GE 2011 was an exceptionally bumper year for the opposition, as they fielded several strong candidates in as many wards as they could. But while the average vote share for the PAP in GRCs alone is around 60 percent, similar to the national vote share (due to the law of large numbers), the PAP vote share in the SMCs was different, roughly 58 percent. One reason it is lower is that Hougang was won by the WP, and Potong Pasir and Joo Chiat were marginally won by the PAP.
But I believe in this year, it could have been lower. After all, discontent against the PAP is at an all-time high, due to rising cost of living, cost of housing and a liberal immigrant policy. Why did results in SMCs turn out slightly different? Yes, SMCs tend to produce results of greater deviation from the national popular vote share. With so many GRCs won by the PAP in the 50-odd percentage points, if they had been SMCs, a few would have fallen to the opposition. I was puzzled why some SMCs did not follow this trend, especially in the SMC scoring the only 7o percent point (considered a norm in older days).
When I look at the PAP candidates in the top-scoring SMCs, they were indeed high-profile. Hong Kah North was won by Amy Khor, long-time office-holder; Radin Mas was won by Sam Tan, another office-holder; Yuhua was won by Grace Fu, a junior minister; Bukit Panjang by Dr Teo Ho Ping, who is personally popular in the ward; Whampoa by Heng Chee How, a junior minister.
The PAP candidates in the rest of the SMCs were not as high-profile, but that doesn’t mean less capable. Pioneer, won by Cedric Foo, a former junior minister, reflected the national trend (60 percent scored by Cedric Foo). What’s more interesting is that, though the bottom-scoring PAP candidates were less low-profile, all of them had been the incumbent MPs (or for Sitoh, the ‘grassroots advisor’) of their wards for at least 5 years (exclude Charles Chong in Joo Chiat, who is a veteran MP but parachuted into the ward; Desmond Choo in Hougang). And against them, the opposition fielded newcomers, each of them clinching more than 40 percent of the votes.
But against the high-profile PAP candidates in the top-scoring SMCs, the opposition fielded veterans, who lost big. It was a strategic error by the NSP and SPP to put those whom they considered ‘strong’ against the high-profile PAP candidates. Ironically, those who seemed strong had lost consecutive elections (Sin Kek Tong, Yip Yew Weng, Ken Sun, Steve Chia), compared to the WP’s newcomers, who polled more than 40 percent each, as they depended on the party reputation. In Yuhua and Bukit Panjang, it seems the SDP also committed a flaw in parachuting in Teo Soh Lung and Alec Tok respectively. Teo was a former ISA detainee…and that’s all everyone in Yuhua probably knows. For Tok, his switch to the SDP from the Reform Party, and his campaign in Bukit Panjang, seems a little too late and insincere to win the ward from the genuinely popular Dr Teo.
Hence it boils down to individuality of candidates, age and party brand in the SMCs. If younger and new opposition candidates (perhaps Nicole Seah?) had stood against the high-profile PAP candidates in the SMCs, they might have done better, so following the national trend. In any case, the next elections might not present similar opportunities of discontent which the opposition could tap on in GE 2011. And of course, SMCs could appear and disappear, like magic.