Tag Archives: wp

Opposition flaws in the SMCs

SMCs results

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.

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GE 2011: Preliminary Analysis

That the victory of Workers’ Party in Aljunied has overshadowed other electoral contests is inevitable; the stakes were high there. Before Polling Day, I predicted that the SDA would be obliterated at the polls, and in the 3-cornered fight at Punggol East, the SDA secretary-general himself lost his electoral deposit. The PAP scored 60.14 percent in the popular vote share, a 6-point drop from the previous elections. But I’d think this is a consistent trend:

PAP & WP popular vote share in %

1)

As you can see from the diagram, with the exception of the exceptional year 2001, the PAP popular vote share has been hovering in the lower 60 percentage points. I believe if not for the quality of opposition candidates in some SMCs, the PAP popular vote share would have fallen to between 55 and 60 percentage points, GE 2011 being fiercely contested. But the trend is this: the PAP vote share has been in the 60s since 1988 (except 2001), and it might continue to decline.

For the Workers’ Party, they have never breached beyond 20 percent popular vote share from 1988, but this might be because they did not field candidates in all wards. However, their share of the popular votes has been fairly consistent (again, discount 2001). Ironically, while their popular vote share has dipped from 2006, they secured a record number of 6 seats. This can be attributed to other parties competing heavily against the PAP as well, especially the NSP, which took a nearly equal amount of 12 percent in the popular share. It is clear, over the past 20 years, the WP has consistently remained the No.2 choice of voters.

2)

The PAP has been inflicted a psychological blow, in losing Aljunied GRC. The law of large numbers, however, has held up well in other GRCs, so Aljunied might be an exception. But with the loss of 3 ministers, and the lowest popular vote share since independence, the PAP would do a very deep and sombre self-reflection.

3)

PAP has lost the ability to dictate the agenda. The PAP has originally campaigned on leadership renewal, 4G leadership etc, but it was obvious during the campaigning period, other issues such as cost of living, liberal immigrant policy, and housing took the stage. The 4G leadership was overshadowed by the WP’s hammering of a “First World Parliament” – such that PAP leaders had to respond to them, rather than pound on their own 4G message.

4)

Watershed elections? Yes, in the sense that the WP made a breakthrough. No, that the PAP still dominates overwhelmingly. But as I mentioned in point 3, the PAP can’t return to its heydays of dictating the agenda – it can respond, and respond vigorously it did. MM Lee might be wishing for the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s and perhaps 1990s (when upgrading of HDB flats became a key issue/threat, depends on how you see it)…but Singapore, Singaporeans, the PAP and opposition parties have changed and will change. For good or ill, it is too early to tell.

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Over-emphasis on municipal issues

Very quietly, after Parliament was dissolved, PAP MPs who were the chairmen, vice-chairmen and members of their constituencies’ town councils also gave up their town council seats. From then to now, have our wards turned to slums?

It’s obvious that while MPs are involved in municipal issues, they are not responsible for the day-to-day running of town councils. They bring visions, directions, plans to the constituencies, but they do not micro-manage. Look at what Mr Wang listed here:

Your MP does not look after the roads in your neighbourhood (the LTA does that).
Your MP does not look after the parks (the National Parks Board does that).
Your MP does not look after your public library (the National Library Board does that).
Your MP does not look after your sports stadium or public swimming pool (the Singapore Sports Council does that).
Your MP does not build shopping malls for you (property developers such as Capitaland do that).
Your MP does not manage your MRT line (SMRT does that).
Your MP does not manage your SBS buses (SBS does that).
Your MP does not look after your electricity supply (SP Power does that).
Your MP does not look after your carpark (the URA does that).
Your MP does not investigate crimes (the Singapore Police Force does that).
Your MP does not put out fires (the SCDF and their NSmen do that).
Your MP does not ensure that top schools are near your home (whether a school is top or not depends on the students’ efforts).
Your MP doesn’t prevent mosquito breeding (the NEA does that).

