Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Gearing up for elections

With a 2015 General Election looking more and more imminent, Insight looks at the campaign preparation of the ruling People's Action Party and the opposition camp.
The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

A rude shock. And a shape-shifting triumph. Ironically, the former was the reaction of the victors, and the latter that of the defeated.

The People's Action Party (PAP) won the 2011 General Election with a vote share of 60.1 per cent, its worst since independence.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party - one of six opposition parties in the contest - scored a coup by winning a group representation constituency, Aljunied.

Now, with the next General Election looming - it must be held by January 2017 - parties are gearing up and building on the lessons of GE2011.

In the PAP corner, Insight finds a mood of buoyancy after the Government's shift to the left in social policies to address a wave of voter discontent. Gone are the days of pomp, pageantry and what was often regarded as superficial interaction. The ruling party has overhauled its heartland engage-ment efforts, holding dialogues with small groups of residents, among other things.

As for the opposition, the dominant Workers' Party has gone from the heady days of its GRC victory to the gritty reality of larger-scale governance, such as the controversy over its handling of its town council finances.

However, of all the opposition parties, it is the one most operationally ready to campaign. From having a loose system of volunteers, it now has a centralised WP Grassroots Committee.

The opposition camp itself is a different beast now than in 2011, with the prospect of nine parties lining up for the GE tussle, the most ever. But where once they would have sought to present a unified front in order not to split the GE vote, this time around, some party officials Insight spoke to do not rule out three-cornered fights.

PAP's new approach: Up close and personal
With a 2015 General Election looking more and more likely, Insight takes a look at the campaign preparations of the ruling People's Action Party and the opposition camp.
By Rachel Chang, Wong Siew Ying, Rachel Au-Yong, Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Charissa Yong and Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

His home phone is ringing but retiree Ang Chee Teo isn’t answering. He can’t tell what the number is, but he has an idea who it might be.

“The PAP,” he says. “They keep calling me and asking how to improve my area and if there is anything they can do.”

Mr Ang, 81, lives in Joo Chiat, a single- seat constituency that the People’s Action Party won by a mere 382 votes in 2011.

That near-loss – and the historic defeat in neighbouring Aljunied GRC to the Workers’ Party – plunged the ruling party into a period of self-examination, out of which has emerged a PAP with a new approach to campaigning.

Aggressive, deep engagement of residents and a refined political instinct are now the name of the game for the party’s operations on the ground. Across the heartland, gone are the days of pomp and perfunctory pleasantries for a party that is one of the longest continuously ruling ones in the world.

MPs and their activists have forsaken mass events for small groups of dialogue, junked awards ceremonies for hugging-and-sharing sessions and even moved their weekly Meet-the-People sessions from place to place, instead of one permanent location, to be physically closer to different groups of residents.

Party organising secretary and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen puts it this way: “After the last GE we took stock, we listened and we said, ‘All right, this is what Singaporeans want, we have to get closer to them.’” Speaking in today’s exclusive interview (see stories on Top 6), he emphasises that “the heart had not gone wrong”, but acknowledges that the party had lost sight that “perceptions count”.

In the four years since that bruising 2011 GE, the PAP’s campaigning style has changed, he says. “I go into homes and stay much longer, spend time with the residents, and it’s worked. People understand us.

“People have commented (we’re) working harder, so be it. We’ll do what we need to do and we just leave the rest to the voters.”


A national vote share of 60.1 per cent would have been considered a landslide in any other first-pastthe- post country.

But in the days following the 2011 GE, the ruling party’s rank-and-file were stunned and demoralised. Not only had Aljunied GRC been lost to the Workers’ Party, but also during the nine-day campaign period, a wave of discontent and hostility had surfaced towards the men in white, even in constituencies without a credible opposition challenge.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promised the electorate some soul-searching, and it was carried out. The four freshly elected young ministers – former top civil servants Lawrence Wong and Heng Swee Keat and former military leaders Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-jin – took the lead in branch-by-branch post-mortem, collating activists’ feedback on what went wrong and what to do next.

At the national policy level, activists urged action on a slew of fronts, from runaway housing prices to expensive healthcare, over-crowded transport systems and the intense influx of foreigners.

On the ground, they acknowledged that a certain complacency and distance had set in with the way they interacted with residents.

Admiralty activist Eliya Narasinghan, 35, says: “It’s not okay just doing whatever we have been doing for the people. In the past,we didn’t go on block visits that frequently, we didn’t engage the residents that well and the Government was seen to have a top-down approach.”

