Category Archives: Battleground

GE 2011: Battleground GRCs & SMCs!

In a previous post, I mentioned what are the criteria for being battleground GRCs or SMCs:

  1. Good chance of falling into opposition hands
  2. Historic or unprecedented
  3. Candidates or issues are controversial or attention-grabbing
  4. Heightened sense of anticipation to the campaigning period and Polling Day

Nomination Day is over, and this is the updated list:

Battleground GRCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Aljunied GRC – it nearly fell into opposition hands in GE 2006, and the WP only needs a 8-point swing of votes to its side to capture the GRC. Furthermore, a sitting Opposition MP, Low Thia Kiang, is leading the GRC team with their ‘star catch’ Chen Show Mao. The whole Singapore awaits the results from this GRC.
  2. Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC – given that Chiam See Tong has made known his intention to contest here much earlier, there is excitement over whether he can capture the GRC. Furthermore, his team has two former government scholars, cementing his team’s credibility. More importantly, Bishan Toa-Payoh has faced walkovers since 1997, and we do not know if voters would take to the veteran Chiam or stick to the PAP team. This huge known unknown makes the contest challenging for both the PAP and SPP.

Hot:

  1. East Coast GRC – the WP garnered 36 percent of votes here in GE 2006, the second-best performing opposition GRC. The PAP’s decision to insert two ministers and no newbies here means they treat the contest very seriously.
  2. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – the SDP has fielded a very strong slate against a twice-walkover team. S’poreans caught a glimpse of the verbal sparring between the SDP and PAP, and can expect more as campaigning period begins.
  3. Tampines GRC – the NSP and WP have been whacking Mah Bow Tan. What would be voters’ reaction?

Warm:

  1. Chua Chu Kang GRC – again, a NSP team which has two former government scholars is competing against the PAP.
  2. Marine Parade GRC – attention seems to be on 3 candidates only, SM Goh, Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah
  3. Nee Soon GRC – the previous Nee Soon SMCs (east, west, central, north, south) used to swing to opposition in the 1990s. Whether the support continues is unknown.
  4. West Coast GRC – KJ from the Reform Party is making his maiden electoral bid. Success or performance here will make or break the future of his party.

Mild:

  1. Ang Mo Kio GRC
  2. Jurong GRC
  3. Moulmein-Kallang GRC
  4. Pasir-Ris Punngol GRC
  5. Sembawang GRC

Battleground SMCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Potong Pasir
  2. Hougang

The reasons are similar for both wards. The sitting opposition MPs are leading GRC teams, and everyone will be looking to see which way both go.

Hot:

  1. Punggol East – well, because it’s a 3-cornered fight

As of now, the rest of the SMCs don’t really look exciting. Attention is focussed on the GRCs, and if the opposition will make a breakthrough. The PAP might have thought up of the GRC system to its benefit, but they forgot if the opposition wins one GRC, even if marginally, they immediately net 5 or 4 seats. Oh well.

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Return of the SPP

My impression of Chiam See Tong’s SPP was that of a party lacking in visions and ideas, as seen from the TV performance of Lina Chiam on Channel NewsAsia’s Political Forum. I also predicted the SDA’s electoral demise as soon as Chiam’s SPP pulled out; it is clear that Chiam was the only one holding the Alliance together, giving it a sense of unity. For a short while I’d believed the SPP was destined for certain obliteration, as Chiam struggled to form a dream team for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

But what a turn of events! The opposition elder has attracted two former government scholars to contest with him, besides two long-time politicians. And he even asserted his ‘chances are very good’. Though the SPP is contesting 7 seats (5-member Bishan-Toa Payoh, Hong Kah North and Potong Pasir), attention is focussed on the GRC and whether the SPP would make a historic win, with a veteran at the helm of an impressive team of candidates.

If The Straits Times is accurate ($2m foundation pledge! and ‘surge in volunteers‘), the SPP seems to be reviving itself at the last moment. What’s the impact of this on S’porean voters and the General Elections?

Previously I mentioned which would be a battleground GRC or SMC, and Bishan-Toa Payoh was among the first-tier battleground GRCs. Well, it seems apt for its ranking to increase, from just first-tier to Red Alert. Why?

1) The Chiam appeal. His maiden attempt to lead a GRC has not been smooth-sailing, but the final line-up is solid. Furthermore, it seems more volunteers and sympathizers are helping Chiam to win.

2) Bishan Toa-Payoh, since its meshed-up formation in 1997, has never seen a contest. If we go back a little further, Toa Payoh has not seen a contest since 1988. No one knows how the voters there would vote, because there is no history at all. No straw poll has been taken too, so Polling Day for this GRC would be especially exciting.

3) The PAP team in Bishan Toa-Payoh has NOT faced a contest before – with the exception of DPM Wong Kan Seng, but not in recent elections. Are they electable in their own rights? Maybe, maybe not.

As you can see, the outcome is clouded in uncertainty. The voters, the PAP team as well as the opposition, though Chiam’s star power is drawing tremendous attention and effort here.

I’d defined a ‘battleground’ with 3 criteria: 1) unprecedented, 2) good chance of opposition winning, 3) controversial or headlines-grabbing. The contest in Bishan Toa-Payoh fulfills 1) and 3) very strongly. I don’t know how S’poreans there would vote, and I bet the PAP or the SPP doesn’t too. It’s a gigantic known unknown, which means the GRC deserves a ‘Red Alert‘ status – a tough fight for both the PAP and SPP.

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Battleground Tampines

It seems that the 5-member ward of Tampines GRC will be a key ‘battleground’ ward in the upcoming elections. One reason is that as early as 2009, NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng was hammering the anchor minister, Mah Bow Tan, for his ‘failed’ HDB policies. This is part of their minister-specific strategy, in which they will zoom in on ministers and their policies, besides raising municipal and national issues.

The assumption of the strategy is that 1) S’poreans link their GRC to the anchor minister (they don’t care about the rest of the MPs), and 2) they identity the minister by the portfolio which he is holding, 3) if policies e.g. housing fails, that means the minister-in-charge is at fault, 4) so the minister with his team should be voted out. I’d believe that govt policies are not made by specific ministers, but crafted by consensus in the Cabinet with the Prime Minister setting the direction and holding the veto on issues. Hence the minister of transport can object to policy-making regarding housing etc. This is because ministers can and are rotated anyway; and some also hold dual portfolios. To be in the Cabinet means they should be able to handle everything, by virtue of their leadership or EQ etc. Furthermore, in a parliamentary system (and perhaps others too), the Cabinet is bounded as a collective leadership, so even if some ministers personally disagree with the policies, ALL of them have to stand united in public.

So if one policy fails, by right the whole govt should change, and not just the minister-in-charge. The govt can simply replace the minister and continue its policy. Hence I don’t really understand NSP’s minister-specific strategy of whacking the minister just because he’s in charge of housing. But then again, Mah Bow Tan has been the minister for national development for a VERY long time, such that housing issues are easily linked to him. According to the S’pore Cabinet Office website, he’s ranked No. 8 out of 21, so if he’s voted out, that would be a symbolic hit on the PAP.

If everything goes accordingly, Goh Meng Seng and his best candidates will be fielded in Tampines to take on Mah Bow Tan and his team. On the top of the table will be housing, housing and housing. Again, this leads us to the question of what voters are looking for. Are they voting for the party to form the govt or a group of candidates to take care of their municipal needs? Are they concerned about national policy-making and its intricacies, or do they put their confidence in people whom they can relate to, trusting they would act in their best interests? It’s likely to be a combination of everything. Whether Goh can use his minister-specific strategy effectively depends on how correctly he reads voters’ moods in Tampines.

Results of Tampines GRC since 1988:

1988: PAP vs. NSP (61 to 39 percent)

1991: PAP vs. NSP (59.48 to 40.52 percent)

1997: Walkover

2001: PAP vs. NSP-SDA (73.34 to 26.66 percent)

2006: PAP vs. NSP-SDA (68.51 to 31.49 percent)

As you can see, the PAP has won Tampines consistently, with margins between 19 to 47 percent. One reason is that Tampines has an above-average percentage of Malays, and as a community, they have thrown their support behind the PAP. However, the NSP inaugurated its Malay Bureau last year to attract potential Malay candidates, and if they don’t disappoint, a candidate who can allow the Malays to relate to him or her will be fielded, so that the team can draw more votes. But it might not be a vote-winner, of course.

Since NSP has attacked Mah Bow Tan since 2009 and probably done several walkabouts in Tampines, that means they are entering the elections with greater expectations to do well. Furthermore, if Mah Bow Tan is voted out, the NSP could claim their minister-specific strategy works, and the PAP probably will have to change its HDB policies (for good or ill, no one knows). But in any case, a win for the NSP is likely to be marginal, given that this is a GRC, and that Mah Bow Tan has been in politics and a minister for more than two decades. If the NSP loses, it should ideally lose marginally too i.e. garnering more than 40 percent of the votes to have one of its candidates qualify as a NCMP. A worse defeat means that their minister-specific strategy is not working or simply because S’poreans agree with the housing policies, and think they are fine.

For the reasons above, Tampines GRC is likely to be a battleground GRC, because the NSP has set the stakes high by assaulting a minister’s policies, and indirectly, the entire PAP. The WP didn’t fight like this in Aljunied by accusing George Yeo of mismanaging foreign affairs, and they probably won’t. That brings us back to the list of priorities which voters have, and if Goh Meng Seng can interpret them correctly during the campaigning period (probably 9 days) to sway most of them.

Lastly…the PAP might just shift Mah Bow Tan out of Tampines, if they feel they have a chance of losing at all 🙂 So no more minister-specific strategy huh.

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