OK, we’ve to give credit to the co-ordination and lobbying of the MP on behalf of residents to these multiple agencies and corporations. But from what we seem to be hearing and reading, PAP MPs take credit for many of the above items which, well, they don’t really personally do (and sometimes beyond their control).

Personally, I think it’s partly the fault of S’poreans too. A MP isn’t a Superman. Painting peeling off the HDB block? MP’s responsibility arh? The MP might be chairing the town council, but it’s the town council which professionally runs the estate. Of course if the town council isn’t doing well and the MP doesn’t recognise this, then the MP is at fault.

And partly the fault of the PAP, for over-emphasizing municipal issues. All the slum talk. Have Hougang and Potong Pasir turn to slums? More importantly, if an entire GRC goes over to the opposition, can the PAP government afford to neglect more than 100,000 residents by denying funds?

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If Aljunied were Won or Lost by PAP

It’s hard to predict the outcome of this particular general elections. The most pessimistic scenario is one where PAP wins all the seats i.e. 87 vs. 0. The most realistic scenarios are either 81 vs.6 or 85 vs. 2, with the Workers Party securing Aljunied and Hougang in the former (and possibly SPP taking Potong Pasir), and SPP and WP securing two in the latter.

What happens if the outcome is 85 vs. 2 i.e. Hougang and Potong Pasir stay opposition, Aljunied stays PAP, albeit by narrow margin? I think voters in Aljunied must look at past elections before voting:

  • 1988: Eunos GRC (3-member), PAP vs. WP, 50.89 vs. 49.11
  • 1991: Eunos GRC (4-member), PAP vs. WP, 52.39 vs. 47.62
  • 1997: Gone!

I’m not sure if the expansion of Eunos GRC in 1991 contributed to the PAP’s slight increase in its margin of  victory. Or if there was any gerrymandering in 1991. Look at another example:

  • 1997: Cheng San GRC (5-member), PAP vs. WP, 54.82 vs. 45.18
  • 2001: Gone!

If the PAP wins Aljunied with a narrow margin on 7 May, in the next elections, there will be a huge possibility the GRC will be carved out. It’ll disappear on the electoral map.

What if the outcome is 81 vs. 6 (or 80 vs. 7) i.e. Hougang, Potong Pasir and Aljunied go to the opposition?

George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua and Zainal Abidin are presently ministers. They will lose their seats and portfolios, but the PAP government doesn’t crash. And its shortage of talent problem is exaggerated.

Just take a look at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently, George Yeo is the minister while Zainal Abidin is the Senior Minister of State. The second minister is Raymond Lim, who is also the transport minister. If George Yeo were booted out, the PM still has a few candidates to fill his portfolio:

  • Senior Minister Goh himself. He seems to be traveling overseas frequently anyway, so might as well appoint him as Foreign Affairs minister. Still, this is an unlikely decision, because of his age, and the PAP keeps harping about its 4th generation leadership.
  • Raymond Lim to become Foreign Affairs minister, and someone else to take his transport portfolio. From the list I complied, MOE and MTI each has an extra minister of state – S Iswaran is holding double portfolios, so he could be promoted to be transport minister. Alternatively, a minister can hold dual portfolios.
  • What about minister of state in the Foreign Affairs ministry? It’s likely a minister of state among the new candidates would be appointed anyway, but he or she would have to do without a mentor.

And the Speaker of Parliament?

  • Why not Indranee Rajah, the Deputy Speaker?
  • No other candidates?

The PAP is simply scaring the electorate. Losing George Yeo is very bad, but it’s their fault anyway. But losing him does not mean the end of the world, since the PAP is likely to have more than two-thirds majority. And from among its MPs, I’m sure most of them are sufficiently capable to become a minister, and not just a mere backbencher.

