Don't screw it up this time


LET'S put it this way: Low Thia Khiang is the best man to head the Workers' Party (WP) and those who don't think so should do the Opposition a favour and just get out of the way.

Far from representing real alternative views, confrontations have left the Opposition's credibility in tatters and alienated the electorate

A cadre member who questioned the legitimacy of Low's election should, well, be sacked. Unless, of course, he is right about the non-constitutionality of the election.

On that point, the ever-cautious Low seems to be pretty clear that he is in the right. And he is the right man for the job in the Workers' Party - as well as the right man to lend the Opposition a higher, more credible profile.

God knows they need it. Riding on a high-horse liberal agenda of human rights and free speech, shriller figures like J B Jeyaretnam and Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan have given the Opposition a fine rep for shooting from the hip and landing into legal trouble.

Far from representing real alternative views in Parliament, such confrontations have left the Opposition's credibility in tatters and alienated the electorate.

In contrast, Low's level-headed but decidedly less dramatic style has shown results in the hard-nosed political arena, earning him kudos even from the ruling People's Action Party's senior leaders.

His track record, first-hand grasp of grassroots issues, and squeaky clean slate represents a moderate Opposition voice which will appeal to a much broader range of mainstream voters.

It's even attracted the right noises from fellow Opposition players, such as the National Solidarity Party's Steve Chia and veteran MP Chiam See Tong, who believe Low's style is ''more constructive and acceptable to voters''.

Hardly surprising that Low and the WP are being courted to join Chiam's new group, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, since their presence would lend genuine weight to any formal Opposition coalition.

Typically, the prudent Low is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

After all, past attempts to present a united Opposition front have not met with much success.

A loose grouping of smaller parties in the 1997 elections was de-railed by tussles over which personality should play the overall leader. And Chiam himself cites ''historical problems and personalities'' which might yet hinder Opposition collaboration.

Low and Chiam are cool-headed, sensible politicians. It's unlikely, if WP were to join the coalition, that they would get sidetracked by ego clashes over leadership.

There are tactical and logistical advantages to an alliance, particularly with good men like Chiam and Low at the fore, and more abrasive elements out of the picture. Chiam's Alliance, as a formal grouping, would give the coalition institutional weight and help ensure accountability.

But it's perfectly possible for the WP to go it alone - as they have in previous elections - and for Low to develop a fresh power base with his new-found clout as party leader.

Cautious optimism is the right way to go. The WP should only join the SDA if there is sufficient consensus and common ground among the parties for the long haul, not just as a marriage of convenience.

Low is in the right place to give his party - and eventually the Opposition - a strong leg up. With priorities set on renewing the party's ranks, he's got the work cut out for him.

It's one thing to make it as a single-ward MP, quite another to build a team that can command the support of voters disaffected by the Opposition circus after so many years. Those who want to see the Opposition grow up and stand a fighting chance ought to give Low the time and space he needs.

The Man of the Moment can do without nitpicking detractors who aren't ready to slug it out with the big boys in the arena. Low should stand his ground as party leader and show that he can clean up the mess quickly and decisively.

As it is, the Opposition looks to be in far better shape than it has for a long time. They're in a position to make real deals backed by mature frontmen with good track records.

The real political issues - education, healthcare and housing - have been separated from the fluff, the false starters from the real leaders.

It would be a criminal waste if they threw away such a promising chance to present a credible Opposition by not delivering the goods - or worse, through in-fighting.

For the sake of our political scene, they'd better not screw it up this time.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl