April 28, 2011
Singapore 2011 General Elections: A Point of View
by Eugene KB Tan*
Will the 2011 Singapore General Election (GE) mark the start of a truly competitive, two- or even multi-party democracy in Singapore? Or let’s take the question further — is a “freak” election result possible, with the People’s Action Party losing power altogether?
After all, this GE will see the most number of seats being contested since independence, with 26 out of 27 electoral divisions involved. Not only have the Opposition parties found enough people to field, this slate is arguably their best to date. About 2.2 million eligible voters will make their choice on May 7, and the battle for their votes will be earnestly fought.
It goes without saying that Aljunied GRC will be most fiercely and closely contested. The Workers’ Party (WP) has fielded its “dream team”. The question is whether there will be a marked spillover effect on the other seven constituencies the WP is contesting.
In these contests, how will the WP’s manifesto of a “First World Parliament” be received by voters vis-a-vis the PAP’s long-standing belief that our political system must produce a government with a clear mandate — a strong parliamentary majority that will enable it to lead decisively in Singapore’s long-term interests?
Arguably, the political destination for the WP and the PAP is the same: It is about making Singapore politically secure and sustainable. The key difference between the two parties is how to get to the desired state of affairs. It is one of the gamut of issues, including bread-and-butter ones, that voters will have to decide on.
Ever the shrewd politician, WP leader Low Thia Khiang has upped the stakes greatly by leaving Hougang where he has been Member of Parliament for 20 years to challenge a PAP team with three office-holders and one potential office-holder.
Low has indicated that if he loses in Aljunied GRC, he won’t take up a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament seat. In short, the WP is gunning for a win-big-lose-big. A lot rides on how convincing its alternative parliamentary model is to voters.
This GE sees the GRCs, rather than the Single Member Constituencies — conventionally seen as easier battlegrounds for the Opposition — being the focal points of key electoral battles. This time the Opposition has concentrated its best candidates in GRCs. In some respects, the potential dividends from winning a GRC are much higher. And the Opposition parties seek to break the forbidding psychological and political barrier of having not won a GRC since the scheme was introduced in 1988.
What are some of the GRCs to watch? While attention will be riveted on the obvious hot seat, there could be “sleeper” hot spots that flare overnight.
One that is already shaping up for a gloves-off contest is in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where skirmishes have begun ahead of the hustings.
The re-branded Singapore Democratic Party has fielded its “A-Team” including a former top civil servant, that will seek to engage the PAP anchor Dr Vivian Balakrishnan over his ministry’s over-budget Youth Olympic Games.
The SDP’s other GRC contest is in Sembawang, a traditional PAP bastion. In both divisions we can expect the jousting to be hard and fierce. Will we see a different SDP this time, having a distinct identity from that of its leader Dr Chee Soon Juan? Will it hold firm to campaigning on the social and economic issues it has identified in its manifesto – or will it be diverted by high rhetoric, side antics and verbal tit-for-tat?
Compared to Aljunied, the stakes for the PAP in Sembawang and Holland-Bukit Timah are not as high, yet the loss of even one GRC is a blow.
Certainly, in Ang Mo Kio GRC, even a narrow win by the PAP would hurt. The team helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is up against a hastily-cobbled Reform Party team and many will see his team’s performance as a proxy barometer of national confidence in his leadership.
Also worth watching out for is the PAP’s performance in what is popularly regarded as its GRC strongholds of Bishan-Toa Payoh, Marine Parade and West Coast. Despite public interest in Opposition personalities like veteran Chiam See Tong and NSP newbie Nicole Seah, the contests are the PAP’s to lose. It remains to be seen how the Jeyaretnam brandname will sit with West Coast voters.
So, how real is the possibility of a freak election outcome?Reform Party leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam (right) yesterday dismissed the idea; PM Lee did not go down the route of fomenting anxiety over such an outcome, but said it was “good” to have a strong contest to “make Singaporeans realise more what is at stake at this election … it has very serious consequences”.
Indeed, the Singaporean voter has not been callous. In the 1991, 1997 and 2001 GEs, although the PAP was returned to Government on Nomination Day, voters still gave the PAP a credible mandate on Polling Day. Besides, playing up the fear factor of an upset may leave a negative taste with educated voters. — Today/www.themalaysianinsider.com
* Eugene KB Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law.