The Temasek Policy Review

A critical review of Singapore's policies from the ground

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The rise of the Workers Party spells possible demise for the other smaller parties

Posted by temasektimes on May 30, 2012

Despite the odds stacked against them – from the Yaw Shin Leong sex scandal, reports of party disunity and relentless attacks on the integrity of its candidate Png Eng Huat, the Workers Party romped home to a convincing victory in Hougang with 62.09% of the votes.

Though Hougang is considered a impregnable ‘fortress’ of the Workers Party which has held the ward for over twenty years, many had expected a vote swing to the PAP in view of the circumstances under which the by-election was called following the sacking of ex-MP Yaw Shin Leong over alleged personal indiscretions.

The Workers Party seems unprepared during the election campaign either with numerous mis-steps which could prove fatal to other parties. Even WP Chairman Sylvia Lim admitted that the party did not expect to win more than 60 percent of the votes.

The margin of victory for WP boils down to two key factors – its brand name and the prevailing sentiments on the ground that Singapore needs more opposition voices in parliament to check on the government which are likely to propel the WP to further electoral gains in the next election regardless of the candidates they field.

The Workers Party is likely to continue growing for the following reasons:

1. For the last twenty years, the opposition was kept weak and divided with only two MPs in parliament – former Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong and Hougang MP Low Thia Kiang. With Mr Chiam entering the twilight of his political career and his party not running any constituency, Mr Low naturally becomes the de facto opposition leader and the nexus of support for all opposition supporters.

2. With six MPs and two NCMPs in Parliament, the Workers Party is now the largest opposition party in Singapore with the increased media exposure likely to attract more supporters and potential candidates into its ranks.

3. The Workers Party’s slogan of ‘Towards a First World Parliament’ resonates deeply with Singaporeans despite an underwhelming performance in parliament and so long its MPs continue to portray themselves as a ‘constructive’ force to check on the ruling party, it will continue to draw support from Singaporeans even if they are ineffective.

4. Unlike other parties, the Workers Party have years of experience in running Hougang and doing well in Aljunied will inspire confidence and trust in Singaporeans.

5. The Workers Party have a mix of experienced politicians like Low Thia Kiang and Sylvia Lim as well as young leaders such as Gerald Giam and Pritam Singh to take the party forward into the future. No other opposition parties boast of so many talented and credible individuals within its ranks like WP. 

Given the limited resources and support available from the public, Singaporeans are likely to throw their support behind the Workers Party which has a base to build on, rather than other smaller parties which have little chance of winning against the PAP.

The statistics in the last General Election speaks for themselves: The Workers Party scores 47% against the PAP’s 53% in straight contests overall. Even its worst-faring GRC team managed to garner 42% of the votes which was higher than most other parties.

In a three-corner fight in Sengkang West SMC during the 2011 General Election, the Workers Party candidate Lee Lilian managed to obtain 43% of the votes causing another opposition candidate Desmond Lim to lose his deposit.

The result of the contest is clear: The Workers Party is the ‘number one’ choice for opposition supporters who will unite behind it rather than split the votes with a weaker opposition party.

As the Workers Party continue to grow and attract better candidates into its ranks, it will be able to field more candidates in future elections making the prospects of multi-cornered fights inevitable and with its strong branding, the candidates from the smaller parties will risk losing their election deposits like Desmond Lim.

With the Singapore People’s Party in disarray, the National Solidarity Party having the same centrist position as the Workers Party and the Singapore Democratic Party still in a process of rebuilding and rebranding itself, it is hard to see how they will be able to compete with the Workers Party for the same pool of voters.

The Workers Party is likely to make further inroads in 2016 by winning Joo Chiat and East Coast GRC which it narrowly lost in 2011 while the other parties are unlikely to win any seats, thereby paving the way for a two-party system to emerge in Singapore.

Unless the Workers Party self-implode and suffer a split like the PAP in the 1962, it is hard to see how the PAP is going to stop it from winning more seats in the next General Election.

As for the other parties, they should seriously consider merging with the Workers Party like what the Barisan Sosialist did in 1988 to stand a better chance of winning a seat in elections or risk remaining on the fringes of Singapore politics forever.

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Elected MP should automatically be appointed as grassroots adviser of GROs and not losing candidates

Posted by temasektimes on May 29, 2012

Two days after he was soundly rejected by Hougang voters in a by-election, PAP losing candidate Desmond Choo is back at ‘work’ again conducting his weekly ‘tea sessions’ to meet Hougang residents at Hougang Community Club.

Though Mr Choo is not the elected MP of Hougang, he still has the privilege of hosting unofficial ‘Meet the People’ sessions in an air-conditioned office paid for by taxpayers while the elected WP MP Png Eng Huat has to meet them in a make-shift office in a HDB void deck instead.

In an interview with the media after his loss, Mr Choo pledged to work together with Mr Png Eng Huat to bring improvement to Hougang:

“Any project, as long as it benefits the residents, is in their best interest, is sound, is practicable… I am more than willing to support. I will also need support from him for some of the programmes that we run, especially places which require town council support.”

With due respect to Mr Choo and his contributions to Hougang so far, his work should be undertaken by the elected MP of Hougang who should automatically be appointed as its grassroots adviser.

Having two persons holding two different positions – MP and grassroots adviser performing the same task is not only counter-productive, but leads to duplication of unnecessary work and waste of public resources.

In PAP-controlled constituencies, its MPs hold the position of grassroots advisers in their respective wards, why shouldn’t this be the case for non-PAP constituencies?

All grassroots organizations are under the ambit of the People’s Association (PA) which is supposedly a non-partisan statutory board funded by taxpayers.

As such, it should respect the choice of the voters and not make a distinction based on political affiliations. A non-PAP grassroots adviser can perform the same role equally well, if not better if he or she is given full support by the PA.

In the light of the ‘new normal’ in Singapore politics which sees Singaporeans clamoring for more alternative voices to represent their interests in parliament, the present arrangement of appointing PAP losing candidates as grassroots advisers in non-PAP wards not only runs contrary to the PA’s aim of fostering community bonding and national unity, but will potentially divide the nation along political lines in the long run.

It is also not feasible or viable should the opposition win more seats in future elections. Imagine the additional number of grassroots advisers the PA will have to appoint to ‘compete’ with the elected MPs to do the same job should the opposition wins another few SMCs and GRCs in four years’ time?

As a result of the exclusion of its MPs from the PA, the Workers Party have to set up two separate grassroots bodies – the Hougang Constituency Committee and Aljunied Constituency Committee to take charge of grassroots affairs in Hougang and Aljunied respectively.

How much public monies can be saved and put to better use had they all come under the same umbrella of the PA?

It is about time the government show some respect to the voters by appointing their elected MP as grassroots advisers regardless of which political party they come from.

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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.


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Hougang by-election is about Hougang residents and not national politics

Posted by temasektimes on May 11, 2012

For more than twenty years, long-suffering Hougang residents have shouldered the national ‘burden’ of ensuring an opposition presence in Parliament during every election especially last year when their long-term MP Low Thia Kiang left his stronghold to contest in neighboring Aljunied GRC.

With the opposition having an unprecedented five seats in Parliament and eight if we include the three NCMPs this time, the result of the coming by-election in Hougang will have no impact on Singapore.

One extra seat will not affect the PAP which will still be the government and neither will it make the opposition more influential in parliament.

As such, it is time for national politics to take a back seat and allow Hougang residents to vote for a candidate who will best serve their municipal interests after being neglected for so long a period of time.

In his statement on the by-election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged “Hougang voters to use this opportunity wisely, to elect the best candidate with commitment and integrity: someone they can rely upon to express their hopes and concerns, address their needs, and make a real difference to their lives.”

What improvements do Hougang residents want to see in their estate? What other amenities do they need? What more can be done to help the needy residents? And who is in a better position to serve them better?

These are the questions that Hougang residents will be pondering over carefully and they should vote for the most suitable candidate to take care of them in the next four years regardless of party affiliations.

There are some people who want to hijack the by-election to pursue their own selfish agenda and to turn it into a national referendum for the PAP’s performance in the past one year.

They made grandiose proclamations and all kinds of motherhood statements on why it is important to ensure Hougang remains in the hands of the opposition and that the by-election is a showcase of opposition unity which show scant respect to Hougang voters.

Did they ask Hougang residents what they want exactly? Have they even stepped foot into Hougang?

Some netizens have started digging up the past speeches of one of the candidate’s uncle who was a MP and using them to smear his character to cast doubt on his integrity.

Will such vicious mudslinging help Hougang residents or promote national unity in anyway? Will it make a difference to the lives of those concerned?

After two hotly contested elections last year, Singapore does not need another one to divide the nation. The Hougang by-election is simply an election for its residents to select the best candidate to serve them in their ward and not about national issues and politics which can be left till four years later.

Let us give Hougang residents the time, space and peace of mind they need to make an informed, correct and wise decision on 26 May for they truly deserve it after all the sacrifices they have made for the nation over the years.

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