So, voters in Aljunied should weigh the consequences, as advised by MM Lee. Their future voting choices, or the loss of replaceable ministers?

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If George Yeo goes, it’s the PAP’s fault

The PAP invested heavily in GRCs, believing that a GRC is their fixed deposit. But they failed to anticipate that Low and Chiam would forsake their strongholds of Hougang and Potong Pasir respectively to contest in GRCs. Now, with Low leading his A Team to contest Aljunied, there is a huge possibility the GRC might be the first to fall into opposition hands. And if it happens, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo will lose his seat as well as his portfolio, which will really be a loss for Singapore, as unlike some ministers, he has performed well, is intellectual yet humble and likable.

Look at what SM Goh said:

Speaking at a rally in Marine Parade GRC, Mr Goh in particular spoke of the potential impact should Mr Yeo lose his seat.

Mr Goh said Mr Yeo has been handling delicate negotiations with Malaysia and Indonesia on border issues.

Mr Goh also said Singapore has what he described as a “beautiful arrangement” – with an Indian as President, a Chinese as Prime Minister and a Malay, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, as potential Speaker of Parliament.

Mr Goh said: “On the basis of merit we ended up with this, a politically balanced, beautiful picture.

“You knock out George Yeo and Zainul Abidin. Well, you’ll have to look for another Speaker on the basis of merit. Well, that person may not be Zainul Abidin once he’s out, or another Malay MP.

In the first place, it is the PAP which created the GRC system, expanded it from a 3-member-ward to a 5- or 6-member-ward, drastically reduced the number of single-member-wards, and appointed cabinet ministers to helm each GRC. For the past two decades they have benefited from the GRC system in several ways: 1) absorbing opposition-leaning wards into GRCs, 2) creating physical barriers for opposition parties to contest GRCs, 3) and parachuting first-time candidates so that they will win by walkovers or with the help of their experienced teammates.

All these have diluted the voices of opposition supporters, as well as taking away a fundamental right of citizens – that of voting. Voting is not banned, but the co-relation between the size and number of GRCs and the number of walkover constituencies results in a trend that many S’poreans are unable to vote in every elections. Maybe these S’poreans would have voted the PAP anyway, but without elections, there IS no way to know how S’poreans would vote. Maybe the opposition parties should take the blame for being unable to muster the resources, but at the same time, an unfair system is hurting them even more.

If Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo were to contest in a single-member ward, he could have won easily. So could Zainul Abidin. But the PAP chose to create the GRC system, chose to put two heavyweights in one GRC, and did not anticipate that a veteran opposition MP would risk his political career to make an all-out bid for a GRC. To Low Thia Kiang’s shrewdness, he has made the contest in Aljunied a referendum on the type of political system which S’poreans desire – a monolithic PAP in Parliament, or a dominant PAP with about 33 percent Opposition MPs? The feeble response of the PAP team is to turn the contest into one involving municipal issues, a sign that they understand Low’s message is somewhat reasonable, and will attract some swing voters.

Surprisingly, the PAP has not trotted out the guaranteed number of 9 NCMPs seats. One reason is that Low is popular, and there are many who want to see him represent them as an elected MP, rather than a NCMP (who represents no one and is second-class). But I think S’poreans will not vote opposition just because of the guaranteed NCMPs; to them, it is very simple, a NCMP is still a loser, not a winner, in this first-past-the-post electoral system.

Personally, I’d like George Yeo to remain as Foreign Affairs minister, but like Aljunied residents, I think the Workers’ Party’s idea of a First World Parliament is beneficial for S’pore’s future. Who is at fault for creating this ’emotional dilemma’?

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Why Workers’ Party might be wrong

During the Workers’ Party launch of its manifesto, Sylvia Lim claimed that one-third of Parliament should be held by the opposition, so as to block the governing party from amending the constitution at will. The PAP then responded that there is no model for First World Parliament, that bitter partisan struggles which result in inefficient government are prevalent in developed countries…criticism which S’poreans have often heard, and I think many of us believe this. A few weeks ago, a friend commented that a two-party system, with one party saying ‘yes’ and the other saying ‘no’, would lead to deadlocks in government, so it is absolutely unworkable. On the surface, perhaps.

