Governance of a City-State
[The Angle] On a potential three-cornered fight in Macpherson SMC

From all accounts, the Workers’ Party (WP) has been uncompromising in its stance about where it will contest since it declared its 28-seat strategy.  Having ceded Marine Parade GRC to the WP in negotiations among opposition parties, the rest of the Central Executive Committee of the National Solidary Party (NSP) must have decided that they should at least be able to return to MacPherson SMC where they’ve contested over many years.

The situation is very much precipitated by how the WP has been playing this. It has the right to as the leading opposition party in Singapore today. Looking at the opposition movement from 1991 when it first introduced the “By-Election Effect Strategy” and even beyond abandoning that in 2006 when more than 50% of the electoral seats were up for grabs, there has been a huge effort to collaborate among opposition groups in order not to split the anti-PAP vote in multi-cornered fights. They do not have to, but they choose to.  There has been that understanding among them.  In 2011, the threat of multi-cornered fights was reduced to just one by Nomination Day – in Punggol East SMC claimed by the People’s Action Party, WP and the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

There will be sceptics who question whether these arrangements are ultimately the result of the lack of real firepower among the individual opposition parties. Each opposition party might start out grandstanding but as Nomination Day draws close, if things had not been settled in direct negotiations, the parties will try to trumpet their generosity and claims to opposition unity to “cede” ground.

Yes, sometimes the movement seems fragmented but Ms Hazel Poa’s resignation demonstrates how important that culture of collaboration and opposition unity is to her and surely the rest of her peers.  She would not have stepped out otherwise.

There is still time and we will only know for sure on Nomination Day if there will be three-cornered fights in the general election.  But those considering such a move will be cautioned by the experience in Punggol East both in May 2011 and January 2013.  The WP is not averse to engaging in three-cornered fights and when the leading opposition party is involved, the third and fourth in line stand to do miserably.

Dr Gillian Koh is a Senior Research Fellow at IPS. View her profile here 

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