Whether they had shielded party leadership from the discontentment on the ground, or had under- estimated it themselves, the consensus was clear among the branch activists: A complete overhaul of engagement strategies was needed to win back hearts and minds for the PAP.

MPs began meeting their residents in smaller, more intimate settings. Some like Ms Low Yen Ling (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) have changed the way they give out Edusave bursaries. In the past, it was a mass ceremony involving hundreds of students and a quick handshake and photo with the MP.

Now, Ms Low splits up ceremonies into several small ones, where students are asked to express their appreciation to their parents with words and hugs, often moving them to tears. For Mr Ang, bursary ceremonies are not about just presenting cheques. He and his volunteers take bursary winners and their parents to various venues like the Science Centre for fun activities as well.

MPs like Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh) and Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) say that they have added “coffee mornings” or breakfast and dinner sessions to their usual block visits.

In these, a small group of residents – one block, or a few floors – are invited to dine with the MP and share their feedback. “We have expanded the type of engagement and the type of contact,” says Mr Zaqy.

Earlier this year, MP Inderjit Singh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) started holding “mobile” Meet-the-People sessions, held at different locations each week, which take the MP and volunteers to residents' doorsteps. The way MPs and activists deliver assistance has also changed, says one activist from the Nanyang ward in Chua Chu Kang GRC.

Intimacy is now emphasised over big gestures, he notes. In the old days, food supplies to the needy would be given out at a big event culminating in MPs distributing food hampers. That has now been replaced by quietly going from door to door with the supplies. “This is to show (residents) it’s not for show, lah,” he says.


All of this has extracted a greater time and emotional commitment from MPs and activists. Kampong Glam activists, for example, say that their added events have meant a time commitment of 30 per cent more than before, while MPs like Mr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) spend only one evening every week at home with family.

No fewer than four PAP MPs have gone more or less full-time in the past few years: Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling and West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har. Mr Baey notes he would not be able to be as active on his social media accounts if he had not left his managing director role at public relations company Hilland Knowlton in 2012.

Residents now alert him to problems via Facebook and Instagram and he can act on them at any time of the day. “I am quite on top of things happening there, and while not everything has been addressed, generally compared to my first term, I feel that I have accomplished a lot more (in my second term).”

But despite their renewed vigour, activists and MPs freely admit that their efforts will sway the vote only at the margins; Ground sentiment in a country as small as this one swings with the Government’s national policy agenda.

On this front, PAP activists say that they are receiving a warmer reception on the ground thanks to moderating housing prices, a slowing influx of foreign workers and a shift to the lefton social policies.

When they do their rounds, there are now fewer complaints directed at the men in white on issues such as transport and housing, says one Taman Jurong activist.

“Now, it’s more likely we get thanked by residents. ‘Thank you for PGP, thank you for Chas’ – it’s like we can see things paying off,” he says, referring to the Pioneer Generation Package and the Community Health Assist Scheme respectively. The latter gives the lower- and middle-income subsidised health and dental care at clinics.

Then there is the effect of the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March at age 91. He was the PAP’s founding secretary- general, and while few activists are willing to state it baldly, Mr Lee’s passing and the emotional week of national mourning that followed have led to a noticeable surge in support for the PAP.

In Tanjong Pagar, where Mr Lee was MP for 60 years, activists say that about 10 volunteers from their Meet-the-People sessions have signed up for PAP membership every month since MrLee’s death. In the North, activists at Chong Pang – Law Minister K. Shanmugam’s ward–report a surge of 10 per cent to 15 per cent in volunteers after Mr Lee’s death.

“I suspect that to the old, it was an affirmation of what they had gone through and what they themselves had experienced. For the young, it was a process of self-discovery,” says Dr Ng Eng Hen of the experience of examining and celebrating Mr Lee’s long life in mourning his death. He adds that Mr Lee’s passing was “his last gift to us” in terms of the national unity it engendered.

“(But) I don’t think it’s wise for PAP to campaign on Mr Lee, I don't think people will buy it,” he says. “You have to campaign and say, ‘Vote for us if you believe that this is the type of Singapore you want, (and) that this is a PAP that keeps very close to the core values which he and his founding generation built Singapore on.’”

For some residents, Mr Lee was in death, as he was in life, the PAP’s vote-winner.

One Simei resident who gave her name only as Mrs Wong, says that she is now leaning towards casting a vote for the PAP despite her 2011 opposition vote for the sake of balance in Parliament. “After Mr Lee passed away, during the week of mourning, we saw many documentaries about the country’s history and what he had done for Singapore,” says the 47-year-old. “I feel the PAP is quite capable and the Government hasdone a lot.

