Opposition parties adopt more restrained approach: Experts

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Experts say the more conservative approach is because of their poor performance in 2015 and the uncertainty over the pandemic

Opposition parties are taking a more restrained approach to this election than in 2015, say analysts, noting that the bluster and ambition of the past election has been replaced with warnings of a PAP clean sweep.

The change is most notable in the Workers' Party, which aggressively pushed to expand its territory at the last election, fielding its second largest slate to date and sending its leaders out of their home constituencies to campaign for others.

This year, the party has scaled back and placed all its parliamentarians into the two constituencies it is defending - Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC.

The change in strategy was noted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, who called the opposition wipeout described by WP chief Pritam Singh as an unrealistic outcome and a tactic.

Political observers say the change in approach across all opposition parties is likely borne out of the poor showing in 2015 and the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

In 2015, the PAP increased its vote share to 69.9 per cent, up 9.8 percentage points from 2011, they said.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore, said: "All the opposition parties are on the defensive."

He added that the PAP has rolled out "policies which are largely popular and populist (during the pandemic) even though they are presented as essentials to help the country".

"The opposition can't even criticise these policies as they benefit the voters," he said.

Political analyst Loke Hoe Yeong said opposition parties, particularly the bigger ones, are changing tack, having assessed the mood of voters.

Mr Loke said: "Most voters still want a PAP government, with a relatively smaller opposition... to keep the PAP in check.

"The more astute opposition parties understand this 'push and pull' cycle of Singapore politics, and they have strategised accordingly."

Similarly, Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said voters are not looking for an overhaul of politics.

They will take to familiar opposition parties and politicians such as WP and Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock because of their track record and the similarity of the messaging, Dr Tan said.

"Any political party in Singapore (hoping to gain ground) cannot deviate too much from PAP."

On the WP's approach specifically, Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at management consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, said 2015 showed that its ambition for a significant number of seats in Parliament was not resonating with voters.

"For the WP, saying they want (to make more inroads into Parliament) has not been getting them the votes they want," he said, adding that Mr Singh's warning of a wipeout, though aimed at a national level, was likely "meant for Aljunied (residents)".

The WP's priority is clearly to secure Aljunied - and the potential loss of the GRC is its greatest fear - while it is "quietly confident" of its win in Hougang, Dr Mustaffa said.