Weighing in on Singapore Elections 2011

I‘ve watched the events of the Singapore elections eagerly since nomination day via Twitter, Facebook and websites even as I was halfway around the world in New York.  I did not get a chance to vote in the 2006 Elections thanks to a walkover in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, when I was still staying with my parents, and was glad to learn that the Mountbatten SMC ward I am staying in is being contested by NSP Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss. I’m a little sad I missed most of the early excitement as I’ll only be back in Singapore late on 3 May, but am looking forward to casting my vote on 7 May.

To all voters, please understand that serial numbers on our voting slips are meant to protect against election fraud. Your vote is secret. and it is highly Orwellian and unlikely that the PAP will risk checking all of our votes.

A Watershed Elections

Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that Singapore’s 2011 Elections will be a pivotal moment in our nation’s political history and our people’s political reawakening.  For the first time in a long while, the Opposition has gotten its act together and are contesting 82 out of 87 parliamentary seats. Other than Punggol East SMC, there are no other 3-way fights, which means we’re going to see minimal wastage of votes on the 2nd-best Opposition party from the 2,350,873 voters who are eligible to vote.  The results from this election will be an excellent reflection of the real support the ruling party enjoys from the ground; the report card for its past 5 years of governance and policy-making.

Twitter and Facebook has exploded with a burst of elections-related posts, and all sorts of tweets point towards a reawakening in Singaporeans’ political consciousness.  It’s as if we’ve all awoken from a decades-long coma, and have finally found our tongue.  Other than the arrest of a man who declared online that he’d burn his vote and the ballot box, there’s been no lawsuits and libelous talk (yet).

Panorama of an Opposition rally - 29 April 2011; Courtesy of TOC

I still remember my friend and her parents’ fear and dismay when I told them about my Facebook post saying that “PAP would have to deal with more unhappy voters on its hands come next Elections“, in response to the placid responses by the relevant authorities on the 2010 Singapore floods.  They urged me not to stir trouble and speak bad of the ruling party lest I be “marked”, and couldn’t get past their own fears to realize that I was actually exercising my civic duty by speaking out and encouraging conversation around how PAP’s responses could have been improved.  I look forward to the day when all Singaporeans understand that they won’t be arrested and jailed for responsibly sharing their opinions on the state of governance and politics in their own country. For now, I think we’re off to a good start.

Hotzone 1: Marine Parade GRC – All that’s NSP’s Glitter isn’t Gold

I chimed in on the Tin Pei Ling fiasco a month ago, and adopted a neutral stance. Since then, I’ve had the chance to watch both candidates in action online, and I’m impressed with how Nicole has skillfully capitalized on the situation and turned herself into the NSP starlet.  Still, Marine Parade GRC was a walkover ward in the 2006 and 2001 Elections, and with gerrymandering plus the star-power of Senior Minister Goh (despite this misstep, among purported others), I doubt there’ll be enough anti-PAP sentiments for NSP to whip up and capitalize upon.  I don’t think NSP will win the Marine Parade GRC though, even though I’d like to be proven wrong.

Hotzone 2: Aljunied GRC – Workers’ Party Goes for Broke

I think there’s a fair chance that PAP may lose its first GRC in Aljunied.  Aljunied was a walkover ward in 2001, but saw 43.9% of its votes go to Workers’ Party in the 2006 Elections. The PAP had won 16,250 more votes.  I’m not sure how the gerrymandering has affected the demographics of the ward, but I think the combination of Low Thia Kiang’s heartlander charms, pent-up frustration at the status quo (negative halo effects of HDB prices, foreign talent, no significant increase in low-income earners) and public backlash against PAP’s fear-mongering, will be sufficient to swing votes in WP’s favour.

