Friday, April 1, 2011

The PAP's greatest fear

Mar 31, 2011

By Chua Mui Hoong

WHAT is the biggest fear for the People's Action Party this coming General Election?

Is it the old spectre of a 'freak election' result that sends the PAP out of power because over 50 per cent +1 Singaporeans in 44 seats voted for the opposition, causing the PAP to lose the majority?

Chances of that happening are more remote than the odds of lightning striking the Merlion Hotel on Polling Day.

Or is the PAP's greatest fear that GE 2011 will be the watershed one where it will lose a Group Representation Constituency to the opposition?

After all, incumbent opposition MP Chiam See Tong has said he will leave Potong Pasir to his wife Lina, and cross over to contest neighbouring Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC with a team yet unannounced.

Workers' Party Low Thia Khiang, a canny politician who keeps his cards close to his chest, has hinted he might not be averse to leaving Hougang for a GRC bid. The WP has several A-list candidates, including the electable Sylvia Lim who is already in Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP, and new candidate Chen Shao Mao, who boasts degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

The WP may of course be playing a tactical game of saving its best candidates for easier-to-win single seats, rather than risking all for a GRC bid.

But if it is intent on a GRC bid with an A-team, it can expect a robust response from the PAP, which fights every seat in every election to win. The PAP can thus be expected to have on standby a heavyweight minister or two who can be moved to any GRC considered under threat, pronto.

Nomination Day may be rather thrilling, with each party likely to wait till the last possible moments between 11 am and 12 noon to file their candidates' papers. It will be a game of chicken, bluff and counter-bluff. There might even be fast car - or maybe even helicopter - races, to get the right candidates to the right centre on time.

Tactical ground responses aside, the PAP has been wooing voters ardently. Some policies - and massive giveaways of budget surpluses this year - will go some way towards sweetening the ground.

Disloding a heavyweight PAP minister-led team in a GRC, which has the backing of all the PAP government's coffers to improve the estate, will not be easy. Provided local issues don't flare up during the campaign chances are that the GRC dream will still elude the opposition. Where would that leave the opposition?

Why, possibly high and dry.

They may lose Potong Pasir (already marginal at 55.8 per cent for Mr Chiam in 2006) and Hougang, if the incumbent MPs leave. They may not win a GRC. And if they are foolish enough to divert their best candidates to contest GRCs, leaving weaker ones for single seat wards, they may end up with nothing.

The PAP might then win all the seats.

Now, that's a prospect that would turn not just the opposition, but also the PAP and every Singaporean, cold from worry.

A score of 100 per cent of seats won would not reflect the wishes of the electorate, 35 per cent of whom have consistently voted for the opposition in every GE since 1984. (The higher number of NCMPs in this Parliament makes no difference - it is elected opposition voters want, not best losers.)

The PAP has worked hard to project Singapore as an open, vibrant society globally. It has tried to meet Singaporeans' desire for more opposition in Parliament without real risk to its dominant position.

A clean sweep at GE 2011 would thus send a very wrong signal to the rest of the world and to Singapore, about the foibles of the Singapore electoral system.

That should be the biggest fear for the PAP: not a freak election result that sends it out of power, but a freak result that returns it to 87 out of 87 elected seats in Parliament.

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