The PAP Government may be trying hard to fix problems caused by the large inflow of foreigners, but it has got itself in a tight bind, said 73 year-old former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.
Its difficulties could help the opposition Workers’ Party in the next general election, he said.
The former PAP MP for Ayer Rajah spoke on the future of both political parties in an hour-long interview with the media at his home.
Since the watershed 2011 General Election, the Government, especially its younger ministers, has been “trying very hard” to resolve issues – like immigration – that contributed to its loss of votes, he said.
In 1999, when he was still an MP, he had called on the Government to tone down its talk on attracting foreigners, earning rebukes from ministers, including then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
“Now, (the Government) has a quota system for foreigners in HDB,” noted Dr Tan.
But they have got themselves into “a very tight situation” by letting in too many foreigners.
“The original lax policy has created a lot of problems. If you suddenly pull the brakes too hard…you titrate wrongly, you have a big, big problem, because the companies will suffer,” he said, adding that the Government may now be “overdoing it” in tightening labour flows, as businesses are facing a manpower crunch.
This means there is “a very likely chance” the WP could win more seats at the next election, given that some wards in the last election were won narrowly by the PAP.
“I think it’s good because the WP can make the Government work harder, and also I think debate on issues will be much better,” he said.
Asked what he thought of PAP’s criticism that WP often sits on the fence or does not voice out its position on several issues, Dr Tan said: “They don’t have to put forth an alternative every time an issue comes up. You can always wait. Timing is very important in politics… So they will know when to push their agenda.
“I think the PAP is the same, because (when rolling out) some of their policies they will wait.”
With next year marking 50 years of independence, “if I were the Government, I would capitalise on it”.
One thing working for the party now is its renewed vigour in fighting for votes, he noted.
But despite efforts to communicate more with citizens, “I don’t think they have really nailed it yet…there is still a lack of trust” in the Government and its leaders, he said.
They have also yet to solve the “divide” in the party, where grassroots activists can feel snubbed after “they work like hell but they don’t get to be MP” when the leadership parachutes elite “prefectorial, army, navy types” who are not in touch with the ground.
One exception is Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, whom he praised as “down to earth”.
“Tharman is the type of person we should look for, and if we can get many people like him, I think the PAP will win (future elections) hands down,” he declared.
“I think Tharman is a very practical chap, he knows how to move the ground…he’s got the charisma to convince me that I want to go along with him,” he said.