Hotzone 3: Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – Singapore Democratic Party = Dark Horse

There’s no real PAP heavyweight in the gerrymandered Holland-Bukit Timah GRC to counter the PAP taking shots at their own feet.  Minister Lim Swee Say has also been reassigned to help secure East Coast GRC.  To make matters worse for PAP, there’s the raw talent of Vincent Wijeysingha, the experience and credentials of ex-bureaucrat Tan Jee Say and smart sassy Michelle Lee that they’ll have to deal with.  I’m less certain of SDP’s odds for electoral success here, but I do feel like the SDP team is almost as good as the PAP team, only losing out in terms of the actual experience of running a ward.  I like Tan Jee Say’s 45-page paper “Creating Jobs and Enterprise in a New Singapore Economy”, even as I doubt he really thinks he could turn it into reality. I don’t see the Opposition gaining enough seats to form the government and influence policies in a meaningful way.  I think the paper serves as the SDP’s electoral bullet, for him to prove his credentials and garner swing votes, especially with the upper-middle and upper class demographics.

This fight is going to be close.

On hindsight, it wasn’t as close as I’d like, but SDP’s showing was decent. Pity though.

Overall Thoughts on Hot Potato Issues

And here’s my thoughts and observations on some of the prevailing conversation threads so far:

  • Cost of living – not entirely the fault of the PAP as this is a problem faced by all countries, but the middle and lower classes most certainly feel more targeted, direct and more dramatic short-term measures could have been considered; PM Lee’s promises of jobs, steady increase in real wages, stronger currency and targeted help for specific groups could ring hollow in the ears of the disenfranchised; moderate negative halo effect.
  • High salaries of Singapore’s ministers – a necessary evil imho as it would be unrealistic to rely solely on altruism and ask top talent to forgo opportunity costs; however, better alignment of incentives could be had with the adoption of Michelle Lee’s proposal, to peg their salaries to 30 times the median national income. I see this as a moderate negative halo effect on heartlanders in PAP-contested wards.
  • Expensive HDB public housing – this is a major Achilles heel in PAP’s election campaign this time round. It doesn’t help when Minister Mah dismisses the significance of loan terms in favor of % of monthly income used towards housing loan repayment. People want a good explanation why the government isn’t pursuing alternatives, but instead has gone the perceived “easy way out” by having its citizens bear the burden of increased land prices and construction costs, even as household incomes of the majority of first-time HDB buyers hasn’t increased in proportion to prices. I see this as a major negative halo effect across all of PAP’s contested wards.
  • Congested public transport & roads – one might question the wisdom of privatization of our public transport systems, given Singapore’s small market size. We ended up with a duopoly, kept in check via the PTC, even as new MRT lines being heavily subsidized by the government from reserves; I’m not sure how much real competition and efficiency this results in. The high price of COEs may also turn upper-middle and upper-class voters away. Small to moderate negative halo effect on PAP-contested wards.
  • Smear tactics and state-controlled media – deep down, the PAP truly thinks it is the only party that understands and knows Singapore well enough to run it for the good of us all, despite any of its shortcomings; it’s unrealistic to expect the PAP to play fair; hence it is natural for the incumbent to do whatever it takes to ensure its own survival. I see this as a generally small (except in the case of pro-Opposition wards) negative halo effect on PAP-contested wards; people are used to this by now.
  • Being talked down at by the PAP instead of talking with – I see this as a characteristic of the Old Guard and its old ways, also affecting select members of the 2G/3G PAP; I think it’ll go away in a generation or 2 of leaders, but in the meantime, this attitude will cost the PAP some votes. Small negative halo effect.
  • PAP rallies versus Opposition rallies – I’m a little surprised at the shortage of charisma in the PAP camp. It seems as if the Opposition has found itself a handful of solid speakers who can work a crowd, while PAP’s candidates have had to learn to get out of their policy-making desks quickly, and shift gears to speak convincingly after generations of walkovers, to voters who may deem PAP’s spiel as “same old, same old“. Tiny negative halo effect as PAP rallies don’t garner enough real voter interest anyway; what you don’t see can’t hurt you.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.