Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where voting gaps were wider

Aug 29, 2011

Narrow victory margin, but voting patterns in different areas show more marked support for one candidate or the other
By Zakir Hussain

THE final tally in the presidential election gave Dr Tony Tan a narrow victory over Dr Tan Cheng Bock, but their support across the island was spread more unevenly. Different areas showed a marked preference for one candidate or the other.

Although his winning margin was just 0.34 percentage point, the gap in favour of Dr Tony Tan was much larger in many areas.

But Dr Tan Cheng Bock also had a clear lead in other parts whose votes were tallied earlier in the night, giving supporters hope that he was heading for a stunning victory.

The Elections Department did not release the breakdown of votes by electoral divisions, but unofficial indications of how the candidates fared - obtained from various sources - showed a significant disparity in voting patterns.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who was MP for Ayer Rajah for 26 years and still runs a clinic in Jurong West, won handsomely in large parts of the west like Ayer Rajah, Jurong and Choa Chu Kang, as well as the north-eastern new towns like Punggol and Sengkang.

[During the GE, it was clear that the western constituencies had a higher percentage of support for the PAP.]

Dr Tony Tan, who was MP for Sembawang for 27 years, won consistently in areas in the north, centre and east like Sembawang, Nee Soon and East Coast.

In many of these areas, the front runner was often a clear 3 to 6 percentage points ahead of the second-placed candidate, according to campaign sources.

Sources on both sides pin the geographic disparity down to the fact that both Dr Tans have established reputations for being good, long-serving MPs who had an ear to the ground. They also have loyal grassroots workers there. Their strong performance at these so-called local levels should affirm once again the importance of local politics and engagement.

There may also be demographic reasons for the differences across the island.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock led the count in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC's Punggol and Sengkang estates, and in parts of Hougang new town and Hougang single-member constituency (SMC).

Punggol and Sengkang have a disproportionate number of younger residents, many of whom have young children, and this demographic appears to be more likely to support him and his campaign platform.

He also appeared to have favourable support from traditional Workers' Party (WP) supporters in the party's Hougang stronghold, where WP candidate Yaw Shin Leong got 64.8 per cent of the vote in the May General Election.

In Aljunied GRC, which the WP won with 54.7 per cent of the vote in May, both Dr Tans obtained around 30 per cent of valid votes - a share similar to that obtained by Mr Tan Jee Say there.

As for Dr Tony Tan, he pulled ahead in older estates like Bedok and Pasir Ris that have traditionally been supportive of the People's Action Party (PAP).

His lead was however even greater in areas like East Coast GRC's Siglap ward and Joo Chiat SMC, where 85 per cent and 99 per cent of voters respectively live in private housing. He pulled in some 39 per cent of the vote in Siglap and 41 per cent in Joo Chiat, some 4 and 7 percentage points ahead of Dr Tan Cheng Bock respectively.

[Note that in the GE, these eastern constituencies were less supportive of the PAP. So if in the GE, the PAP were stronger in the West and in this PE TCB was the winner in the West, it would seem that TCB is more PAP than TT. And if TT is winning in the east where PAP is weaker, it would imply that he is less PAP.]

Dr Tony Tan's strong background in finance and economics and the uncertain global economic climate are likely to have drawn the more upper-middle-class residents to back him given his appeal as a steady and stable hand, activists said.

While this pool may have been more inclined to root for the opposition at a general election, they clearly had different benchmarks for the presidency.

By comparison, Mr Tan Jee Say drew some 20 per cent of the vote here.

Dr Tony Tan also led by several percentage points in many landed housing areas such as Tanglin in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

But a couple of percentage points in a smaller area, projected on a nationwide canvas, can be almost negligible.

It so happened that the votes separating Dr Tony Tan from Dr Tan Cheng Bock at many counting centres were in the double- or triple-digits, one way or the other.

They also matched Mr Tan Kin Lian's consistently low votes, which earned him the tag 'Mr 100Plus' after he received a paltry 100-plus votes at several counting centres - and 103,931 nationwide. These votes might have gone to either of the three other candidates, narrowing or widening the 7,269 gap depending on how they went.

But as Dr Tan Cheng Bock mused about the vote margin on his campaign bus early yesterday morning: It is fewer than the number of voters in the smallest SMC. But it made all the difference in deciding who got the keys to the Istana.


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