Congratulations to Ms Lee Li Lian in winning the Punggol East seat on January 26, 2013. With 16,038 from 29,832 votes cast, she commanded a lead that was not assailable by the incumbent party’s candidate Dr Koh.
As I alluded to in my post on January 24th, I had no doubt that the Worker’s Party would win. I was unsure of the margin and was expecting it to be narrower not the whopping 10.83%. It was obvious to me that the WP will win for it was clear in the Internet chatter via social media and engagements with fellow Singaporeans. The irony of it, to me, is that I don’t personally know of anyone living in that area and eligible to vote, so all my highly unscientific analysis was a combination of gut feel and reading of the Internet tea leaves! It could also be a result of almost 100% personal shut off of all MSM content and when I did come across it, viewing it skeptically and dismissing it in my mind as noise.
I am disappointed that the ruling party, at the press conference accepting the defeat, attributing the loss to “local issues” and that “we always knew it was going to be difficult”. That’s spinning the story without so much as answering the fundamental issues.
Here are some thoughts on why PAP failed spectacularly on January 26:
a) The area is a “new” HDB dominated town and the traditionally used carrot-and-stick approach of lift upgrading etc could not work so it was not even tried.
b) The vast majority of people living there came from other places and to parachute in Dr Koh and say that he is a “son of Punggol” is ludicrous. Dr Koh’s family moved away from Punggol when he was three years old and never returned. I am sure Dr Koh is very embarrassed by the PAP labelling as such. I am sure Dr Koh will be hard pressed to even find which part of Punggol East was his childhood home, if even it is in that precinct. Lesson to PAP spin doctors: don’t craft things that might sound catchy; it can and will backfire.
c) Announcing that there will be a MRT extension to Punggol by 2030 smack in the middle of the campaigning is as stupid as stupid gets. These types of announcements of carrots should be disallowed during any election campaign period because of the simple reason that it will only favour the ruling party for they are the ones with the inside knowledge. This is very similar to insider trading and should carry same penalties.
d) What kinds of local issues are there to begin with? If we stretch the repair and renovation delays of the Rivervale Mall and label that as a local issue, then OK. But really? A mall undergoing repairs is an issue? Come on. Singaporeans are not daft, PAP campaign managers are.
The PAP only knows of campaign models from the 1960s and 70s. Because of the ugly walk-overs of the 70s-90s, there was no means to improve and adopt campaign models and so the PAP’s election machinery knew only one way to work. The Internet-savvy and MSM-distrusting voter population of today is able to see right through the veil. It does not help also that the so-called “PAP Internet Brigade” and “Fabrications about the PAP” who go around in social media and other sites and misbehave instead of engaging thoughtfully.
PAP lost because they’ve seriously diminished credibility. MP Teo Ho Pin shot himself in the foot, again, with another disappointing reply about the AIM scandal. Did he and the PAP really think that by responding that way, it will sway the opinion to their side? It would have been better for them not to have said a thing. But then again, this is the PAP, a party that knows no better. Perhaps Teo Chee Hean was right after all when he said “we knew it was going to be difficult”. His fumbling party members made it even more difficult.
So, what now for the prime minister and his severely diminished standing. A standing that has taken major beatings since 2011.
He led his party to a very narrow win the 2011 general elections with razor thin margins. In that process his party lost ministers all over the place – six of them if I am correct. And in that 2011 general election, their gerrymandering technique of the Group Representation Constituency backfired spectacularly when the Worker’s Party won the Aljunied GRC. That’s political bloodshed. The bloodshed did not cost the PM his job though. Any other normal political party would have seen a purge for failed leadership. Why did it not happen? Perhaps the politically correct thing to say is that the leadership is calcified and in very severe group think. Very few of the PAP cabinet are alternative thinkers and if they are, we have not seen anything. Perhaps the WP, in gathering the seats in parliament, will be able to form a shadow cabinet and offer thoughtful comments and engage. I think the WP will but it will take some time to bring in people.
Next was the presidential election where the PAP-endorsed candidate won the presidency by a margin thinner than a razor’s edge, a gap of less than 0.5%.
And very quickly after that, the PAP fumbled again in not being able to make a dent at the Hougang by-election.
And then last night’s Punggol East victory by the WP, capturing the seat that was PAP held until last December.
Much speculations center around the PAP splintering internally in the post-LKY world. The suggestions that there will emerge an ultra conservative religiously-based (Christian mostly) splinter, another that is far more accommodative and liberal with a technocrat bent and a third, smaller splinter that harks back to the early PAP days. What will prevail, who knows? Perhaps the PAP and LKY can do each other a favour and part ways NOW. Yes, that will trigger another by-election in Tanjong Pagar but the sooner the better instead of waiting till 2016 and feeling a bigger defeat.
The splintering notwithstanding, the PAP should eat humble pie and engage honestly with the citizens. The ongoing “Singapore Conversations” are good but insufficient in their attempts at reaching out. I have not attended any of those conversations yet and don’t personally know of any one who has. How about using IRC or Google Hangouts as well? I reckon they need control.
How about an “Honest Singapore Conversation” instead? Let’s start by publishing the following (in no particular order):
- Immigration statistics – lay it out and place it in data.gov.sg
- Public housing statistics – put it out in data.gov.sg
- What is the real standing of our reserves managed by Temasek and GIC; full disclosure of losses and investments – again, put it out in data.gov.sg
- Full and transparent detailing of all PAP-owned companies doing business with government especially given the AIM fiasco?
- What are we doing for the impending disaster of climate change?
- How much money have we spent on wasteful IT solutions in government and why is the government not the leading open source software user? And, you guessed it, put it out in data.gov.sg. I am also eagerly looking forward to opensource.gov.sg as well – my offer to help build an open source town council management solution notwithstanding.
We can do better, much better, Singapore.