SINGAPORE - At the next General Election, the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) team in a ward not contested since 1997 could face a combined opposition force - one anchored by a veteran and a newcomer.
After their first joint walkabout yesterday morning in Bishan-Toa Payoh, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and rookie Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party told reporters they were "working toward" having a joint team contest the Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
While any tentative plans must wait upon yet-to-be-decided changes to the electoral boundaries, both men expressed the desire to stand on the same team in the next General Election, which is due by February 2012.
Mr Chiam, 75, who has long called for the Opposition to join forces against the PAP, appears to finally have found his sentiments echoed. Mr Chiam, who will be leaving his Potong Pasir seat of 26 years, said yesterday: "We cannot be like little ants running all over the place - we should show unity and come with a solid fighting force. That's the way to victory."
Mr Jeyaretnam, 51, said: "This is not so much even about fighting the elections as it is about forming an alliance for when we get into Parliament."
The Reform Party will decide by next month, at key party meetings, whether to enter into an election alliance, said Mr Jeyaretnam, its secretary-general.
Welcoming the potential contest was Mr Zainudin Nordin, one of Bishan-Toa Payoh's five Members of Parliament.
"At the end of the day, our objective is to be able to serve our citizens and our residents better. So if there's a contest, each party will be able to show their programmes and strategies to serve the residents better, and that will give the residents choices ... and ensure that Singapore continues to develop," he said.
The incumbent GRC team also includes Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, lawyer Hri Kumar and unionist Josephine Teo.
Said Ms Teo: "We will put in our best effort regardless of whether the Opposition is eyeing our ward or not."
'MERE POLITICAL CONVENIENCE'?
Thus far, efforts toward Opposition unity have resulted in three parties - Mr Chiam's Singapore People's Party, the Singapore Malay National Organisation and Singapore Justice Party - forming the SDA. The National Solidarity Party (NSP), once a member, has struck out on its own.
Last year, a handful of opposition leaders gathered for a public forum they hoped would herald more cohesiveness, but three key parties - the Workers' Party (WP), the NSP and the SDA - did not attend.
When contacted yesterday, WP organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong said political parties "should not unite for mere political convenience or surface unity's sake" and "actions mean more than words".
He illustrated his point with an example: After Mr Chiam indicated his wish last year to contest in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Mr Yaw, who heads WP's central area committee, asked his members to stop their house visits in the area to avoid confusion among residents.
While NSP has ruled out contesting the GRC, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is undecided.
Political observer Eugene Tan told MediaCorp that collaboration among resource-strapped opposition parties may be necessary to avoid three-cornered contests. But cooperation, rather than being bound by a formal alliance, may also be preferred, said the Singapore Management University law lecturer.
"Leaders of individual parties may not be willing to come under the leadership of Mr Chiam and lose their individual character," he said.
ISSUES OF CONCERN
Even if unity is stressed, opposition parties may differ on issues.
Yesterday, while both Mr Chiam and Mr Jeyaretnam identified bread-and-butter issues, such as rising costs of living and public housing prices, as those that may most concern the electorate, they differed slightly on whether the escape of fugitive Mas Selamat Kastari in 2008 would matter in the GRC headed by Mr Wong.
While Mr Chiam thought it would,
Mr Jeyaratnam said it was "not an issue of pressing concern to the electorate now", two years on.
Some 20 members and supporters of SDA and the Reform Party spent over two hours yesterday meeting residents. Besides their respective party chiefs, other members there included Mr Chiam's wife Lina, former government scholarship holders Tony Tan Lay Thiam and Hazel Poa, SPP chairman Sin Kek Tong and Mr Abdul Rahim Osman, who contested in Cheng San GRC in 1997 as a WP candidate.
Their presence piqued some residents' interest. Businessman Cokri Yu, a Bishan resident for more than 20 years, said: "There have been so many walkovers here, a contest will be good."
The last time Bishan was contested was in 1988 when it was under the Thomson ward.
Besides Bishan-Toa Payoh, the Reform Party said it was also active in the Hong Kah, West Coast and Choa Chu Kang areas. Both SDA and the Reform Party have scheduled another walkabout in Bishan on April 18.
Meanwhile, over at Bukit Panjang, SDP's leaders and supporters were at Fajar market in the morning for a walkabout. When contacted by MediaCorp, MP Teo Ho Pin said he welcomed the SDP to contest his ward.
On the 30-per-cent hike in stall rents since Sheng Siong took over the market, Dr Teo said the issue should be discussed between the stallholders and the market operator.