But just as popular national policies can warm up activists’ welcome on the ground, so can national mistakes and gaffes wipe away hard-won inroads in an instant. “You do your ground work the best you can, but voter sentiment is very much affected by national issues which we totally have no control over,” says Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak. “That’s the fact on the ground.”

In 2011, itwasthe case withunhappiness over overcrowding andinfrastructural strain. Now, activists are worried headlines over public transport breakdowns or allegedly defective finishings in Design, Build and Sell Scheme projects have the potential to ignite national discontent.

The nine-day campaign is also a period of high emotions that can turn on a dime. In 2011, former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s comment that Aljunied GRC residents would “repent” if they voted in the WP rubbed voters the wrong way and contributed, many activists believe, to the PAP’s defeat there.

“Even though things may seem well now, you do not knowwhat the groundswell is like, and the emotions of the day itself are very hard to gauge,” says Dr Lim.

“Even within that nine days, things can change rapidly. My take is to never be over-confident, and never take residents for granted.”


Ultimately, only one question matters: Will the new PAP find renewed favour with the electorate?

Activists are careful not to appear over-confident, but the mood is unmistakeably buoyant as the next general election approaches.

Buona Vista activist John Ting, 59, says that “there’s still uncertainty, but the activists are now a lot more comfortable and a lot more prepared”. He adds: “I wouldn’t say optimistic, I would say more comforted that things are taking effect and a lot of the hard work seems to be bringing in some fruits.”

Among voters, there are those who have noticed and appreciated the PAP’s efforts.

Jalan Kayu resident Neo Zhi Hao, a 28-year-old real estate professional, says: “I think the party has kept its promises and enhanced the standard of living from the last elections for young families and the elderly. All in all, I think we must reward those who have fulfilled their promises.”

But others have chalked up the stronger performance–both in policies and on the ground–as an undeniable validation of the opposition’s presence on the national political landscape.

One Paya Lebar resident, 69-year-old retired businessman Chua Teck Siang, puts it as such: “We can’t just thank the PAP for the beneficial policies, we must also thank the WP.

Since they were voted in, you suddenly see the Government so kancheong (Cantonese for anxious) to give so many things, like the Pioneer Generation Package.”

Which view wins out will be made clear sooner or later at the ballot box. For now, PAP activists are raring to hit the hustings – boosted by a sweet ground and encouraged by their ability to meet setbacks with renewal and drive.

Across the island, branches have been nailing down their campaign plans – identifying lamp-posts where posters will go up, booking companies to print their fliers and purchasing the right, durable shoes for the nine-day sprint at the end of a four-year-plus marathon. All that remains is for the people tomeet the candidates.

Most of the PAP’s new faces – who will form a quarter of the candidates it puts up in the next GE – have been deployed to understudy sitting MPs at various branches, while talk swirls over the top civil servants and military men who are expected to soon resign high-ranking government posts and enter the political fray.

“We are 85 per cent ready,” says one Tanjong Pagar GRC activist. “The last 15 per cent is about whose faces to put onthe poster.”

Opposition parties ready, especially WP and SDP
By Chong Zi Liang, Tham Yuen-C, Walter Sim, Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2015

‘Don’t rule out’ new kids on the block

Up to nine opposition entities may contest the next polls, which may lead to more three-cornered fights

As the next general election (GE) draws nearer, voters and political observers alike have been considering one question: Can the opposition win another Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and claim the scalp of another People's Action Party (PAP) minister?

After all, the Workers' Party (WP) won in Aljunied GRC in 2011 and turfed out two Cabinet ministers. Since then, the party has won two by-elections on the trot and has an unprecedented seven elected seats in Parliament.

But not all opposition parties are made the same. The seven seats and by-election wins belong to the WP alone, leaving the others to play catch-up.

Among them, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has sought to do so by steering clear of the legal troubles it used to be entangled in, focusing on producing policy papers regularly to convince the public it is more than just a party of protest. It is also the only party, so far, to have officially kicked off its election campaign, with a launch at the Holiday Inn Atrium hotel in January.

Other parties have not fared as well since the last polls.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) has had a revolving door of secretaries-general - four in the same number of years - with the latest, Mr Tan Lam Siong, quitting the post after less than five months, although he remains with the party.

And the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) faces the formidable prospect of recovering from a 0.6 per cent vote share in the 2013 Punggol East by-election - the lowest percentage recorded in an election since independence.

