Wednesday, August 5, 2015

WP, NSP in heated wrangle over three constituencies


AUGUST 5, 2015

SINGAPORE — A day after opposition leaders emerged all smiles from a three-hour meeting and declared that most potential multi-cornered fights had been resolved, it emerged yesterday that discussions were dominated by a heated tussle between the Workers’ Party (WP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) over Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Jalan Besar GRC and the MacPherson single-seat ward.

At one point, an NSP representative even threatened to send a team to contest in Aljunied GRC — which is held by the WP — if the WP refused to back down, sources who attended the closed-door meeting at the NSP’s Jalan Besar headquarters told TODAY.

The sources, who declined to be identified as the parties had agreed on keeping the discussions confidential, said the WP stood firm on its decision to send a team to contest Marine Parade GRC, where the NSP had lost in the 2011 General Election despite garnering 43.4 per cent of the votes.

The NSP had asked for the WP to withdraw its interest in Jalan Besar GRC, in return for the NSP to give up contesting Marine Parade GRC. The WP said no. There was also no room for negotiation on MacPherson Single-Member Constituency (SMC), which the NSP is also eyeing, the sources added. They said the WP maintained that it will not budge on the five GRCs (Aljunied, East Coast, Marine Parade, Nee Soon, Jalan Besar) and five SMCs (Hougang, Punggol East, Fengshan, MacPherson and Sengkang West) which it had declared its interest in, following the release of the electoral boundaries report last month.

Yesterday, both the WP and NSP conducted house visits in Serangoon Central — which falls under Marine Parade GRC — with the two entourages only hundreds of metres away from each other.

WP Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, who is likely to lead the WP’s team in Marine Parade GRC, told TODAY that his party’s position on the GRC is “firm”. The NSP declined comment, referring to the ongoing discussions that will resume tomorrow.

In the 2011 GE, Mr Yee had contested and lost narrowly in Joo Chiat SMC, which has been absorbed into Marine Parade GRC for the coming elections. Mr Yee said that apart from continuing to walk the ground in Joo Chiat after the GE, he had also started outreach efforts in the rest of the Marine Parade GRC area since “more than a year ago”.

Apart from Mr Yee, WP potential candidate Terence Tan, 44, was also spotted at the party’s house visits in Serangoon Central.

Mr Tan, who was one of the speakers at a WP rally in the Punggol East by-election in 2013, is a lawyer. He is on the legal team representing the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East (AHPETC) Town Council in the ongoing court case against the Ministry of National Development. The ministry is appealing against a High Court’s refusal to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants to the AHPETC.

For the NSP, central executive committee members Steve Chia and Spencer Ng were among party members and supporters canvassing support in Serangoon Central, several blocks of flats away from the WP group.

Political analyst Eugene Tan noted the guiding principle among some in the opposition circles that a party that had contested in a ward would have “the first right to contest there”. “The WP, however, has never explicitly agreed to that,” said the Singapore Management University law don.

While the WP could be seen by the NSP as butting into Marine Parade GRC, “voters may not necessarily see the WP as a bully if it were to contest in both MacPherson and Marine Parade”, said Associate Professor Tan. “They are likely to subscribe (to the belief) that voters should be able to vote for the best candidates from the opposition, rather than having opposition candidates foisted on them as a result of a political compromise.”

Assoc Prof Tan noted the absence of WP leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim from the horse-trading talks on Monday. On the WP’s firm stance on where it would be contesting, he said: “It’s effectively saying that other opposition parties going into a multi-cornered electoral contest with it (and the People’s Action Party) are doing so at their own risk.”

National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh felt that the NSP has “strong grounds” to contest in Marine Parade GRC and MacPherson SMC. “What happens when two rationalities clash? In politics you give and take, something the Opposition is not good at in Singapore so far,” he said.

He felt that opposition parties such as WP and NSP have “already put the cart before the horse and that is going to make horse trading next to impossible”. “Whenever the (opposition) parties clash among themselves, simple logic tells you that it will benefit the incumbent, the PAP in this case. The key to the game is reaching a consensus on where each party should contest.”


