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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Singapore General Elections 2011 - debriefing - WP's bold move

At the recent Singapore General Elections 2011, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) garnered a respectable 60.14% of the vote share and 81 out of 87 seats in Parliament, comfortably returning to power and continuing to form the government since Singapore's independence in 1965.

However, as many have noted, the 60.14% vote share can be regarded as a disappointment to the party, as it is the lowest vote share that it has ever received in all elections, not to mention the low vote share for three of its supposed powerhouse ministers, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and Minister of National Development, Mah Bow Tan. While national issues like the cost of living and influx of foreigners were to blame, the PAP also found itself being nipped at its heels by an opposition that took full advantage of the people's unhappiness.

Worker's Party logo
And as usual, leading the opposition pack was the veteran political party, the Workers' Party (WP). The WP is Singapore's oldest political party, dating back to when it was the Labour Party, which formed Singapore's first government under self-rule. Today, the WP is still highly regarded politically even if it is no longer calling the shots.

This year, the WP unveiled an admirable line-up of candidates. Besides familiar names like Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, it also boasted having highly intelligent, capable and articulate candidates. The PAP and media immediately highlighted its "star catch", Chen Show Mao, a top lawyer who had spent almost all of his adult life overseas, and was currently based in China.

Backing up this stellar line-up was the party manifesto, headlined by the bold vision, "Towards a First World Parliament". All of its candidates stuck to this platform throughout the campaigning period. At every speech, each candidate pointed out what was wrong with the PAP's policies and pointed out how the WP could be an effective check to ensure transparency and accountability. This was what the WP meant by a First World Parliament - where there are checks and balances within the legislature to ensure that the executive is at tip-top shape.

My reaction to the manifesto
However, I had wondered whether "Towards a First World Parliament" was too "airy-fairy" for the general voter. I think that, considering the hardship that the people were experiencing, they would have wanted to hear more about the WP's solutions about bread-and-butter issues. I only recall that the WP candidates touched upon their plan for mitigating housing prices (by pegging them to the median income of qualifying households) and limiting the admission of foreign workers (through a cap per industry).

I was also troubled by what had happened at the press conference when the WP unveiled its manifesto. The panel consisted of Chairperson Lim and a few members of the executive council. Secretary-General Low was pictured seated among the audience. Why would the party leader be in the audience instead of on the stage? Perhaps he wanted the younger party leaders to lead the charge. Maybe he didn't want to overload the panel by including himself and Ms Lim together.

But at the back of my mind, there was always this nagging conclusion: that Mr Low didn't fully agree with the manifesto. The idea of a "First World Parliament" sounds like something that an intellectual, such as Ms Lim, could come up with. Mr Low, on the other hand, is regarded as more down-to-earth and pragmatic. Thus, he could not fully support such a lofty manifesto that did not speak to the average man-on-the-street.

Reassurance of the WP's unity, discipline and strategy
So, throughout the campaign, I was worried that the WP would see a drop in its support because people just couldn't understand what a First World Parliament meant to their immediate livelihoods. And I was worried that a split within the WP might surface. Fortunately, I was wrong. At several rallies, Mr Low spoke as forcefully, if not more so, than his party colleagues and always ended with a strong "Towards a First World Parliament!"

Mr Low even left his bastion at Hougang to stand with Sylvia Lim and three other party members, including Mr Chen, against the PAP in Aljunied. If this wasn't a sign of party solidarity, I don't know what was. Mr Low could definitely have stayed on in Hougang, where he would have no problem being re-elected. (Indeed, his protege, Yaw Shin Leong, had a comfortable 64% of the constituency's vote share to win the poll there.)

In the end, Mr Low's gamble and the WP's bold mission were handsomely rewarded. The WP won the opposition's first-ever group representation constituency in Aljunied, unseating a popular PAP anchor minister, George Yeo. Its two party leaders will remain in Parliament (Ms Lim was a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) previously), and will be joined by their "star catch", Mr Chen. Together with Pritam Singh and Faisal Abdul Manap and Mr Yaw from Hougang (and its two NCMPs, if the party accepts the offer), I think we can expect some lively political debates in Parliament.

The WP's election result is good for Singapore. It indicates the country's baby steps into democratic maturity by recognizing that the nation is not defined by a single political party. The six (or eight) seats that the WP has in Parliament will also give it a strong foundation upon which to build towards the next election and beyond. And the voters' willingness to support it in spite of what may be a high falutin' manifesto possibly shows that the electorate isn't necessarily defined by the lowest common denominator, but can appreciate the bigger political picture. There is no need to worry or repent over for the next five years.

If the WP can achieve such a feat, do the other opposition parties also have the same opportunity? In my next post, I'll share my thoughts on the prospects of these political parties.

Disclosure: I volunteered to be a polling agent for the Workers' Party in East Coast. However, this entry is entirely my own personal viewpoint. It is in no way acknowledged nor endorsed by the WP.

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