The Singapore People's Party (SPP), led by opposition stalwart Chiam See Tong, and Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam's Reform Party (RP) are still trying to build party brands beyond their well-known secretaries-general.

Then there are fresh faces. The long-dormant Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is back with new blood, while the Singaporeans First Party (SingFirst) was launched in May last year. Both parties are headed by politicians who contested the last GE as members of different parties.

If opposition veteran Goh Meng Seng's application to register the People's Power Party is approved, nine opposition entities will contest the next polls. It will be the highest number since independence, beating the previous record in 1984 of eight. A splintered opposition could well mean more three-cornered fights and, indeed, party leaders are now less committed to the notion of opposition unity to avoid splitting the vote.

DPP secretary-general Benjamin Pwee says: "I take it as a given that more than two parties will contest a constituency. But the Punggol East by-election has shown voters are savvy enough to back the most credible alternative candidate."

NSP president Sebastian Teo, too, does not rule this out. He says: "We're not going to go for a three-cornered fight, but we are also not afraid it it happens."

As an unspoken rule, parties get first dibs on the constituencies that they contested in the last election. But this has been complicated by high-profile defections since then.

For instance, lawyer Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, who contested in Mountbatten in 2011 on an NSP ticket, switched to the SPP earlier this year and is still interested in the single-seat ward.

Will the party or candidate have right of way?

Similar situations could arise in constituencies such as the Tampines and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs.

Conflicts such as this are usually sorted out during backroom dealings before the polls. But the fragmentation of parties could make such negotiations harder to organise this time around.

Indeed, in the run-up to the 2011 General Election (GE2011), there were murmurings of the WP going its own way. WP chief Low Thia Khiang did not go to the last two meetings of opposition parties to divvy up constituencies in 2006 and 2011, he sent chairman Sylvia Lim in his place. But a source close to the party says Mr Low in the past had always turned up at the meetings in any case only as a matter of courtesy, and not to bargain.

In the end, which opposition party is standing where may be moot, as some voters simply choose them as an anti-government protest, as was the case in 2011 amid a wave of discontent.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) senior research fellow Gillian Koh reckons, though, that the Government's actions since then - such as moving to cool the property market and making healthcare more affordable - could affect protest votes this time around.

Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan says such voters can be game-changers, and form a segment of the swing voters who can make a difference in seats where the PAP has a slim margin.

And their opinion of the Government will certainly have a bearing on whether the opposition can build on its historic win in Aljunied and conquer another GRC.

Associate Professor Tan thinks this is "certainly within the realm of possibility. If anything, after Aljunied GRC, the opposition has broken a longstanding psychological barrier that GRCs are unwinnable".


FOR the WP, the biggest player on the opposition field, much work has been put in preparing the ground and building up party structures. Party members say preparations for the polls started after the last elections.

The WP's biggest problem, then, may well be the recurring accounting and management troubles at its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

But even as its leaders have been busy fighting fires there, walkabouts have been under way and the party has also formalised its grassroots structures as it plans for growth and expansion outside its current areas.

From its previous loosely organised volunteer-system, the party now has a centralised WP Grassroots Committee, which oversees its division teams and takes charge of big events, such as the WP SG50 dinner planned for Aug 23.

It has also taken steps to ensure its residents know they can turn to the party when in need.

The WP Community Fund, run independently and funded by donations, was set up in June last year to provide financial support to residents in its wards.

The party has also set up more legal clinics - such as in Eunos and Hougang - to provide advice to its residents, now that it has more lawyers in its midst.

Meanwhile, its WP Youth Wing has supplied the party with a steady stream of potential candidates, setting it apart from many other opposition players that have run into problems while planning for leadership succession. With these pieces in place, the party is likely the most ready of the opposition players for the next elections.

Yet, analysts say AHPETC's problems could figure for the WP at the ballot box. The WP-run town council's accounts have not been given a clean bill of health since the party took over in 2011.

In the past four years, AHPETC has also run into problems for running illegal trade fairs and clashed with hawkers and the National Environment Agency over the cleaning of food centre ceilings.

Dr Koh of the IPS says "it will be worrying if the value of integrity is downplayed, or cast aside by voters", and she hopes the matter will be dealt with soon by the authorities as there are voters who "do not yet feel that they have a clear picture about what has happened".

SMU's Prof Tan, though, thinks the issue is "unlikely to cause a significant dent in the WP's electoral fortunes", and says it may, in fact, be seen by some voters as a "political attack on the WP".

In the party itself, there seems to be less apprehension about how Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East voters will react, compared with those voters in non-WP areas.

A WP member says: "I wish people in other areas would ask me about the town council during walkabouts, so I can explain to them."

Meanwhile, there is concern among opposition ranks that these issues could affect voters' confidence in opposition parties running town councils.

The SDP has made a pre-emptive move, putting out a paper on how it would manage town councils if it were to win in the next elections.

SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan denies that this has anything to do with the WP's troubles, though, and says the party just wants to be prepared.

The WP declined to comment for this Insight, saying it is not ready to share more information.

Other than the WP, the SDP has also emerged as one of the more prepared parties this time around.

Ever since Dr Chee emerged from bankruptcy in 2012 - after reaching a settlement over damages owed to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for defaming them during the 2001 GE - the party has been pushing ahead with its rebranding efforts and poll preparations.

In line with this more professional image, it has put out policy papers and printed training booklets for its volunteers, which include instructions as detailed as what to wear, where to pin their name tags, and how to say "hello" to residents during door-to-door visits.

But while it prepares for its first elections with its own secretary-general back on the slate, analysts are not so sure his return will be a boost.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha says of Dr Chee: "His recent attempts to refurbish his image to make him seem more politically emollient - and, therefore, make the SDP more electable - does not airbrush out his... conduct since he entered the political stage more than two decades ago in 1992."

But political watcher and blogger Alex Au has a different take. He found that Dr Chee had well thought-out ideas and, recalling a 2006 interview, says: "I came away from that interview rather impressed, especially when compared with other interviews with other leaders from other parties, which I will not name."

Another possible ballot-box factor is the party's focus on human rights. Mr Au says among those in the thinking classes, the SDP is seen as a party that delivers value, in terms of pushing for civil rights.

This, though, could cut both ways, with liberals supporting the party, but conservatives, such as those against gay rights, distancing themselves.


THE NSP is not just having difficulty in finding a secretary-general with staying power, but also struggling to hold on to its members.

Its troubles began with Mr Goh's departure shortly after the 2011 polls. Last year, its breakout star of the last election, Ms Nicole Seah, left the party and relocated to Bangkok. This year alone, five central executive committee members and one party member quit.

The resignations fuelled murmurings of rifts between the young members who want new ways of doing things and the old guard. But NSP president Mr Teo shoots down such talk, pointing out that the recent line of secretaries-general have all been new members.

"In what other party can new blood take up leadership positions so quickly? We are serious about renewal and don't hold the young ones back," he says.

The NSP will not field as many candidates as the last time around, when it was the opposition party with the largest slate - 24 hopefuls.

Mr Teo says: "We felt a duty to allow as many Singaporeans as possible to vote, but there are more political parties now to fill in."

The party is keen to contest Tampines, Chua Chu Kang and Marine Parade GRCs, as well as the single seats of Whampoa, Mountbatten and Pioneer. But Mr Teo says it may just stand in two GRCs if resources prove to be limited.

As for the Reform Party (RP), moving away from personality-based politics and out of the shadow of party founder J.B. Jeyaretnam is proving to be a challenge: The late Mr Jeyaretnam still features prominently in RP's outreach brochures even though his son, Kenneth, has been leading the party since 2009.

While it was the first to declare its candidates in the lead-up to GE2011 - unveiling prize catches such as Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and SAF Merit Scholarship recipient Tony Tan - it is flying under the radar this time around.

"We're not going to unveil our candidates early," says Mr Jeyaretnam, noting the strategy backfired when would-be candidates jumped ship, such as Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and Mr Tony Tan to the NSP. But he promises that RP is seeing "a lot of revival (and) a lot of inflow of volunteers and potential candidates".

Over at the SPP, Mr Chiam has not been able to build up his party despite being Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP, holding his Potong Pasir seat for 27 years before vacating it in an unsuccessful bid to win in a GRC. His wife, Lina, is now a Non-Constituency MP after failing to hold her husband's seat by a wafer-thin 114 votes.

Over the years, he has been mired in disagreements with people once touted as his successors.

The IPS' Dr Koh believes such internal struggles will give voters pause: "They will generally feel that the ability to self-manage provides some indication of the ability to manage something larger than oneself."

But SMU's Prof Tan points out that Singaporeans "may not even be aware of the internal friction".

If there is one party that needs a win to stay relevant, it is the SDA. The party is determined to avoid multi-cornered fights - and a repeat of the Punggol East by-election, where its secretary-general, Mr Lim, came last out of four contestants. It is focusing on Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, "where we've been walking the ground since before the 2006 elections", he says.

