Is it necessary to be confrontational in politics?

There is nothing wrong with being “confrontational” in politics. Every politician does that – in varying degrees. So, why do Singaporeans have this aversion to it, seemingly, whenever the word “confrontation” comes up?

Before we go into that, 2 things to keep in mind. First, the word needs to be defined properly. Second, confrontation must come with another quality – respect – unless the situation is an unique and special one, such as in Burma or Darfur.

In the older days of Singapore politics, the style of political parties was more confrontational. One can almost still hear the loud noises, accusations, diatribes ringing in one’s ear. It was as if every politician truly hated the guts of his opponents so much so that they threw respect for the person out the window.

Perhaps it was in accordance with the times – when life was hard, street gangs and secret societies were everywhere, crimes were rampant, people were less educated and so on. It was a more “uncouth” society.

But one can see a change in Singapore society in the last 10 years or so. Some may say we are still “uncouth” and there is some truth in that. But I would say by and large, we have become more “couth”, if there is such a word.

This change is also evident in civil society and politics – both with the ruling party, the PAP and the opposition, especially the Workers’ Party and the National Solidarity Party. The exception is the Singapore Democratic Party.

The WP especially, has turned away from the heady days of its past of confrontational politics – when the likes of JB Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong, Francis Seow, Mohd Jufrie, etc were around. Election rally speeches were fiery, with lots of venom and disguised (but sometimes blatant) personal attacks. It was in accordance with the times, I guess.

The WP now adopts a more mellow and intellectual approach. More focus on the issues, less focus on the diatribe and rhetoric. This is what I have observed. Personally, this is a good thing. I think the party has recognized that Singaporeans can tell substance from rhetoric. JBJ, for all his years in charge of the WP, and for all his fiery speeches, was never able to make any significant inroads as far as the progress of the WP was concerned.

Granted that he won Anson after some 15 years or so of PAP’s complete dominance in Parliament. But nothing more than that. He was unable to do anything more after that Anson victory. Most people I speak to do not actually know any significant contribution of his.

Some may say it is because of the PAP’s power, the biased media, lack of resources and so on. But the truth is that even within the WP, he didn’t achieve any significant milestones. And there is no one to blame for that, surely.

The SDP is another version of the WP in the past – but with a slight twist, in my opinion. The SDP today is seen as a confrontational opposition party. There is, as I said, nothing wrong with being confrontational. The problem with the SDP is that besides adopting and being seen as a confrontational party, it is also seen as being a “disrespectful” party.

Chee Soon Juan’s use of a loudhailer in the 2001 General Elections is still remembered vividly by many Singaporeans. And most of these agree that it was disrespectful to the then prime minister Goh Chok Tong. The incident caused tremendous damage to Chee and the SDP – and it has never recovered from that.

Following that incident, the SDP has made more such “disrespectful” gestures. One of these is their presence at events where government ministers were guest speakers or guests of honour – including at overseas institutions and ceremonies – where their sole purpose of being present is seen as trying to “cut down to size” the ministers who were present as well.

They were seen to be out to disrespect government ministers.

The recent case of NMP Thio Li Ann receiving threatening emails is another case in point.

It is important for everyone, and not just politicians, to remember that differences of opinion and ideologies, do not preclude giving due respect to your opponents. On the contrary, it is when one is able to respect your opponent and show it, that one earns respect in return.

It is part of being human – and humane.

Being confrontational does not mean you go out of your way to cut others down to size. The saying, that “only a small person needs to make others feel small so that he can feel big”, is apt.

Confrontation, at least to me, means asking sharp questions at the right time and at the right place – with respect and in appropriate language.

For sure, it does not mean chasing after the prime minister in a public place with a loudhailer shouting at the top of your voice!

Singaporeans see through that – whether the media is biased or not. Confrontation without respect is plainly immature and childish.

I hope that Singapore politics can move away from such uncouth tactics. And by the looks of it – with the WP and NSP, and even the PAP – it seems to be so.

Good.

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5 Responses

  1. There is a need of “differentiate” / “contrast” in politics as political parties compete for public support.

    Eventually, such “differentiate” / “contrast” degenerates into “opposition” / “confrontation”, from rational into emotional.

  2. RH:
    1. JBJ could not make inroads when head of the WP because LIE KY LHL PAP CHEAT IN ELECTIONS. JBJ actually won 5 seats in the 1997 Cheng San GRC but LIE KY LHL PAP brought in 10 boxes of fake PAP votes, like in any Third World election, and so the PAP ‘won’ Cheng San.

    2. Then, the kangaroo courts kept JBJ bankrupt with fake verdicts of ‘defamation’. In 1 case, all he said was, “Mr Tang Liang Hong has just placed before me police reports against, you know, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his people.” For this 1 sentence, he was bankrupted for >S$millions..

    3. Read more at:


    RH: MY ACQUAINTANCE, MR DAVID DUCLOS, A FORMER POLICE INSPECTOR, AND HIS LAWYER FRIEND, EYEWITNESSED LEE KUAN YEW RIGGING THE 1997 CHENG SAN GRC ELECTION. READ MORE AT MY BLOG ENTITLED “I CAME, I SAW, I SOLVED IT” :

    http://i-came-i-saw-i-solved-it.blogspot.com/

    [ALSO AT THE ABOVE BLOG, LIE KUAN YEW’s LIES, WRONGFUL JAILING, TORTURE AND BEATING TO DEATH OF INNOCENT POLITICAL PRISONERS LIKE MR CHAN HOCK HUA]

    READ ALSO MARTYN SEE’s INTERVIEW WITH ME AT:

    http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com/

    MY ARCHIVE OF WORKS AT:

    http://i-came-i-saw-i-wrote-it.blogspot.com/

  3. The PAP will have no problem in giving one GRC to the modest and “constructive” WP (or maybe NSP) during the next GE. While Singaporeans are elated and convinced that elections is the slow yet sure way to “overthrown” the PAP, in return for such a small price, the PAP will get another 20 years to be in power.

    Chiam is getting old and Low is a mandarin speaker, the new blood of “opposition” is in great demand.

    By the way, I have long suspected that the loudhailer scene was taken from CSJ on the campaign truck and “edited” into the market scent with GCT, who the hell will need a loudhailer at the market? Did the SDP even realise it at all?

  4. The most disappointing I have seen coming out of SDP are the kind of supporters they have. I hope this is not a reflection of the kind of leadership SDP has.

    They attack anyone who puts in a good word for WP as a WP supporter/member, label everyone who attacks them as a WP supporter/member but criticise those who label WP attackers as PAP or SDP supporters.

    Hey, principles should apply across the board, shouldn’t it? That is the basic fundamental of a righteous human being. Don’t they even have human honesty?

  5. try knocking PAP door and ask for democracy and human right . see if they give you yr real rights. get real in the real world!!! with so much power and money for them when in power, what makes them want to talk to you on changing the status quo. you still living in lalaland is it. go refresh yrself in world history what happen when government was overthrown

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