Workers' Party chief plays down big vote swing in Punggol East victory
By Leonard Lim
EVEN as Punggol East residents woke up yesterday to the start of life in an opposition ward, Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang cautioned against reading too much into last Saturday's by-election result.
The sizeable vote swing from the People's Action Party (PAP) should not be seen as a harbinger of things to come in Singapore's political scene, according to the man whose party has enjoyed growing support since the 2011 polls.
"You can't take the by-election result as one that is going to be the trend in the future," he told reporters before joining his party colleagues on a thank-you parade around Punggol East with MP-elect Lee Li Lian, who won with 54.5 per cent of the vote.
"It is a by-election, it is not a general election."
Mr Low, an MP for Aljunied GRC, said voters were not worried that they may "accidentally throw out" the government of the day even if they vote for the opposition.
Raising the same theme, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at a community event that by-elections are prone to "big swings". He added that last Saturday's results will not affect the PAP handling of national issues.
The ruling party's by-election handicap was also cited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Saturday after the result was announced.
Yesterday, Mr Low sought to inject a further dose of reality, bringing up a point that he had made throughout the campaign.
His party, he stressed, is not ready to form an alternative government and come up with a full set of policies.
Rather, at this stage of its development, it will point out problems in existing policies and offer policy suggestions.
"I think we have a competent Government... we need to allow time for the Government to work, and I hope, eventually, the policies will take effect on the ground, people's lives will be improved and we have a better Singapore."
He added that while the WP will keep the Government on its toes, "it's also not productive to politicise everything".
The WP's team in Parliament now totals nine, with the addition of Ms Lee after her 10.8 percentage point win over the PAP's Dr Koh Poh Koon. Her victory is the WP's third in as many years, after it captured Aljunied GRC in 2011, and extended its two-decades-long hold on Hougang in a by-election last year.
Observers have attributed the win to lingering unhappiness with national issues such as the rising cost of living, transport woes and stubbornly high housing prices - themes the WP tried to keep front and centre in voters' minds during the hustings.
Yesterday, in a poll of 50 Punggol East residents, such big-picture issues emerged as the top reason they plumped for the WP.
Administrative and procurement officer Catherine Lim, 40, spoke for many when she said: "The cost of living is very high. Many are trying to use the result to send feedback to the Government."
Meanwhile, the soul-searching has begun within the ruling party.
PAP MPs yesterday said that with the rising desire for more opposition and criticism that the ruling party is losing its connection with Singaporeans, re-establishing rapport with voters has become even more crucial ahead of the 2016 General Election.
Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said: "This is a reminder we need to hunker down, and work as hard as we can to get things right. As a party committed to Singapore, we have to make decisions for the long-term future of the country, but ensure we do whatever we can to help the most vulnerable.
"Hard work, common touch, gentle heart - we cannot not have more of those for the years ahead."
[Read between the lines.
What LTK is saying is that this is the second worse development for WP, and possibly for Singapore Democracy and for the opposition parties.
By winning so decisively, this By-Election results could be read as WP picking up all the dissatisfied PAP voters as well as some of the votes that previously went to SDA.
RP did not cannibalise WP votes, but only cannibalised SDA votes. That means that the majority of voters will only vote PAP or WP. All other parties are minor players if these two are in the game, and can only share in the 5% votes that go to the extreme parties.
In the next GE, if WP wants to run in any ward, it would be suicide (deposit losing time) for any other opposition to run there as well. If they have a pre-nomination day parley, realistically, they should ask WP where they are contesting and carve out the rest between themselves. And they would lose anyway. If anyone is dumb enough to make it a three-way or multi-corner fight, they would lose their deposit!
In effect, WP has dealt a death blow to the opposition movement.
What is now sinking into LTK's mind is that while winning this BE is a good thing, a better result for WP, for the opposition movement, and for SG democracy, was to have been a credible loser, winning over 40%, but still losing to PAP (this will show that they are still the underdogs), and beating the other two deposit-donating delusional dimwits (to show the people that WP is the only credible opposition).
However, if people choose to interpret the results as LTK fears, then WP will lose (a little of) the underdog status, and the other opposition parties will become irrelevant, and the whole burden of opposing the PAP falls solely on WP shoulders. And perhaps they are not ready to shoulder that responsibility.]