May 07, 2006

Something for Everyone

There is something for everyone judging from the results of this General Election.

The PM has obtained the strong mandate that he is seeking, with the PAP securing 66.6% of the valid votes cast. The PAP’s dominance in the government continues, with 82 seats out of the total of 84 seats in Parliament. With these 82 seats too, the PAP’s efforts at leadership renewal was uninhibited, with all 24 new candidates making it into Parliament. The PAP leadership should be relieved as well, for Foreign Minister George Yeo have fended off a strong challenge from the Worker’s Party in Aljunied GRC. For now, he can re-focus on the important work of signing more Free Trade Agreements to secure Singapore’s economic progress.

The Worker’s Party (WP) has drawn much focus in this GE, as Singaporeans were delighted to see a slate of new and young candidates from WP. While Singaporeans are generally supportive of the PAP government, many will still welcome a strong and credible opposition to facilitate debates and contests. The WP went even as far as to send a young team to PM Lee’s Ang Mo Kio GRC and came away with a good result of 33.9%. The close fight in Aljunied GRC never materialised, with the WP securing 43.9% in this GRC. But the WP had an impressing campaign, not allowing itself to be drawn into unnecessary debates (on the James Gomez issue for instance) and capitalised on the weaknesses in PAP’s arguments to win the ground (primarily the linking of votes to upgrading and means testing).

In my opinion, GE2006 is about WP renewal as it is about PAP renewal. There is never in doubt that the PAP will be able to draw good men (and women) to its camp, although some of them reportedly showed initial reluctance. But for the WP to attract credible young candidates is no easy task and Secretary General Low Thia Khiang has more than achieved this in GE2006 with his team of 20 candidates. Even PM Lee has publicly acknowledged, in the post election press conference, that WP’s better showing amongst the opposition was due to "their having better quality candidates this time". Mr Low’s achievements did not go unnoticed by the residents in his own constituency of Hougang and they gave him an uplifting mandate of 62.7%, the highest he has ever scored so far in this constituency. Overall, WP obtained 38.4% of the votes cast in their contested constituencies.

The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) fared reasonably well, securing 32.5% overall. Mr Chiam See Tong, at 71 years old and leader of the SDA, frustrated the PAP yet again in his constituency of Potong Pasir, where he has been representing since 1984. Despite a very strong challenge from the PAP which dangled "carrots" such as lift upgrading and a "Kallang Promenade", Mr Chiam held on. His campaign, however, was not without its fair share of uncertainties. In perhaps one moment of carelessness, Mr Chiam allowed himself to be drawn into a debate on macro-economics and nearly paid the price with his concepts of economic reunion with Malaysia. Thankfully, Mr Chiam managed to get back on track with his calls on the voters to support him on the basis of providing checks and balances in Parliament.

One wonders then, if there is anything for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which polled 23.2% overall. This is a distinct gap from the other Opposition parties. PM Lee offered an explanation, "voters reject the sort of politics which the SDP and Chee Soon Juan represent". The SDP will of course, draw their own conclusions, but if Ms Chee Siok Chin’s statement after the announcement of results is any indication, the SDP may have missed yet another opportunity to examine itself and get back on track. Meanwhile, the cloud of uncertainty continues to linger over the SDP, with potential lawsuits threatening to eliminate the party that, only as recent as 1991, created history by sending in 3 representatives into Parliament at the expense of the PAP.

The voters have spoken on 6 May and it is now up to the various political parties to interpret what messages came out from those ballot boxes. The PAP should be aware that 1 out of 3 voters has chosen to vote against them. In his press conference last night, PM Lee highlighted that a portion of them may not disagree with the PAP, but rather they have voted for an opposition voice in Parliament, secured in the knowledge that the PAP will form the government on polling day. Then there are also people with specific problems. The PAP government will have to address the concerns of these people, to win them back in the next election. Given the diverse background of the 24 new PAP MPs, there is indeed a higher chance that the PAP will be able to promote the inclusive society that it promises in its Manifesto.

For the WP, there is a signal that their work has not gone unnoticed and unappreciated. Whilst not quite earth-shaking in terms of parliamentary representation, it is still an encouraging sign to know that there is room for progress once the party moved away from "gutter politics". In the days ahead, much will fall upon Mr Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim to keep up with the profile of the WP, which has rose a few rankings after their impressive campaign.

I did not get the chance to vote in this election, but followed the campaigning closely every day. I welcome the results which sent a clear signal that the PAP government has a strong mandate to lead the country, in tackling issues that includes economic survival, bird flu, terrorism, social vibrancy etc. I am delighted too, with Mr Low’s statement that the "renewal process of WP is on track". In my opinion, a strong and credible opposition is in the long term beneficial interests of Singapore.

What then, are the things which makes me uncomfortable in this GE? There are a few:-
Linking upgrading to votes
I wish that our leaders will not ever link estate upgrading programmes to votes for the PAP again. It goes against our fundamental beliefs that we are creating a Singapore for all Singaporeans, as epitomised in our National Pledge. It has shown to be have limited tactical advantage for the PAP as well, as clearly demonstrated by the results in Hougang and Potong Pasir, where the issue was brought out most aggressively. In fact, I would venture as far as to say that this line of campaigning is making it difficult even for those who have supported the PAP to agree with the logic of it. For those who are sympathetic to the Opposition, this will only strengthen their resolve to disagree with the PAP government. It is divisive.
The James Gomez issue
After Mr Gomez has apologised, with every passing day, I get more and more uncomfortable with the persistence of the PAP leaders in pushing for more explanations and eventually, the issue even degenerated into a call for WP to withdraw the candidacy of Mr Gomez. At no time was there conclusive evidence of a lack of integrity on the part of Mr Gomez. It is very depressing to see some of our leaders trying to cast doubts on Mr Gomez’s character purely based on subjective interpretation of facts. My point is, once all the facts have been laid out for public scrutiny, leave it to the voters to decide. We should accord our trust in the ability of the voters to assess the facts and come to their own conclusion. Like in polling results, the voters’ decision should be upheld and respected.

Let’s move on.

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