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“Is WP living up to expectations?” “Yes” says JG

In Political governance on 24/09/2012 at 5:04 am

Below is a longish piece from a reader, JG, defending the WP’s actions (or is it inactions?): it worked in the past and will work in the future. Pls read it. It has some gd points.

My contention is that what worked in the past, may not work in the future. From 1991 till 2006, Low was alone most of the time (and JBJ wasn’t much of a help in parly or out of it). From 2006 to 2011, he had Tonto, aka Sylvia Lim. But now there is a team of five MPs and two NCMPs.

Expectations are different. The WP has to manage expectations, or live up to them. Or do both. It cannot continue doing things the old way. It must also communicate more. Pre-new media, it could get away with silence because the constructive, nation-building media dominated the info flow. And S’poreans knew it.

But now things are different. Yet while SDP is using the new media to put across its messages (free from MSM distortion), the WP is not using new media much. The initial stone-walling over Stag Yaw showed the WP up. Effective communications should have it saying, “We need some time to investigate the allegations”: not “Allegations? What allegations?”. 

I had promised to do a list of things WP did not do. I now won’t because between above, and below,  the criticisms of WP have been covered. I hope, in the future, JG will give me her take on the following “Not First World” WP parly practice:

– WP voting for PAP’s budget after criticising it.

– Keeping quiet on public tpt nationalisation despite it being a manifesto promise and despite the failure of the rojak system that the govt defends. It is so succesful that the government has to subsidise the bus system to a tune of $1.1bn.

– Tweaking its position on ministerial salaries contrary to manifesto.

———

“Is WP living up to expectations?”

If you read Temasek Times, its 100% no (“wayang party”). And everything is derived from 1 single sentence that Pritam once uttered : If PAP loses majority one day, we WP will work with them to form a coalition govt. One single sentence from one MP – and the entire party is disqualified. Can anyone find one single sentence from one MP from PAP which you strongly disagree with (eg: “repent”? “grow more spurs”?) for which you will also disqualify the entire party of 81 MPs? So Temasek Times is an extreme case. They, and probably some netizens too, prefer the “fire brand” type opposition that CSJ or SDP seems to offer. So if you’re not the fire-brand type, you’re not “effective”.

[Actually JG, it's more than one sentence. Remember Show Mao's Tang Dynasty allusion? Came across to some of us that he saw WP as at best as assistant to the PAP government: juz as official accepted his status vis-a-vis the emperor in the imperial system. And Low had often come across as accepting the hegemony of the PAP. But that could simply be his acceptance of the reality on the ground between 1991 and 2011. He is no idealist and rabble-rouser like the late Saint JBJ.]

But what you’re pointing out is a more moderate opinion that I’m also hearing from other sources – the WP are just not speaking up on issues of importance.

I’m not here to defend them. But everyone will have different expectations of WP. Some supporters of Obama are disappointed that he hasn’t rescued the world in 4 years, some are not so disappointed. In general, the higher one’s expectations, arguably the bigger the disappointment.

My personal expectation wasn’t high in the first place.

Before 2011 GE, when LTK was MP and Slyvia Lim was NCMP, you can already see the “style” in which they are comfortable in. At critical junctures, they will speak up. I still remember vividly how LTK berated WKS over the Mas Selamat screwup, and Slyvia berated the Ministers of having no shame for their pay. But they do not speak up on every issue. And many of their speeches are not memorable, they are basically not orators. They are more “ground people”. Personal touch, work the ground, take care of bread and butter issue and preferably in a low key fashion. In fact, if you ask LTK, I guess that he will say to him, the relative importance of ground work vs rhetoric is maybe 80 : 20. I sometimes think netizens weigh it the other way around.

So post-2011 GE, this was the tone adopted by WP team. So one part of “have they lived up to expectations” must surely be weighed in terms of whether they’ve met the expectations of people on the ground in Aljunied. Their bread and butter issues, their constituency issues. Running a Town Council is not rocket science and I think that in general, if you’ve got an experienced team (from Hougang) and you don’t screw up, you should be OK.

That said, I also think that many netizens do not bother to find out, or read up on, issues raised by the WP in Parliament. Not having made a combative speech, doesn’t mean not having raised an issue. When good points are made, they are also not necessarily covered in the ST, perhaps deliberately so.

But again, at critical junctures, they do speak up. The recent memorable ones are Sylvia raising the Woffles Wu issue, Gerald calling out the PAP for labelling Singaporeans dissatisfaction with the Govt’s immigration policy as “xenophobia” (and provoking a stupid response from Sim Ann) and Yeoh JJ speaking out on unfair subsidies by the Govt to PAP Kindergarten and NTUC in the private pre-school market.

Are they the best debaters? No. Could Sylvia have handled the cut-and-thrust of the debate with Shanmugam better? Yes and she didn’t. So maybe she scored say 6 out of 10? But that’s Sylvia. No different from the Sylvia of NCMP days. Its easy for netizens to, on hindsight and out of the line of fire, come up with more robust responses. But just take a look at the recent PM Lee tea-party with bloggers – when PM asked whether anonymity is supportable, look at the weak responses the bloggers give. Even seasoned bloggers like Andrew Loh literally “peed on their pants” when confronted with unexpected questions at the spur of the moment. I’m sure if you ask Sylvia to respond the next day, she will probably come up with a better answer. Just like all bloggers did, when they commented on the anonymity issue the next day.

My point then is this – It takes time to build up a credible opposition team. Its one thing to have only 1 or 2 opposition members, its another to have 8 or so members and quite another to have or to want to have 20 or 30 members. With WP, you know (or should have known) from the start that they’re not a fire-and-brimstone type party and see it as much more important that you do not screw up publicly and you work the ground. We do need to give them time and of course, constructive criticism is needed too.

But have they met my initially low expectations – yes. I want more of them in, so that when it comes to critical decisions in the future, it will not be a guaranteed “law is passed” vote in Parliament.

 Below is a longer comment by the same said JG defending the WP’s actions (or is it inactions?). My point to JG is that what worked in the past, may not work. From 1991 till 2006, Low was alone most of the time (and JBJ wasn’t much of a help). From 2006 to 2011, he had Tonto, aka Sylvia Lim. But now there is a team of five MPs and two NCMPs. Expectations are different. The WP has to manage expectations, or live up to them. Or do both. It cannot continue doing things the old way.

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