Thursday, April 28, 2011

Low in Aljunied: Masterstroke or Fatal Mistake?

Low Thia Khiang, looking like a brilliant general, gave a press conference after filing his nomination papers at Aljunied GRC. Nobody expected him to venture out of Hougang SMC. That’s his fortress. That’s where he has built up loyal support. His decision to cross over to Aljunied GRC has caught everyone by surprise.

This decision could turn out to be his masterstroke in what many of us are expecting to be a watershed election for the opposition in Singapore. If we assume Potong Pasir to be a safe zone and Hougang to similarly be a safe zone for the opposition, this huge gamble by him to cross over into Aljunied could finally win a GRC for the opposition. That would be 4 seats from Aljunied for a minimum of 6 opposition MPs in Parliament. It would inflict a major defeat on the PAP even though, to be honest, it in no way breaks PAP’s overwhelming control of Parliament. We would perceive this to be a major defeat because losing that GRC would involve the loss of two Cabinet Ministers. In the words of Low Thia Khiang, it would teach the PAP a lesson.

But, everything could go awfully wrong for the opposition. Chiam See Tong did not do particularly well in the last election at Potong Pasir. The margin of victory is one that the PAP could easily overhaul if Potong Pasir residents don’t view Mrs Chiam to be as dependable as her husband. Similarly, if the Hougang voters were more captured by Mr Low’s charisma than the Workers’ Party’s agenda, then Hougang could be lost too.

Aljuneid GRC was the most closely fought battleground in the last election in 2006. In its previous incarnations as Eunos GRC and Cheng San GRC, that part of Singapore has been a breeding ground for strong opposition support but always falling short. At every election, the boundaries have been redrawn for that region and any serious assault by the opposition has been neutralized. The closest outcome was 49.11% for the WP in the 1988 election when it was Eunos GRC. In the last election, the WP obtained 43.91% of the valid votes cast.

Based on the boundaries as redrawn for this election it is clear that 7 precincts have been moved out from Aljuneid to Ang Mo Kio GRC. These could have been areas with large opposition support. 6 precincts from Marine Parade GRC have been moved into Aljuneid GRC. This could neutralize opposition support. In the end, it could be a close fight and the WP could end up losing.

Such a scenario is not improbable and our Parliament might go back to where it was 30 years ago when all seats were occupied by the PAP before JBJ broke into Parliament in the 1981 Anson by-election. That is the doomsday scenario for the opposition. But, it is a scenario that does not bode well for the future of our country. It is extremely unhealthy for so much of pent up frustration to exist on the street and have no voice in Parliament. (And for God’s sake, NCMPs don’t count as a voice when they lack the powers of an elected MP.) It is quite likely that there would be a sizeable swing against the PAP of anywhere between 5% to 7% of the popular vote. Such a swing could translate into 40% of the popular vote in the country to the opposition. That, arguably would be 40% of the citizen population being disenfranchised.

The Workers’ Party gamble could go awfully wrong for the opposition as a whole. Although I hear a great deal of chatter online and on the ground that appears to express dissatisfaction, I do not think that we are going to see a massive swing in the popular vote of about 10% to 15%. Based on the previous election in 2006, the opposition only managed to get about 30% to 35% in most of the constituencies. They had a good showing in Aljunied. But, that was it. So, barring a huge electoral swing, one would not imagine the opposition scoring a win in any other GRC. Perhaps the single member constituencies could throw up some new opposition members. Perhaps not.

That’s my nightmare scenario. Let’s try the slightly more probable outcome.

Due to prevalent voter dissatisfaction, there is a 5% to 7% swing in the overall popular vote. Potong PAsir and Hougang remain with the opposition. Aljunied falls to the WP. Another 2 or 3 SMCs fall to the opposition. Likely candidates for that: Yuhua SMC, Whampoa SMC and Mounbatten SMC. So, there could be 10 opposition MPs in Parliament.

The best case scenario for the opposition would be that they capture Choa Chu Kang GRC, West Coast GRC, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Aljunied GRC, Tampines GRC, Holland-Bukit Timah… That would be 29 seats from GRCs alone. To me, that would be the ideal result to get a sudden leap into a first world parliament. That number would prevent unilateral constitutional amendments.

Well… Let’s see how things unfold. There are plenty of first time voters and plenty of young voters. This election is not going to be easy to predict.


Anonymous said...

Here's my experience when I went down to the WP rally April 29. I walked to several folks who were rooting for the WP speakers. But what they said was troubling: Of the 6 people , 2 will vote for the PAP, 3 undecided, the last one wanted to spoil his vote. Amazing but true. How to have an alternative voice in parliament?

What is saddening is that Sgs want to nick pick. One guy came from Jurong, but won't vote for the opposition guy because he doesn't like the guy. THis is the same guy who wants opposition in parliament. Another said that a certain party, not WP is unstable, so he votes PAP. He doesn't like PAP policies but still vote them in. Can't see his sense.
Another guy was undecided, actually didn't know which GRC he is in now, tks to redrawing. But you could tell he wouldn't vote for Opposition.

If people cannot see the big picture of wanting & the need for an alternative voice in parliament and everybody wants his fave oppo candidate to stand in his ward, then he will vote opposition, then we will never have a co-driver in government.
People are still studying the details of the trees in the forest. Can't people give the opposition a chance, otherwise, the PAP sweeps the election again. Aljunied goes to them. End of the story.

Subra said...

I fear the worst precisely because of what you just said. Most people that I have spoken to that express disatisfaction with PAP policies aren't willing to try out the opposition because they are looking out for only specific candidates... Everyone wants Sylvia Lim or Chen Show Mao or Low Thia Khiang... so, if they are not standing in their constituency, those voters are not going to vote for the opposition.

People attend rallies to enjoy a good show and hear some speeches for the catharsis... But, that's about it. They still vote White.
So, I am not raising my hopes up too high. May 8 may just be another ordinary daybreak and not the dawn of a new era.

But, hope springs eternal.

Subra said...

so it has come to pass! The opposition has made a breakthrough. We now have 6 WP MPs in Parliament.

Aljunied residents did not disappoint. :-)