Mr Lim points to his team's frequent visits to Pasir Ris and Punggol, including one last week to Pasir Ris One, the latest Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) development to make the news because of residents' complaints. When asked about the possibility of the WP expanding into Pasir Ris Punggol, he says: "It is never our concern whether they come in or not."

But the Facebook page of the Singapore Justice Party - a component party of the SDA - warns: "We shall not enter into any three corners fight, as long as other opposition parties are not coming into the territories that we have contested before and are continuing to working the grounds."

However, Dr da Cunha gives a scathing assessment of the state of play, noting there are only "one or two well-known names" in some opposition parties.

"This might be immaterial, as being 'relatively well-known' does not necessarily translate into a national prominence on a scale sufficient to carry the vote ahead of the PAP."

He adds: "Regrettably, there are some opposition candidates who are nationally prominent largely in their own minds. You cannot stop them from having such a lofty regard for themselves, even if it is not shared by most voters."


Opposition parties which did not contest the last GE have been trying to raise their visibility. They include a revitalised DPP - formed in 1973 and dormant in GE2011 - and SingFirst. Their names may not be familiar, but they are fronted by candidates whose names may ring a bell. Mr Pwee - arguably the DPP's most high-profile name - was once seen as a protege of Mr Chiam.

SingFirst's Mr Tan, a former civil servant, made a run during the 2011 presidential election and was part of the SDP's Holland-Bukit Timah team in GE2011.

Despite their novelty, SMU's Prof Tan expects these parties to give the more established ones a run for their money. He tells Insight: "With a younger electorate, voters will be prepared to give these new kids on the block a hearing."

The DPP wants to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Potong Pasir SMC and Hong Kah North SMC, which are where the SPP fielded candidates the last time.

Mr Pwee says the party has been walking the ground at Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and Potong Pasir since GE2011, and tells Insight that the Chiams' legacy will not stop DPP from running against them.

"We recognise that Potong Pasir residents continue to be loyal to Mr Chiam," Mr Pwee says. "Our best guess is that Mr Chiam will not run because of his age (He is 80)... If Mrs Chiam runs, we believe we can put up a stronger candidate."

The DPP is also eyeing Tanjong Pagar GRC - where parties from SingFirst to RP have also held walkabouts. The GRC, which was helmed by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, went uncontested in 2011.

Mr Tan adds that SingFirst "has enough people" to field in the GRCs it is eyeing. Besides Tanjong Pagar GRC, it has interest in Marine Parade, Tampines and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRCs.

By his reckoning, winning more GRCs may be easier this time around. In the past, he says, opposition parties had a difficult time getting good candidates for multi-seat constituencies. The PAP also always banked on the star power of its ministers to pull votes for the entire GRC.

But the last election changed things, Mr Tan says, adding: "These two assumptions no longer hold. The opposition has no difficulty getting good people to contest a GRC, however big. And ministers are no longer heavyweight. So GRCs no longer serve the PAP's purpose, and we will contest GRCs."

Indeed, SMU's Prof Tan says: "GRCs are where the PAP may look increasingly vulnerable, especially when the PAP stands to 'lose big' in a GRC - except for Aljunied - and the Opposition stands to 'win big'."

PAP 'ready to roll' for next GE: Ng Eng Hen
PAP has made changes to policies and ties with S'poreans since last polls: Ng Eng Hen
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor and Fiona Chan, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

Since the swing against it in the 2011 General Election (GE), the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has knuckled down to make significant changes to its policies and relationship with Singaporeans.

It has improved housing and transport infrastructure, introduced social policies - universal healthcare insurance, lifetime perks for pioneers - and spent more time listening to and communicating with Singaporeans, said party organising secretary Ng Eng Hen.

"We've addressed more problems that had existed from before 2011," he said in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times on the PAP's strategies ahead of the next general election, which must be held by January 2017.

He referred to the next general election as an "inflection point" for a country freshly bereaved after the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and facing unprecedented challenges in its 50th year of nationhood.

The relationship between Singaporeans and the PAP was like that of an old married couple. "You take each other for granted," said Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, describing the 2011 GE as a rough patch.

The PAP lost a group representation constituency for the first time and its national vote share hit a low of 60.1 per cent, down about 6 percentage points from the figure in 2006.

"But we have to decide whether this union between the PAP Government and the people for the last 50 years is a marriage worth keeping and whether you're still bearing good fruit. We think it is and we'll fight for it."

To improve the bond, PAP politicians have made some shifts - such as using social media outreach - that felt "unnatural" at times, Dr Ng admitted during the 90-minute interview at his office in the Ministry of Defence last month.

