Sunday, May 1, 2011

Support base led Low to pick Aljunied

May 1, 2011
By Kor Kian Beng , Zakir Hussain

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's stunning decision on Nomination Day to move out of his Hougang single seat to contest Aljunied GRC has been the talking point of the week.

But he has also revealed that he could have picked one of the other three Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) - Moulmein-Kallang, Nee Soon and East Coast.

Party sources gave The Sunday Times an insight into his calculations and how he came to settle on Aljunied GRC.

'You know Mr Low. He was obviously open to all the GRCs,' said a source, citing Mr Low's reputation as a cautious strategist.

To start with, it was a process of elimination. It is believed that East Coast GRC was ruled out almost immediately as WP treasurer Eric Tan, 55, had been given the mandate by Mr Low to be the GRC team leader and to run the election campaign on his own. Mr Tan contested in East Coast in the 2006 polls.

That left the four-member Moulmein-Kallang and the five-member Nee Soon GRCs.

Nee Soon was seen as a plausible battleground as it includes two former single seats - Nee Soon East and Nee Soon Central - where the WP had previously contested.

But eventually, Nee Soon GRC's distance from the WP's support base around Hougang was viewed as a negative factor as party leaders thought it could put a strain on the party's resources and manpower.

Another factor was that Mr Low wanted to give the WP's Northern Area Committee chairman, DrJohn Yam, free rein to build up a new territory.

In the case of Moulmein-Kallang, proximity to the Hougang base was its biggest draw. It is close to the two opposition-held wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir and WP leaders believed there could be a 'spillover' effect.

It helped too that its People's Action Party (PAP) team leader was Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, thought by some to have fared poorly in explaining the flooding that hit various parts of Singapore last year.

The other draw of the four-man GRC is its size: It is the smallest GRC, with just 87,595 voters - 4,000 fewer than the other four- member GRC, Holland-Bukit Timah.

But Moulmein-Kallang was not chosen in the end. Party talk has it that Mr Low chose to give it a miss because the WP had let slip a highly qualified potential candidate who was supposed to partner him.

However, a party source rubbished the claim: 'No. As far as I know, there was no 'secret weapon'. This was the same Moulmein- Kallang line-up that we had been planning for.'

So although Moulmein-Kallang GRC was a possibility, Mr Low decided eventually on Aljunied GRC, so as to leverage on the existing support there.

In 2006, the WP had sent an 'A' team to contest in Aljunied GRC, led by party chairman Sylvia Lim, garnering 43.9 per cent of the valid votes.

It was the best result by an opposition GRC team in that election, which saw Ms Lim qualifying for a Non-Constituency MP post.

Aljunied also surrounds Hougang constituency, which is MrLow's power base. If past experiences are anything to go by, events in neighbouring wards do influence vote share.

It could explain why the WP has been eyeing Aljunied for a decade. Soon after Mr Low took charge of the party in May 2001, he dispatched a team to contest in the five-member ward in the November elections. The team was, however, disqualified due to incomplete nomination forms.

No such mishaps have been allowed to muck up the big battle this time.

Top-level meetings were held among the WP's GRC team leaders for their thoughts, but the ultimate call was said to have been left to Mr Low and a small group of leaders.

The decision was for him to join a top WP team in Aljunied GRC. It would include Ms Lim, corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao, postgraduate law student Pritam Singh and family counsellor Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap.

But it was a decision that MrLow kept within a tight circle, as a check with three party members showed.

One knew Mr Low was going to Aljunied GRC but was also told there could be last-minute changes; another heard Mr Low was leaving for a GRC but did not know which one; the third realised Mr Low was leaving Hougang only on Nomination Day.

No comments: