In the run-up to polling day for General Election 2015, the Workers’ Party (WP) will undoubtedly call on Singaporeans to elect them into parliament so that they can continue to act as the check against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). This was the same call them made in GE 2011.
While many Singaporeans will agree that having an opposition is parliament is good, I believe that the issue is about having a credible and responsible opposition. Failing which, the future of Singapore will be at risk. The WP has touted themselves to be a responsible opposition that does not unnecessarily challenge the Government. However, one only needs to look at their position on the quota for Foreign Workers to see that they are a party with principles.
In 2012, during the Committee of Supply Debates, Low Thia Khiang was recorded to have said:
“… would the Minister of State be concerned that with the current process of restructuring in which we have a foreign worker dependency ratio, the levy plus the quota at the macro level, by using such a macro tool to tighten the supply of manpower to the industries, it would inadvertently raise the wage cost of the various industries? … my last concern … is … how sure is the Minister of State and the Government that the current approach we have taken in restructuring the economy will not lead to Singapore losing its competitive advantage, and we might end up with a stagnant economy like Japan?” Responding to a clarification by DPM Tharman, Low Thia Khiang stated that “What I meant is that we tighten it slowly rather than tighten it at one go.”
Subsequently, during the White Paper discussion in 2013, opposition proposed going for 0% growth of foreign workers. Here, Gerald Giam was recorded to have said “We should strive to keep our foreign labour force constant between now and 2002, depending on our success in growing the local labour force. It does not mean that we shut the doors to foreign workers. Instead, new work passes will be issued only to replace expiring work passes or to supplement shortfalls in the local labour force. Companies will have to find ways to hire more Singaporeans”.
Then, more recently, when Chen Show Mao was queried (in May 2014) on WP’s stand on immigration, the WP’s position is that of “orderly growth within limits”. Mr Chen Show Mao said: " Madam Speaker, I have worked, as you know, abroad for many years in my life. And I thank foreigners – foreign governments and foreign friends – for the opportunities that I was given to work in their countries. Of course we have nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore. But we are talking about an orderly growth within limits. And, hopefully, we would have debated and agreed on it. And that is not inconsistent with what we have said on immigration and on foreign workers in Singapore. "
It appears to me that either the WP has no position on politically sensitive issue of Foreign Workers in Singapore, or they are pandering to the electorate and taking a position that is popular. I believe that PM Lee Hsien Loong summed it up well when he said in parliament: "Mdm Speaker, we have to call a spade, a spade. If you have changed position, and your previous position was wrong, say so. If you hold by your position, have your guts to reaffirm it, and take the consequences. But to weasel the way, play with words, avoid the issue, and then claim to be responsible – that is what we fear can drive Singapore’s politics into the same place where many other countries have gone."
Singapore needs a credible and responsible opposition. I am afraid that time has proven that the Workers’ Party is not that opposition.