By the next GE, five options appear viable to "The Independents" should the group decide to stick together to play a political role in Singapore.
Option 1: Join the Workers' Party (WP)
Upside: There is no argument that the WP clearly stands out as the best opposition option. Based on the collective credentials, organising capabilities and experience of the group, both they and the WP may not be mutually out of each other's league. Safely speaking, they could probably fit hand in glove into the WP's present hierarchy. And the quicker the main opposition party builds up, the faster the goal of establishing a viable alternative government can be achieved.
Downside: Perceived to be the only opposition party that runs quality checks on its members and candidates, no one really knows what kind of people WP is looking for. The talk is that the 9 Reform Party members who eventually ended up with the National Solidarity Party were initially turned down by the WP. Tan Jee Say, who ran in the Presidential Election, revealed in his book "A Nation Awakes" that he had been turned down by the WP after it firmed up its 23 candidates. When the slate was revealed, few matched Tan's credentials, and among them were renegade members who publicly denounced and resigned from the party after the GE. In short, the criteria for recognition is not easily measurable in WP's case and there is no certainty that any of "The Independents" will be fielded as candidates or even be accepted as members. Risking a possible rejection by approaching the WP may result in a loss of "face" or electoral value, given the WP’s reputation for fielding “credible candidates”. A rejection by the WP would thus not be too flattering.
Option 2: Join the National Solidarity Party (NSP)
Upside: The NSP is the largest opposition party after the WP. If “The Independents” joined the NSP, it may not only create an impact significant enough to build NSP's brand name over the long haul, it could also prevent the WP from "monopolising" the opposition market to other opposition parties' detriment.
Downside: Like it or not, the PAP and the WP together are on the way to occupying the majority part of the political arena for years to come, unless a major crisis happens and shifts the political dimensions drastically. At this point, NSP's brand name is unable to withstand any 3-cornered contests if each fielded a large number of candidates and both clash in multi-corner fights with the PAP. In addition, the NSP has largely operated like a group of independents for a long time and the bigger it is, the more likely it is to break up. And any break up especially prior to the GE, where things tend to be internally heated over candidacy and constituency permutations, may be politically costly for everyone.
Option 3: Form a new party
Upside: There is always the advantage of starting afresh. The group has a nucleus to do so by roping in four more members to register a new party, but if it were to combine with Tan Jee Say and his associates, the job becomes a lot easier. Tan was, after all, a presidential frontrunner and would add a prominent face to the potential new entity.
Downside: In the past, it was easier to find uncontested constituencies, but with the increased political awareness and heightened interest, this has changed. Only Tanjong Pagar GRC enjoyed a walkover the last time, and the same intensity is expected in the 2016 GE and beyond. Hence, when it comes to the negotiation table, a new party is at a disadvantage. A case in point was the relatively new Socialist Front, which was sidelined during the 2011 GE negotiations meeting. For a new party, a 3-cornered fight ought to be a definite no, but requesting an older party to withdraw from a constituency it previously contested is no mean feat.
Option 4: Remain independent and form a GRC team
Upside: At the present moment, there has never been an independent GRC team in Singapore's history, and the group could capture enough media attention during the campaign by just being that. There is an additional incentive of leaving their names in posterity even if they do not win.
Downside: Like forming a new party, the chances of being sidelined and ignored at the negotiations is high, and it will be hard to find any GRC which won’t interest the other more established parties.
Option 5: Return to the Singapore People's Party
Upside: The opposition camp, including key WP leaders, respects and gives due deference to the Chiams and their standing due to their contributions to the opposition cause. The Chiam family is probably the next most recognisable opposition brand name after the WP. Returning to the SPP not only puts "The Independents" in a more unfettered position at the negotiations, it would also bring about a happy reunion, close an unhappy chapter and facilitate some level of continuity since the 2011 GE. Also, SPP's recruitment of new blood appears healthy despite the exodus of the group, and a reunion would be a publicity coup too.
Downside: For the same reasons "The Independents" left the SPP, they would probably not consider this option. There is also no assurance that the Chiams would accept their return.
Time down the road, observers are expected to keep an eye on where the group will lead itself to. At the moment, the group seems to be keeping its options close to its collective chest. It is, after all, still some time to go before the next electoral battle takes place.
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