Most first world parliaments have opposition parties fighting with their incumbents to rule and govern their country. Singapore has a very unique opposition that has been elected into parliament, but yet not aspiring to rule.The Worker's Party (WP) leader, Low Thia Khiang (LTK) says that his role in government is to keep "checks & balances": to be the co-driver, and slap the driver if he falls asleep.
Being in power since independence in 1965 makes it easy to find something the People's Action Party (PAP) government has done wrong. After all nobody is perfect, no matter how hard you work in the span of 50+ years, there will definitely be mistakes that have been made. Because the PAP is not perfect, LTK's WP promised to be the voice of the people. He called for Singaporeans who were unhappy with the government in any way to vote WP to bring about change. Once inside parliament, a first world opposition would provide alternatives to the status quo.
UK Parliament's opposition MPs would come up with a shadow budget with an alternative way to use the taxpayer's money. They would appoint shadow ministers to provide alternative policies that can challenge the status quo. The WP have done none of the above. Why doesn't the WP practice what first world oppositions do when they claim to be pursuing a first world parliament?
The WP's excuse is that they are in parliament to provide "checks & balances" and not oppose for the sake of opposing. Upon further analysis, I realise that the truth is that WP is employing a political strategy of fence sitting, which is detrimental to the democratic process.
In this article i will explain the political strategy of fence-sitting and how it benefits the WP.
1) Escape from decisions that angers one side of the fence to please the other
One fact of life is that you can't make everybody happy. By saying they are only in parliament to check the PAP, the WP do not have to make a stand on one side of the fence while offending the other. Let's take immigration for an example since it was a major gripe which propelled the WP into parliament. Many people voted against the PAP because of their xenophobia. Nicole Seah from NSP even commented that there were so many foreigners in Singapore that she felt like she was in a different country when she was taking the MRT. There were many claims of foreigners taking away Singaporean's jobs. So one would presume that the WP once being elected into parliament would stand up to limit or even stop immigration, right? Wrong. The WP never made a stand on immigration, for or against. "Checks & Balances" only requires them to point out the problem but conveniently avoid providing a solution. "Checks & Balances" or fence-sitting is a convenient way to take advantage of unhappiness from 2 sides of the fence. Making a stand to allow immigration is good for businesses to sustain the workforce in the midst of a shrinking TFR and economy. However, immigration also creates xenophobia. Singaporeans do not want to have illegal aliens taking up their MRT seats or their jobs. On the other hand, restricting immigration appeases the xenophobic population. They have more space on the trains, lesser uncouth foreigners. But by doing so, they anger business owners who cannot find workers to do jobs Singaporeans do not want to do, increases their labour costs and we will not be able to mitigate the negative effects of a shrinking workforce and economy. Making a stand on immigration, either to restrict or allow, will definitely anger one side of the population. Another example is property prices. There are many complaints that high property prices are making it harder for newly-married couples to own homes. There are even allegations that the influx of foreigners are driving up property prices, increasing the feeling of xenophobia. Prices of bare land is controlled by the URA, why don't the WP force the government into a motion to either increase or decrease the prices of property? The reality is regardless of whether property prices rise or fall, there will always be winners and losers. Rising property prices benefit the retired and elderly who have put their life savings into their HDB flat. They can downgrade from a 5 Rm to 4 Rm or 4 Rm to 3 Rm flat and take a big payout in the Cash-over-Valuation. Property agents also benefit from a buoyant property market. They will definitely not complain about rising property prices as higher prices gives them more commission. If the WP stands for lowering property prices, it makes it easier for newly-married couples to own homes. But, on the flipside, middle aged workers will be putting their CPF monies into an asset that does not appreciate and is losing its value. Property agents will lose commissions and the WP will lose the votes of these Singaporeans. Saying that WP is only "Checks & Balances" allows the WP to garner the votes from both sides of the fence. When in fact both side's objectives and needs are exactly opposite of each other.
2) Turns everyone and anyone that is not satisfied with anything and everything against the incumbent
This statement speaks for itself. You really cannot make everyone happy. As human beings, we are always never satisfied with whatever we have. By sitting on the fence, the WP is effectively getting votes from anyone and everyone that is unhappy about anything, directing their anger at the incumbent. As long as you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and are having a bad day, you can always find something to blame the government for and consequentially support the WP.
3) Hides the WP's greatest weakness
Lastly, sitting on the fence allows the WP to hide its greatest weakness. That it cannot solve any of the problems that Singaporeans are sending them into parliament for. The last time they tried to propose an alternative was during the ministerial salary debate. A big part of their GE2011 attacks on the incumbent was that the PAP ministers were over-paid. An alternative pay-scale was proposed by the WP based on the civil servant's MX-9 structure, but the alternative turned out to give the ministers an even higher salary than the status quo. "WP: Don't take by-election result as a sign of future trends." - Low Thia Khiang (ST 27th Jan 2013) What the WP is trying to say is that they are not ready to solve the problems Singaporeans are facing. When the reason they voted him in the first place is for these same problems to be solved. Fence sitting exempts the WP from any accountability because since they do nothing, there is nothing to account for. LTK is an astute politician. His use of the words "checks and balances" on the government has allowed him to rise to greater power without solving any of the problems people are facing today. At the end of the day, LTK knows that if the PAP cannot solve any of Singapore's problems, neither can the WP. The "checks & balances" strategy is against the notion of a first world parliament.
WP is going against the fundamental tenet of democracy where the opposition provides an alternative to the status quo while the people choose what they feel is best for them. Many believe that PAP's falling popularity is due to being not as competent as before. But one cannot ignore that a big part of WP's success is its ingenious strategy of "checks & balances", that allows them to promise Singaporeans everything but yet promising them nothing at all.