However, while it is desirable for the opposition and some S’poreans to have a substantial check in Parliament, it might NOT be possible. Often we think of Singapore as a ‘country’, but it is nothing more than a small city, a city-state to be precise. Hence Singapore has a few characteristics:

  1. There’s no real geographical divide. There’s no lowland vs. hilltop, coastal vs. inland etc, rural vs. urban. Parties can hardly spring out from Bukit Batok or Potong Pasir and claim to represent a special group of people; there’s none.
  2. An overwhelming majority of the population lives in public housing, and there is no concentration of rich areas or slums. When parties root for support in a particular ward, this ward is not likely to diverge greatly from the national average.
  3. Even the ethnic make-up in each ward is likely to be similar to national statistics, part of it might be due to the Ethnic Integration Policy. There’s no concentration of Malays or Indians such that they can create strongholds or safe deposits.

From these characteristics, parties which represent narrow interests are likely to fail miserably. Instead, personalities are very important for political parties to win individual wards. Hence Chiam See Tong holding Potong Pasir for more than two decades, yet his parties did not expand their parliamentary presence much. These characteristics also ensure the longevity of the PAP’s dominance. It’s partly because of history, and partly because of Singapore’s city context, that the PAP has enjoyed such dominance.

Furthermore, the first-past-the-post system means the winner takes a seat even if he has a winning margin of 1 percent. The system has a tendency of throwing up strong governments with a clear majority. In Singapore, this is complicated by the existence of GRCs, which homogenizes voting patterns across a few wards – the election results of a GRC has a tendency toward the national average. And if we include gerrymandering, this means that it is more difficult for opposition parties to capture parliamentary seats.

With these conclusions, a predictable outcome is that a strong party can win more than two thirds of the seats to form a government with a supernormal majority. Of course, critics will have you believe this is because of the PAP’s engineering of the electoral system to benefit themselves, but I think geographical circumstances have been neglected.

In Singapore, a two-party system is likely to be this:

  1. Strong governing party (PAP) with supernormal majority
  2. A token representation by one or two parties
  3. A few other active parties but with no parliamentary presence

So that’s why the WP might be wrong in thinking it’s possible for one-third of seats to be occupied by opposition members.

However, since the system and context of Singapore are skewed to produce strong governments, an opposition party does not have to capture a few seats and gradually build its strength for 50 or 100 years. What it can do is simply to proclaim that it is willing and capable to form the next government, and seek to contest every single ward. Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen has challenged the opposition to form a new government. It is obviously impossible, because the opposition parties have no intention to take over the government.

But I think if an opposition party, or even an alliance, simply declares this intention and fields candidates in all seats, and given the right set of circumstances, this serious threat will by itself create a two-party system. A two-party system does not require one opposition party or a few of them holding a substantial number of seats. The only meaningful system which will work in Singapore is simply a threat of replacement.

For example, in 2031, the WP might have a core leadership consisting of a potential prime minister, finance minister etc. This core team can declare an early intention to field candidates in all wards, to slug it out with the PAP at the polls. If the ground is not so sweet for the PAP, then either they attack the WP or respond to the influence exerted by the (few or solo) WP opposition MPs of the day.

Obviously the limitation to the growth of opposition parties is the lack of talent, but this general elections might be the start of a trend in which highly-qualified individuals i.e. former government scholars are willing to join them. It might take years, decades before any opposition party can claim to form a new government. That’s why all the opposition parties are desperate to a win a GRC, as a sizable number of elected MPs can help them expand in terms of political influence and attraction. But I doubt one-third would be won or could be won…

In any case, if one day a non-PAP government were formed, this government is likely to have at least a two-thirds majority. And that is all which is needed to undo PAP policies or amend the constitution – perhaps to lock out the PAP for good. History shows ruling parties do not last forever, so making the system fair to give themselves a second chance will seem to be good foresight later on.