A hard nut to crack for opposition unity

5 Aug 2015

Chong Zi Liang

As opposition parties huddled on Monday night for a round of horse-trading to avoid the prospect of three-cornered fights, the mood was, by most accounts, positive and cooperative.

But as concessions were being made and differences ironed out, it emerged that one particular constituency was proving to be more intractable than the rest: Marine Parade.

About 30 minutes of the three-hour meeting was spent wrangling over the GRC but no agreement could be reached.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) believes that having contested there against the People's Action Party (PAP) in the 2011 General Election, it should have first dibs this time around.

The WP also staked its claim. It argued previously that when electoral boundaries were redrawn, the GRC absorbed the Joo Chiat single- seat ward - where it lost in 2011 by a wafer-thin 388 votes.

But both arguments do not fully explain why the two parties are so keen to take on a constituency helmed by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister, who remains popular among Singaporeans and who said on Facebook yesterday that he will likely stay and defend his seat.

In part, the WP has put into play its long-term strategy of expanding in the eastern areas by radiating out from constituencies it holds to adjacent wards. Geographically, Marine Parade GRC - and East Coast GRC which it contested in 2011 - fit the game plan.

With all the political buzz around Aljunied GRC in recent months, what is forgotten is that the PAP enjoyed a walkover there in 2001.

Then, in the 2006 election, came the WP, which garnered 43.9 per cent of the vote. Aljunied cemented its status as the hottest seat in 2011, and we all know what happened.

It is a mirror of the approach the WP took in East Coast. The party's foray there in 2006 saw it win 36.1 per cent of the vote.

It turned up again in 2011 and garnered 45.2 per cent of the vote - slightly higher than what it won in the failed 2006 bid for Aljunied .

Small wonder then that party and political analysts are watchful of the next contest in East Coast GRC.

The WP is clearly adopting a similar approach with its first move on Marine Parade GRC - bolstered by what it believes is the strong reservoir of support it retains from Joo Chiat's voters.

And while ESM Goh remains a strong ballast for support in Marine Parade for the PAP, he is 74.

And if the WP fails in its bid at the coming election, the party's strategy suggests it will be back again.

As for the NSP, the stand-off over Marine Parade must seem like deja vu: a flashback to the 2011 face-off over Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

The NSP offered to give way in 2011 if the WP fielded secretary- general Low Thia Khiang or chairman Sylvia Lim. But it then backed down and ceded the GRC despite there being no WP commitment to send in its top guns. Sources said the NSP took it as an affront when the WP eventually fielded what was effectively its "C" team.

That remains a sore point with the NSP. In its argument now with the WP, the NSP can also point out that its Marine Parade team in 2011 secured 43.4 per cent of the vote.

That both parties are walking the ground in Marine Parade, underscores their determination.

Who will blink first?

The WP, usually tight-lipped, has uncharacteristically signalled its intentions early and announced the areas it will contest in the general election, which is widely expected to take place as early as next month.

In 2011, it kept Singaporeans guessing until after the Writ of Election was issued. But its GRC win in 2011, followed by two by-election victories in succession, has given a fillip to its confidence.

And as the only opposition party with elected MPs in Parliament, its early announcement is a signal to fellow opposition parties to give it a wide berth in the five GRCs and five single-seat wards it is eyeing.

It went into Monday's meeting not to negotiate but to reaffirm its intentions. At that meeting, participants also took the unusual step of an informal vote on who should run in Marine Parade. The NSP received overwhelming support, sources said.

It was a move that led political commentator Derek da Cunha to ask on Facebook: "Do they think this is an episode of Survivor?"

He said that in the reality television programme, weaker contestants gang up and vote out the strongest player who is seen as a threat to their ambitions: "The parallels could not have been more striking with last night's meeting."

It is a view the WP no doubt shares. Monday's vote was a non- binding expression of sentiment and it is unlikely WP will be swayed into withdrawing. But its position could put a spanner in the works for the opposition's unity plan.

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