In the style of the late Mr Lee, many PAP politicians had been taught to "talk less and do more", said Dr Ng. But voters nowadays want "a sense of their leaders and a personal discourse".

In response, PAP leaders have been "coming out of our comfort zone", he said.

He acknowledged a greater effort made on the ground: "We've tried to get closer to residents. Even our campaigning style has changed. I go into homes and stay much longer, spend time with residents, and it's worked. People understand us."

The PAP Government has also moved on national issues and acknowledged that it had been slow to react to some, such as transport, healthcare and housing.

Dr Ng said: "We've combed our hair, we've put on a new suit, but the heart hasn't changed. I don't believe the heart had gone wrong."

While the general election date is unknown, Dr Ng, who is in charge of the PAP's recruitment, indicated that the slate of new candidates is ready. "If (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) decides to go (to the polls) soon, we shouldn't hold him back. If he wants to go, we'll be ready."

To avoid past criticisms of candidates being out of touch with the ground and "parachuted" in, the party has sent most potential new candidates to its branches early to build rapport with residents.

The response has been encouraging. Dr Ng said: "People have commented that we're working harder."

But he also said voters should appreciate the significance of the next general election, which could be watched internationally for signs of whether a post-Lee Kuan Yew Singapore will stay as "tough, hard-working, realistic and open".

Singapore's long stretch of continual prosperity is also facing unprecedented pressure from an ageing population, the challenge of keeping standards of living rising from a high base, and tension among Asian giants.

Dr Ng said: "We have to bring in people who are able to deal not only with the daily issues, but also whom we can prepare for these challenges, so that once something precipitates, they can see us through."

More three-way fights in next GE?
By Chong Zi Liang and Tham Yuen-C, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

More multi-cornered contests could feature in the next general election with several constituencies already claimed by more than one opposition party.

And despite these overlapping claims, several party leaders have said they will stand their ground.

Among those eyed by more than one party are Tanjong Pagar, Tampines, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris-Punggol and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs; and the single seats of Whampoa, Mountbatten and Potong Pasir.

This puts all eight active opposition parties - the Workers' Party (WP), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), Reform Party (RP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Singapore First Party (SingFirst) and Singapore People's Party (SPP) - potentially on a collision course if they do not reach a compromise.

For instance, up to four parties - the DPP, RP, SDP and SingFirst - have indicated interest in or held walkabouts in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Party leaders told The Sunday Times that while they will not deliberately initiate three-cornered fights, they will not go out of their way to avoid one either. But it has become harder to avoid competing in the same areas given several high-profile defections from parties since the 2011 General Election.

DPP secretary-general Benjamin Pwee, for example, was in the SPP team that contested in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2011. He quit the party a year later. He now intends to contest the GRC on a DPP ticket, and deploy someone to Potong Pasir - which was held by his former mentor and SPP chief Chiam See Tong for 27 years. If Mr Pwee's DPP does pick Potong Pasir, it could be taking on Mrs Lina Chiam, who lost narrowly in 2011 to the People's Action Party's Mr Sitoh Yih Pin.

NSP president Sebastian Teo said his party will not shrink from places where it has been working the ground. These include Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs and the single seats of Whampoa and Mountbatten. "We are not scared of three-cornered fights," he said.

But he disclosed that he has vetoed some members' requests that NSP contest Potong Pasir, and Moulmein-Kallang GRC - where the WP fielded a team in 2011.

Mr Goh Meng Seng, who applied in May to register his People's Power Party, has his sights on Tampines GRC. He contested there in 2011 when he was with the NSP.

SDA chief Desmond Lim said his party will definitely field a team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, where it contested in 2006 and 2011. SingFirst - launched in May last year - is also staking claim to the GRC.

Mr Lim said: "We've never stopped our activities there, and continue to work the ground and serve the people wholeheartedly. We won't speculate as to which party is coming (to our turf) or not."

Opposition party leaders took pains previously to call for unity.

But they say they are less worried about the vote being split after the seminal Punggol East by-election in 2013. The outcome put paid to the conventional wisdom that a multi-cornered contest would disadvantage the opposition. In a four-cornered fight, the WP won with 54.5 per cent of votes cast. The SDA and RP candidates won less than 2 per cent of votes combined.

Said Mr Pwee: "It's not a multi- cornered fight just because more than two parties run. It's a fight only when voters see three or more credible candidates."

