Wednesday, May 18, 2011

PAP’s GE2011 Post-mortem

Clearly, there must be, by now, a document with this title being circulated amongst PAP’s top cadre. The following is just my own stab in the dark – and if you’ve been (mis)led here by a keyword search, thinking it’s the real McCoy, I’m sorry. (And I’m not alone in saying so).

Traditionally, in Singapore politics, we can almost expect opposition politicians to trip up. In GE2001, it was Chee Soon Juan heckling the PM. In GE2006, it was the James Gomez saga. This year, we had Kenneth Jeyaretnam misquoting PM in a condolence letter.

Conversely, it was a given that PAP would roll a near-perfect score. Candidates with impeccable resumes would be trotted out; not all are eloquent but by-and-large, all generally somewhat likable. If all candidates were stripped of party affiliation, it would be a fair statement that the majority would chose the PAP candidates. Add the party’s huge resources, and every move is strategically-motivated and ably executed, leaving very little to chance.

But the tide seems to have turned in GE2011, with a 6.5% slip in votes and the loss of a GRC. Did the PAP play its cards wrongly this time? Or is the PAP’s new vulnerability a result of the shifting sands?

Let’s look at what I consider to be the three key mistakes in PAP’s GE2011 campaign.

[Note: Here, I define a “mistake” as something that – on hindsight – one wishes that one had not done; even so, I understand that you may not agree with what I consider a mistake, and if so, I’m sorry (again).]

Mistake 1: Fielding Tin Pei Ling. With the massive negative reaction following TPL’s introduction, the PAP could have shelved her candidature for one term; by their own admission, PAP has a slate of reserve candidates which included at least one surgeon. But, no, PAP chose to drive her into Parliament in the armoured convoy known as Marine Parade GRC. The convoy made it, but not without significant battle damage; SM Goh Chok Tong has announced his retirement from the Cabinet’ speculation is that it is linked to his GRC’s low share of votes.

Mistake 2: The Steve Tan faux pas. Clearly the PAP’s due diligence process is showing some cracks; perhaps there are some things that do not come up in polite conversation over a cuppa. In any case, Tanjong Pagar MP Baey Yam Keng was sent east to fill the ranks while overnight MP Dr Chia Shi-Lu got to walk(over) into Parliament as part of MM Lee Kuan Yew’s armoured convoy. (MM has since announced his retirement along with SM Goh, which makes one wonder if it has anything to do with his remarks on the Muslim integration or about Aljunied voters repenting).

The biggest mistake, IMHO, is to play for broke in Aljunied. With the GRC system, the nomination of candidates is akin to the game of Chinese poker. You can either spread out your chances or go for broke. It is not necessary a winning strategy – WP won both in Aljunied and Hougang; SPP lost both Potong Pasir and Bishan-Toa Payoh.

It was politically unfeasible to move FM George Yeo into a ‘safe’ ward. PM upped the ante in Aljunied with the announcement that MP Zainal Abidin would be Speaker of Parliament. Newbie (and touted 4G leader) Ong Ye Kung was probably sent there on account on his being more charismatic than the other new recruits. Still, this set proved no match for the WP’s A-team.

During the fog of the hustings, it was passé to praise but kosher to criticize. It was too easy to overlook the successes of the PAP administration over the past 5 years, especially during the Global Financial Crisis, where the introduction of Workfare and Jobs Credit effectively staved off unemployment, or new developments such as the Marina Bay area, Sentosa’s Resort World and the F1 night race.

In GE2011, PM Lee earned a mixed mandate. While PAP as a whole has lost points, PM’s Ang Mo Kio GRC enjoyed one of the strongest returns, providing him with moral authority that was not available to him in GE2006. The departure of MM Lee, SM Goh, Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim further heralds the possibility of changes, and the one clear message from GE2011 is that changes need to be made. Not only in the Cabinet, but also within the PAP itself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

GE: One Week Later

Things are still falling into place about one week after the milestone 2011 election in Singapore's opposition history, besides other significant periods. 1968 and the irresponsible Barisan Socialis boycott and the chance for PAP to monopolise parliament until 1981. 1981 and the Anson By-election. 1984 and Anson and Potong Pasir. The breakthrough 1991 and 20 years later, 2011.

