NSP at the Crossroads


In 2010, NSP Secretary-General Goh Meng Seng sold off his Serangoon North flat to fund his GE war chest. The election deposit alone was $14,000 and at least another $10,000 per candidate in a GRC was needed, and Goh Meng Seng felt that leaders in NSP should be ready to give a hand to fellow NSP candidates, if they wanted one.

Nicole Seah went out on her own and solicited donations to recoup her election spending. The advertising executive, ever the maverick in her GE ways regardless if one loves or loathes her political acumen, passed the hat around not only to her family and friends, but to her fans as well. With hints of lack of accountability floating from the donations to Nicoles Seah’s personal bank account, this caused a stir as people rightly or wrongly saw that it was yet another stunt by Nicole Seah as no other election candidate had sought funding in such a public and online manner. Except for the comical bunch of independent candidates who made a poor show of trying to contest Tanjong Pagar GRC but had themselves (deliberately) disqualified in the end on Nomination Day.

NSP nonetheless issued a statement defending Nicole Seah. What she did was legally acceptable but not in the minds of the populace naive on how legitimate political donations function. Goh Meng Seng’s defence of one of his own was reminiscent of his “leave no man behind” stand-up attitude in 2006 when he stood back-to-back with James Gomez despite Gomez’s antics and the PAP’s call for WP to abandon James Gomez. The NSP statement was belated and had hints that Nicole Seah did not really consult NSP high command on the manner in which she would handle the return and declaration of her election expenses.

Tony Tan and Hazel Poa did not have such controversies if you realised. Nicole Seah was all sensationalist, not only with her apology and crying during the GE but also her hints that she or NSP might take to task PAP’s dull Tin Pei Ling  breaching Cooling Off Day. In contrast, the husband and wife former Admin scholars team was all sedate and sensible. And whatever one might think of Nicole Seah, she was their public face and brand. The NSP “beauty” while the political “brains and brawn” were Tony Tan and Hazel Poa who kept out of the limelight but probably drove the NSP manifesto and the reformist policies together with Goh Meng Seng and the old birds in NSP.

It has been about 20 days since the new political climate and NSP is now at the crossroads in terms of their branding. They need to strike a balance between being sensational and being serious in its political lobbying after the GE. Too much of the former and they become Nicole Seah’s Party, more style than substance. Too much of the latter and NSP becomes boringly more substance than style, and without an edge over the other parties in terms of branding.

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13 responses

  1. Chan Chong Leong

    There is real challenge is the following;
    a) To have serious policy positions on various issues and also a shadow cabinet in place with good capable people. At this juncture, NSP in truth does not have the correct blend of capable people to form the shadow cabinet,the husband and wife scholar team included. The policy positions on various matters are at best sketchy. So NSP is not viewed as a serious party and capable party as yet unlike the WP.

    b) To keep the brand and name in the public eye for the next 5 years is also going to be a challenge especially that NSP does not have MPs in parliamnet who can propagate NSP’s name. This is an especially issue and one need to think of how to keep going for the next 5 years , sustaining public interest in NSP and her activities as well as what she stands for. Nicole Seah’s attraction to a certain extent will help to that end, but just her alone is insufficient. NSP has to have ‘party’ activities taken corporately so tha sufficiently national interest and publicity can be generated. Jeannette and Niccole alone cannot carry that load alone nor will it come across as credible.

    May 31, 2011 at 6:15 am

  2. chemgen

    Chong Leong
    – For a), the assumption is that NSP wants to form the shadow cabinet right now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no party made that bold claim to have a shadow minister for finance, defence etc except for the talk-big SDP. What remains to be seen is if NSP can recruit people after this GE so that they can be ready for the next one. The WP did exactly that after their promising show in 2006 – they recruited the right people and now they have a GRC. Not easy, but something that NSP can bank on, since they did relatively well in Marine Parade, Tampines and Mountbatten in that order as these constituencies gave more than 40% of the votes to NSP. It doesn’t mean that they would win, but it does mean that they are in good shape and comparable to WP even. The critics would say that NSP could have done better than what they got. True. Glass half empty or half full, it depends on perspective.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 31 May 2011 » The Singapore Daily

  4. chemgen

    Chong Leong
    For b), I totally side with you.

    With no NCMP in parliament, sustaining branding over the next 5-6 years is hard. The Nicole Seah effect can only last 1 year at max. There would probably be interest in NSP now, and then mostly lull until the next GE comes along.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:19 am

  5. This is Anfield

    I’m afraid the various comments made by Goh Meng Seng does not bode well for the NSP as a viable alternative party going forward. Remember his remarks about failing to persuade the Tony and Hazel to join his team in Tampines GRC? That to me, does not sound like a party who is singing from the same page. From the cursory look, the NSP is the kind of stable middle ground party (as opposed to the soon-to-be extinct SDA) which attracts the mercenary type of politicians who can’t find their way into more established and ideologically developed parties like WP, and, even the SDP. The reason for WP’s success is that LTK runs a very tight ship, and brooks no nonsense from dissenters. For proof, look at how Eric Tan was treated in the NCMP episode. If history is a guide, I’m sure there will be a coup within the NSP that leads to the ouster of Goh Meng Seng.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:37 pm

  6. anon

    Tony and Hazel are likely to be plants.
    To date have they made it clear what do they really want to do as MPs?