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WP: Freedom of Info

Asked by reporters to comment on the Workers’ Party’s proposal in it’s manifesto released last week, to introduce a Freedom of Information Act, Mr Lui said it is not necessary.

This is because the Government already puts up a lot of information on its websites, said Mr Lui during during a visit to Block 49 Sims Place Market and Food Centre, with Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, MP Denise Phua and People’s Action Party new face Edwin Tong.

They form the likely line-up to contest the new Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

Mr Lui also told reporters that the government has also taken steps to relax several laws on censorship and Internet election advertising.

Noting that several of WP’s ideas are imported from abroad, Mr Lui cautioned against adopting them wholesale as there are serious consequences if they do not work for Singapore.

‘At the end of the day, the road to the abyss is paved with good intentions,’ he said.

(“Not all ideas work for Singapore: Lui“, The Straits Times)

Obviously the Minister doesn’t understand a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Sure, there’s plenty of stuff on government websites…but that’s NOT the point. No doubt the government has a heavy online presence, but it is limited to speeches, press conferences, procedures or policies etc. Yes, anyone through the Internet can find out how to apply for a HDB flat, a business permit, or how to renew his passport. Government websites are designed in a corporate manner, to allow citizens to conduct their ‘business’ on the websites.

These websites introduce the ministries, their visions and missions, organization charts. It is true that anyone with Internet access can find out who is the director of this and this, and even contact him.

But a FOIA is very different. A FOIA means the government is obliged, if a citizen requests, to release any information, except for those relating to national security, law enforcement, individual privacy, internal standard operating procedures for each ministry, sensitive financial records etc. For example, the NEA holds records on dengue ‘hot spots’. Let us assume they are undisclosed, but we know they have such records. Hence a concerned citizen can make a request to the NEA, and the NEA will have to tell him where the dengue hot spots are. NEA can only reject the request if the records are exempted from public access due to national security etc.

Or a historian can request the ISD for files on Operation Spectrum, which arrested alleged Marxists in the late 1980s.  Or a S’porean can ask HDB for records on how much subsidies he receives when he purchases a new flat. You get the drift…

Minister Lui claims many of the Workers’ Party’s ideas are imported, so they are impractical in Singapore. I don’t know how, but expanding the freedom of information access is definitely good for Singaporeans. That is something universal.

If I were given a choice between the PAP and the WP, and the only evaluation criteria is on media, arts and information, I’d support the WP. I mentioned previously that arts licensing and declassification of sensitive records after a set period are two proposals I think are good for Singapore. Now I further support their Freedom of Information Act proposal:

1. We should enact a Freedom of Information Act containing provisions to allow citizens to gather information from the State and to ensure that the government puts out sufficient information.

2. Temporary statistics and information collected by the government, particularly aggregated social statistics, shall, as far as possible, be de-classisfied and made available in the public domain to promote research and informed debate on matters of public interest.
My reasons are simple:
  1. S’poreans have a right to ask the government for records, if the request is reasonable and doable e.g. as the records already exist, it is a matter of publication, not creating new ones.
  2. Availability of information, subjected to some restrictions, creates transparency. This principle should be consistently applied, and not on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Lastly, the government is not a secret keeper. Yes, there are some secrets regarding the military, financial reserves, etc but these are understandable secrets. Other than these, any interested citizen should be able to browse through government files. A government is not a business anyway, so why lock the information up?
The PAP government is too uptight over information rules. It even banned a former leftist’s video, as apparently it hurts public interest. Yet to the historian this video is an important evidence, providing an alternative perspective to the PAP-Singapore Story. And what public interest can the video possibly hurt, when this leftist is aged and powerless?

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