PAP Looking Ahead and Making the Right Sounds For Now

On the PAP front, the most startling and welcomed news is that MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong are finally giving up their Cabinet positions, if the PM accepted their resignations. Finally, and it is about time. Looking at the recent political damage done by the two former PMs of Singapore to their own party especially, their departure from cabinet is long overdue. MM Lee's hard truths on the supposed lack of Malay integration which is perhaps partly true and partly false depending on perspective, did not sit well with politically correct Singaporeans. SM Goh also did his fair bit to provoke Singaporeans in October 2010 when he mused why he should continue to work for Singaporeans who felt that they didn't belong to Singapore. Nobody wanted him to work at all and for him to be paid millions if you asked me. The GE period recently also showed how these two old men managed to sabotage PM Lee's PAP's campaign which was already being shaken. MM Lee's repent ultimatum to Aljunied residents and SM Goh's desperate attempts to protect George Yeo at the expense of other cabinet ministers showed that PM Lee was not using the Whip enough, if at all.

The resignations suggested that the PAP has got it into their thick heads that Singaporeans are frustrated with retired PMs who are holding cabinet positions and getting million dollar salaries. Naturally if the two former PMs want to contribute, they can contribute pro bono or at an MP allowance which is what they are proposing to do now. It is assuring that the PAP is making quick moves to demonstrate that they are trying to win back Singaporeans, after winning the recent GE by one of the lowest winning margin in years.

WP is Already Ahead and Looking Good

Lots have been said on the WP and the WP is basking in its glory as it rightly should. They were good sportsmen when they won Aljunied, just like the PAP Aljunied team was also quite gracious when their faces were pushed into the mud. However, the Eric Tan debacle showed that while WP's pre-GE and GE discipline is exemplary, cracks are surprisingly beginning to show post-GE. Coldly calculated, the choice of Gerald Giam over Eric Tan as NCMP actually underlined WP's strategic view and its willingness to offend its key party members for the party's long term good. The whole of Singapore would be watching when WP sits in parliament soon and how WP is going to use not only the 6 MPs, but the 2 NCMPs as well. Former NCMP and now MP Sylvia Lim already left big shoes for her WP NCMP cadres to step into.

The Other Opposition Merely Looked Good

The other political parties are also coming to terms in their defeat in the 2011 GE. Some might have improved in their performance from GE 2006 but in a GE and as long as the opposition candidates were not elected into parliament, it does not mean anything significant despite anything consoling pundits say.

The Reform Party marched into the scene with much celebratory fanfare last year but its GE performance was horrible. Kenneth Jayaretnam has been relatively quiet on his loss so far. In contrast, Goh Meng Seng from the NSP was more forthcoming on his reflections of his defeat and he gentlemanly has taken full responsibility for it. He had a good team, made up of former Reform Party members but his party's branding was hijacked by the Nicole Seah phenomenon and this showed that he might have to crack his party whip on his members like Nicole Seah who looked like they have their own independent media campaigns.

SDP despite its rebranding and hooking of a former PPS to Goh Chok Tong and the eloquent Vincent Wijesingha also failed to win any seats. SDP's performance was actually disappointing as they had a strong new media campaign as well which surpassed that of the other parties including WP. However, in the end in SDP's case, there was a limit to how much Internet campaigning and popular culture branding worked in getting votes. SDP's Danny the Bear was also a novelty at best and a cheapening and trivialisation of SDP's political message at worst.

In contrast to the WP victories in Aljunied and Hougang, SPP's defeat in Bishan-Toa Payoh and Potong Pasir did mar Singaporeans' optimism in opposition strongholds lasting forever. What rubbed salt into the wound in Potong Pasir, albeit SPP did what they could to calm their people, was the petty petition by some Potong Pasir residents who insinuated there was unfairness and were in denial over PAP's win in their SMC. Those who participated in the petition were the proverbial sore losers and their incredulous reaction from their doubt mocked the entire voting system. SPP themselves accept the results and that should be the end of it. On SPP's rocky future, Lina Chiam accepted the NCMP offer. Looking at her dismal maiden debate among political peers during the CNA panel discussion last month, the chances of Lina Chiam standing tall and toe-to-toe with PAP MPs in parliamentary debates are horribly slim. From the quality of Lina Chiam as a poltician, that NCMP slot could have been controversially surrendered and offered to WP instead, although that is a politically naive move if SPP did that.