to be given the chop after Mas Selamat escaped, it was seen by some commentators as a sign of weakness. Hri Kumar thinks they run away from difficult issues and like to sit on the fence like Humpty Dumpty, a similar analogy used by Indranee Rajah when they didn’t say much about the hijab saga.

So yes maybe the WP is still on a ‘learning curve’ despite being around for almost half a century, but the same immaturity label should be slapped on some instances of PAP behaviour as well, who have been traditionally hostile to Opposition suggestions, to the extent of name-calling, launching personal attacks, frantic denials, dirt-digging, all this amidst calls for ‘constructive politics’. If nothing is done to improve relations, the WP will be forever seen as opposing for the sake of opposing, the PAP forever defensive, and the rest of us who pay their salaries suffer because our MPs spend more time pouncing on each other’s flaws than working together for the higher cause. You know what, all of you deserve to be slapped and woken up before someone ‘drives’ this country into a grotty ditch.

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the Workers’ Party has seven elected MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs in Parliament. It’s the leading opposition party, since no other has even one elected MP. It has said it can’t form the government yet – but can be its “co-driver”.

But its position on policy issues is sometimes hard to fathom. This explains the PAP’s increasing frustration as ministers and MPs try to corner WP leaders into declaring their stand on a host of issues, as a look at Hansard records of Parliamentary proceedings will reveal.

Hence the exchange over whether the WP did “flip-flop” on immigrant growth, calling for zero growth in foreign workforce one year, and lamenting tightening curbs on foreign labour in another.

On ministerial pay, too, observers will recall that it has suggested at various times to peg ministers’ salaries to the bottom 20 per cent earners, and then to the pay grade of a senior civil servant.

Ducking tough questions on policies was a good political move in the past, when all you needed to get into Parliament was the ability to connect with voters and promise to speak up for the people.

In today’s political climate, however, that is patently inadequate.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/think/story/time-the-workers-party-grow-20140601#sthash.uPEF5DUL.dpuf

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