    In contrast Nicole Seah did make it clear from the start that she is in it for the down and out. The commendable thing is that she is still trying post-GE. She is having MPS at the ward of her choice.

    What about the couple?

    I don’t think it is helpful to talk like the opposition parties owe you a living. They certainly don’t.

    It is the wrong attitude to take to comment like some disinterested bystanders. This is your country as well. If you don’t have the motivation or inclination to go out on a limb to do something, you can at least cut out the idle talk which is cheap and unhelpful.

    Even GCT admitted that at MP GRC, the PAP narrow win is attributable to the voters unhappiness over TPL and their enthusiastic support for NS.

    May 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm

  7. Akad

    Hope all political parties will come out stronger and wiser. People all over the world are yearning to be led by Govt. that is seen to be truthful and honest. Qualifications and experience is for the purpose of putting the right man at the right place.

    May 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  8. Observer

    In a comment in GMS’s Facebook, NSP members GMS and Gilbert Goh were seen talking with Joseph Ong only recently at MOS Burger. Either Joseph Ong is being recruited by NSP or NSP is trying to coordinate something with Joseph Ong’s friends at Temasek Review.

    NSP is really pushing boundaries in its rebranding and recruiting of members. What new twist for NSP?

    May 31, 2011 at 11:23 pm

  9. Hi ChemGen,

    A very interesting post from you on NSP.

    First of all, just to dispel rumors, there isn’t any meeting with Dr Joseph Ong at all.

    Secondly, you are quite a sharp observer of politics. Yes, there is indeed a need to go along the middle path for NSP if it wants to grow to become a serious force to be reckon with.

    You use the word “Sensationalist” to describe Nicole. I would think that is too strong a word but you are entitled to your view here. However, I think it is inevitable for people to feel that way when Nicole is still making news every now and then.

    But I do agree with you, such trend of continuous engagement with the media is unsustainable in the long run. Even in more liberal democracy like Taiwan or US, no politicians could consistently capture media attention for more than 1 year.

    Yes, ultimately, the Policy platform will be the main beef of any serious political parties. However, in Singapore’s context, other than PAP (I always say it is ultra-capitalist), no other political parties have clear policy ideological direction. (Well maybe SDP has better outlines of policy inclination).

    Singapore politics revolves around economic direction and well being. Almost every GE we are talking more about unhappiness of various individual policies. But this is still far away from providing the real challenge to PAP’s dominance.

    Ironically, most electoral success of opposition lies not in providing comprehensive economic policies but rather, personality based politics. For GE2011, it might have shifted from personality based politics to party branding based politics.

    But such party branding is not based on policy platform; it is still based on individual personality as well as fuzzy ideas on checks and balances.

    I understand the constrains opposition parties faced when it comes to providing comprehensive policy platform. We lack the resources and in-depth information to carve out such platform. I tried another route instead. Minister-specific strategy is basically ministry-policy-specific strategy. Although it is still far from providing an overall comprehensive platform but at the very least, it starts on specific “worst policies” that PAP has made.

    What’s next for NSP? If NSP wants to move forward to build a stronger platform, it will need to combine the strength of each individuals we have to provide both the media front as well as enhancing policy platform.

    It is just like any company. You will need both a strong product development team as well as the marketing team to succeed.

    Goh Meng Seng

    June 1, 2011 at 1:57 am

  10. chemgen

    This is Anfield
    I agree with you. NSP is deemed the stable middle ground mainly because of the RP elements who walk-out over to NSP. If not for that, they would have remained as a Chinese towkay party. NSP is almost like the WP, but without the discipline. To be fair, the new recruits in NSP probably did not have time to settle down before the GE happened and that might have accounted for the lack of command and control in NSP during and maybe even after the GE. Whether there is a coup, it depends on where NSP high command can control the newer guys and keep them on focused on party politics not their personal politics, particularly the same guys who walked out on RP.

    Anon
    The assumption that all former civil servants are plants is unfair. Civil servants leave the government and join the opposition for different reasons I can only guess.

    Goh Meng Seng
    Thank you for commenting!

    You made a good observation and in retrospect, I agree that the word “sensationalist” to describe Nicole is too strong. “Sensationalist” would be reserved for Wanbao, Temasek Review or The New Paper. Also, the minister-strategy is a good one. In the end, while Raymond Lim and Mah Bow Tan’s GRCs still remained in PAP’s hands, the ministers who mangled Singapore’s transport and housing needs were made to leave. NSP achieved what it wanted to do, but yet not in the way it wanted to do.

    Unfortunately in an academic sense, what you described is true. Singaporeans are mostly not interested in policy-driven politics, but mostly personality-driven, and in this GE, branding-driven politics especially. Style is generally rated higher than substance in that case. That is the case for most democracies who are used to consumerism and advertisement, where they are many good products, but marketing it well makes the product a top seller.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:45 pm

  11. NSP insider

    @Observer:

    I heard about the meeting. It was Dr Joseph Ong who initiated it. He offered to pay for the legal fees of Nicole Seah to sue Shin Min Daily for slander. But Goh Meng Seng was strongly against the idea. Don’t think Dr Ong is joining NSP. His clinics have many contracts with the government.

    June 3, 2011 at 5:23 pm

  12. “Pubic” face and brand?

    June 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm

  13. chemgen

    politicalwritings
    Thanks for pointing it out! Changed it.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

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