Singapore People’s Party (SPP) chairman Jose Raymond says opposition parties in the republic cannot assume that a coalition will tip the scales in the general election which must be held before April 2021.
While admitting Singaporeans will not see a major shift in power unlike what happened in Malaysia in 2018, Jose remains hopeful of SPP reclaiming Potong Pasir – a seat former SPP general-secretary Chiam See Tong held from 1984 to 2011.
See Tong, 85, ended his political career of over four decades by stepping down as SPP secretary-general last year.
Pakatan Harapan, a coalition of opposition parties, created history by booting out Barisan Nasional from Putrajaya in Malaysia’s 14th general election. It saw the return of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.
But Jose prefers a realistic assessment ahead of the Singapore polls.
“I think the circumstances for Malaysia that led to change in government are different from Singapore. Whether or not such a change (in government) will happen in Singapore, it will not happen anytime soon,” said the 47-year-old who was in Kuala Lumpur last week.
“Singapore is in a different stratosphere compared to Malaysia pre-2018 GE. The opposition (in Singapore) makes up only 10 per cent and to be 51 per cent will not happen anytime soon.
“Malaysia had issues related to corruption and job opportunities. In Singapore we have a different set of problems but our people are pragmatic. They are affected by issues about livelihood, job security, having enough money to spend, and leading comfortable lives.
“We cannot assume that coming up with a collation will tip the scales. I don’t think that is what people want.”
Four opposition parties – Singaporeans First, Democratic Progressive Party, People’s Power Party and Reform Party – had last month aimed to register an alliance.
“Yes, there have been conversations. It has also been written (by the press) … but everyone is waiting for the timing, to see if there will be a coalition.
“When that time comes, we will see what happens and make that decision.”
Jose, who replaced Chiam’s wife Lina Chiam as SPP chairman on Nov 5, 2019, says winning Potong Pasir back will enable SPP to make inroads in other constituencies.
“Every election is a local election. We have to win people in the district. To do that, you need to know what they need.
“For now, the strategy is to win back Potong Pasir. I have been as prepared as possible,” he added.
Jose added politics is about winning people’s psychology.
“If SPP manages a breakthrough (in Potong Pasir), the methodology I’ve used will be a model for us in other places. But we have to be mindful every election will have different tactics.”
Jose, a former journalist who later served as then Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan press secretary, is the founder and chief strategy officer of consultation company SW (Spin Worldwide). Vivian, part of the governing People’s Action Party (PAP), is now Singapore’s foreign minister.
Given his past association with the PAP government, one would assume SPP would take on a “PAP-friendly” approach.
Jose had this to say: “We have to work together. No one party can claim to have the solution.
“Even smaller parties have to work with the government of the day. If I have to help someone in Potong Pasir, I have to file an appeal to the PAP government. And to be fair, they (PAP) have helped.
“I’m thankful as it’s not for me but for the residents. Sometimes we have to get rid of the political differences (to get things done).”
Jose admitted the Covid-19 outbreak has further limited the number of windows for the government to call for the election. Singapore has recorded 72 cases to date.
But the act of reaching out to voters, physically and online, continues, added Jose.
“Greater representation is probably what we need to aim for. I believe in the diversity of voices … people of different backgrounds need to be in Parliament as they will be able to view things through different lenses,” he added.