The Temasek Policy Review

A critical review of Singapore's policies from the ground

Post-mortem of Hougang by-election: PAP continues to lose ground in the HDB heartland to WP

Posted by temasektimes on May 27, 2012

Speaking to reporters after the result of the by-election in Hougang was announced last night, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the result does not reflect the whole of Singapore.

His statement reflects a growing disconnect between senior PAP leaders and the native Singaporeans living in the HDB heartland.

Given the Yaw Shin Leong sex scandal, the quality of its candidate and persistent negative publicity about party disunity in the media for the last two weeks, the PAP candidate Desmond Choo should have garnered more votes than just a 145 vote increase from his share last year.

The two percent drop in WP’s votes is due more to a decrease in the voter turnout (23,176 in 2011 versus 21,951) rather than an increase in support for the PAP.

The number of voters in Hougang actually dropped by 1,000 odd after two blocks of flats went enbloc and were demolished. These voters are traditionally WP supporters.

Coupled with the last-minute announcement of the by-election and the fact that polling day is not a public holiday, the PAP has made little, if any headway in Hougang.

The result of the by-election offers three somber lessons for the PAP:

1. Regardless of the candidate it fields, it is unlikely to make any progress in wards held by the Workers Party.

2. Voters in WP ward identified themselves strongly with the party and not the candidate.

3. Past tried and tested tactics such as character-assassination and smear campaigns via the media no longer work.

Hougang is a microcosm of Singapore society with most of the voters being working class Singaporeans living in the HDB heartland and the group which is most affected by the government’s policies in recent years especially its immigration and labor policies.

The PAP’s attempts to portray the by-election has a local affair has backfired because conditions on the ground have improved little in the past one year despite the Prime Minister’s assertion that ‘progress’ has been made to tackle the pressing national issues.

As one netizen noted wryly:

“Everytime I took the SMRT train in the morning, I feel like casting a protest vote against the PAP.”

Unless economic conditions improve dramatically in 2016, which is unlikely, the PAP will face a tough fight in the next General Election.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Singapore Management University Professor Bridget Welsh observed:

“The mood in the country a year after the elections is not good. It’s a barometer of how the government has performed in the past year. The foreigners are becoming the punching bag.”

The result of the by-election shows that WP has not only managed to keep its core support base, but to expand it as well. While some Singaporeans are still skeptical of the WP, they are more angry with the government and are willing to turn a blind eye to its inadequacies.

Going by current trends, the PAP will continue to lose ground in the HDB heartlands to the Workers Party which enjoys genuine support from Singaporeans from all walks of life.

The PAP should not be complacent that it still has support among 60% of the population. As a matter of fact, in straight PAP versus WP contests last year, its support level is only 53% as compared to WP’s 47%. This means that if WP is able to contest in every single constituency in the next General Election, it will stand a fighting chance of booting the PAP out of office.

With its stronghold of Hougang secure, the Workers Party is well positioned to expand into neighboring constituencies in the next election for the following reasons:

1. The PAP team for Aljunied has entirely been dismantled with the departure of senior figures like George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hwa, Zainal Abidin and Cynthia Phua. It will not be easy for rookie Ong Ye Kung to lead the charge against the WP’s ‘A’ team in 2016.

2. The PAP won Joo Chiat SMC by only 100 plus votes and with its MP Charles Chong likely to retire by then (he would be 62), it presents an opportunity for WP NCMP Yee Jenn Jong to capture the ward if he contests there again.

3. Mr Lim Swee Say, the only minister in East Coast GRC will be 63 years old by the next election and is likely to retire. There will be no heavyweight ministers to helm the GRC and it will not be an impossible task for WP to capture the GRC with a mere 6 percent swing in votes needed. (Aljunied GRC swung 9 percent to WP in 2011)

4. Senior ministers will be stepping down from Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs which the PAP performed badly against ‘weaker’ opposition parties and the young ministers may not be able to hold the fort against WP veterans if they contest there.

5. Lastly, but most importantly, HDB prices will not drop to the 1990 levels, wages will not double and the quality of life is not going to improve by much in 2016, meaning that public discontent and disaffection against the PAP is only going to grow with time.

The Workers Party has become a premium brand name in Singapore politics. Even its weaker candidates were able to garner a minimum of 42% of the votes in the 2011 General Election.

It is time the PAP wakes up and start taking the Workers Party seriously as a potential rival instead of dismissing it as yet another opposition party or it will be in for more rude shocks in the rocky journey ahead.


One Response to “Post-mortem of Hougang by-election: PAP continues to lose ground in the HDB heartland to WP”

  1. Blessing in disguise said

    Workers Party should come to Tampines in the next GE to kick out PAP which NSP has missed the golden opportunity in GE2011.

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