Along with SPP, RP, WP and SDA, SDP has just announced that it is interested in contesting in Ponggol East SMC when the by election is held.
In a multi-corner fight with the opposition putting up credible candidates, the votes will be split and the PAP will win in Ponggol East. In fact the more credible and the stronger the opposition candidates and the harder they campaign in a multi-cornered fight, the more likely the PAP candidate will win because the votes on the opposition side will become more evenly divided.
Some argue that giving voters more choices is good for democracy. This is not true. There is an artifact in our winner take all system that we should all be aware of before we make such statements. Suppose there are 3 candidates in an election, 2 centrist and one right wing candidate. 40% of the voters want a right wing candidate and 60% want someone centrist. Under our system the right wing candidate would win if the votes are evenly split between the centrist candidates, although 60% does not want him. Our system will not give the right result. The way some countries fix this is to drop the candidate with the fewest votes in the first round, then do a run-off election. In Israel they designed a proportional representation system to overcome this. In Australia (I think), voters rank the candidates (1st Choice, 2nd Choice, 3rd Choice etc), the votes of the weakest candidates goes the 2nd choice of the voters who selected that candidate - this has the same effect as a runoff election.
Due to this artifact in our system, there is a possibility that the emerging strength of opposition can be played to the advantage the PAP. As more capable and qualified people join opposition parties, the chances of multi corner contests increases because each party has more candidates to field and more resources for election...disunity and rivalry can result in self-inflicted wounds for the opposition.
You can see the potential problems coming in 2016 because in the 2011 election the opposition parties collectively already have sufficient resources to contest in every constituency. In 2016, you can expect each party to recruit even more people given the way things are going in Singapore and avoiding multi corner fight becomes more critical.
Coincidently, Punggol East SMC was the only place in the electoral map in GE2011 with a 3-corner fight. The opposition won 45.5% of the votes in total so it is possible for the opposition to win there. It is hard for the PAP to find someone to replace Palmer who served the residents for quite a few years. He received only 54% of the votes because of profile of the voters - the voters in Punggol East are young and this is the group that has felt the negative effects of PAP policies. In a by-election setting, chances of an opposition win increases further because voters are less worried about an abrupt disruptive change of govt.
The most logical and sensible thing to do now to further the opposition's cause is to put the support behind the opposition candidate that ran in the recent 2011 General Election and did relatively well there. A change of candidate and parties will give the voters the feeling of "come and go"opposition and waste the effort of earlier campaign that won 40+% of the votes. A multi-corner fight will be a complete disappointment for opposition supporters and produce a lose-lose situation for the opposition parties.
"In the interest of furthering the opposition cause, NSP has decided not to create a multi-cornered fight by contesting" - NSP Statement.
If this is the most logical thing to do, why only one opposition party, the NSP , is enlightened enough to publicly announce it is making a logical decision not to take part? The other parties throwing their hats into ring really evokes fears among opposition supporters of disunity, rivalry and inability to grasp the bigger picture. I'm actually not so pessimistic. Remember in the GE2011 election, once it was announced, the opposition parties show that they could get a deal done to avoid 3-corner fights everywhere except in Ponggol East SMC.
The opposition parties should start discussing not just about the coming by election but the 2016 General Election. They should settle the issue of where they are contesting early so that all parties can start investing their resources in specific areas. This is what I hope this whole business of expressing an interest to run in Ponggol East is about .. strategic bargaining.... to get some concession on where to contest in 2016 and put in place a strategy. They can all walk away winners...or end up inflicting injury on each other and lose a chance to take another seat from the PAP. They can show that they are all matured and grown up ready to further the opposition cause or show they are just bickering schoolboys unable to stand together to get something done. Singapore really needs them to get their act together because the PAP can't seem to solve the people's problems these days.