But jockeying for a constituency may be moot if it no longer exists once new electoral boundaries are released - a point noted by SingFirst secretary-general Tan Jee Say. "We can't talk seriously when the boundaries are not known. We want to avoid multi-cornered fights. But what happens if a GRC is split two or three ways?" Still, he is hopeful "goodwill will prevail" before polls in the opposition camp.

PAP to field new faces from private sector for next GE
By Fiona Chan and Rachel Chang, The Sunday Times. 5 Jul 2015

More individuals from the private sector will join the ranks of the People's Action Party (PAP) for the next general election (GE), with some probably going on to become Cabinet ministers.

Three out of four of the new faces are from outside the PAP's traditional grazing ground of the Government and armed forces, PAP organising secretary and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen disclosed in an interview.

This is an increase from the 2011 GE, in which fewer than half of the new candidates were from the private sector.

Some of the fresh blood this time will still come from the civil service, military and police, but they will be "in the minority", he said.

Among the likely candidates are corporate managers, finance professionals, lawyers, doctors and civil society activists. The Straits Times last month identified more than 20 newcomers, including top public sector leaders.

The varied slate is to provide a representation of viewpoints from different groups of Singaporeans, Dr Ng said. "We're a broad church, so we want diverse perspectives."

Overall, about a quarter of the current PAP MPs will step down to make way for new hopefuls, many of whom started reaching out to residents years ahead of the next polls.

The approach helps avoid criticism that potential candidates are out of touch with the ground and "parachuted" into branches.

Also, about one-third of the fresh faces could eventually become office-holders, Dr Ng said.

Having both these abilities - people skills on the ground, and leadership ability to make it to office and run the Government in a crisis - is what the PAP looks for in an ideal candidate, he added.

"You need MPs who can both deal with the day-to-day municipal issues, understand their residents, understand their concerns and deal with bread-and-butter issues, as well as come into Government when they are needed," he said.

"Obviously we wish that the person can be good in both, but sometimes you don't get that combination. So, you have to bring in enough people, or as many as possible, who can do both."

Indeed, one reason the PAP often brings top civil servants into the fold is that they have what it takes to help lead a country:

"Who are these people? They will be people who have been civil servantsand understand the challenges, who are from the military and given overseas exposure, or who police large organisations...So from that point of view, I don't think it's surprising that we draw from the civil service or people who perform well."

PAP's strategy for Aljunied
By Fiona Chan, The Sunday Times. 5 Jul 2015

Five years ago, the People's Action Party (PAP) lost two Cabinet ministers when Aljunied became the first GRC to fall into opposition hands.

Today, the ruling party is more chary about risking a political office-holder in the GRC held by the Workers' Party (WP), PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen said.

"We will fight for each vote and we will put in candidates that we feel can be a better team to take care of the municipal issues. But the realpolitik is if we feel we don't have that support, we'll have to make our own calculations," he told The Sunday Times.

"Why would we want to field somebody that we know has a higher chance of being rejected and deprive ourselves of an office-holder?Suppose you put five ministers in (Aljunied). Does that serve the purpose? Is it fair to other constituencies who have shown us greater support?"

Instead, Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, said the PAP strategy in Aljunied GRC is to stick to its "golden rule": field a team capable of taking care of the town.

"That's the minimum standard: that they have honesty, integrity and competency, and pass muster," he said.

His comments follow the scrutiny that the WP-run town council managing the GRC has come under for accounting and governance lapses - detailed in a special audit report in February by the Auditor-General's Office.

In 2011, the WP won 54.7 per cent of the Aljunied GRC vote, beating a veteran PAP team led by then Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and comprising then Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Zainul Abidin Rasheed, new face Ong Ye Kung and MP Cynthia Phua.

This time, the PAP troops seen in Aljunied GRC and the neighbouring WP-held single seats of Hougang and Punggol East are new faces, mostly from the private sector.

They include private banker Chua Eng Leong, SMRT deputy director Kahar Hassan, former investment manager Victor Lye, Rajah & Tann lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai and voice-over artist Chan Hui Yuh in Aljunied GRC; IT manager Lee Hong Chuang in Hougang; and CIMB Bank Catalist head Yee Chia Hsing in Punggol East.

None has been cited yet as a potential office-holder. Still, if an incumbent or potential minister loses, the PAP could technically bring him into Cabinet by first making him a Nominated MP. While this is allowed under Singapore's Constitution, Dr Ng said it is "unlikely" the PAP will do so.

"I would not go that course," he said. "To have the electorate vote against somebody and then to bring him in as an NMP to make him a minister doesn't speak well of the system."

No comments:

Post a Comment