Wednesday, 26 August 2015

GE2015: Polling Day on Sept 11

Singapore goes to the polls on Sept 11
It's the first time since 1997 that a general election will be held on a weekday
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

Political parties and their supporters swung into action yesterday, after President Tony Tan Keng Yam dissolved Parliament and news followed that the general election would be held on Sept 11.

At People's Action Party (PAP) branches and opposition party offices across the island, activists finalised their candidate line-ups and worked to ensure that campaign flags, posters and, especially, nomination papers would be in order.

Nomination Day will be next Tuesday, Sept 1, with the minimum of nine days to campaign before Cooling-off Day on Sept 10. Polling Day will be a public holiday.

It is the first time since 1997 that a general election will be held on a weekday. Some PAP activists said holding the polls on Sept 12 would have clashed with community events planned for the last day of the Chinese Seventh Month.

The widely anticipated news came two days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the National Day Rally that he would be calling the elections soon, and that they would be a critical one for the country. Yesterday, he underlined his message that this general election is about renewing and reinforcing the PAP's slate in Parliament to give Singapore the best leadership team to take the country forward.

"I called this general election to seek your mandate to take Singapore beyond SG50, into its next half century," he said in a Facebook post. "You will be deciding who will govern Singapore for the next five years. More than that, you will be choosing the team to work with you for the next 15-20 years, and setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years."

The elections, Singapore's 12th since independence, are likely to be the first since 1963 to see the PAP challenged in all seats.

As many as nine opposition parties have indicated that they will put up a fight in all 89 seats across 16 group representation constituencies (GRCs) and 13 single-member constituencies (SMCs). The largest opposition party, the Workers' Party (WP), has said that it is targeting 28 seats.

The elections will be the first in 60 years without the presence of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March.

Observers said the timing may be to the PAP's advantage, given the positive sentiments from the Golden Jubilee celebrations and the unprecedented expressions of solidarity in the week of national mourning following Mr Lee's death.

The polls will also take place against the backdrop of global economic uncertainty, with international markets routed in recent days. The full-year growth forecast for Singapore itself has been revised downward to 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

There are rising concerns too over global security and, indeed, Polling Day will be on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. The snap 2001 elections called here after those attacks and amid a global recession saw the PAP's vote share surge by 10 points from 65 per cent in the 1997 polls to 75.3 per cent.

The 2006 General Election, the first led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, saw the PAP get 66.6 per cent of the vote. But the 2011 election proved a watershed, when a rising opposition tide tapped into simmering discontent over housing affordability, immigration and cost of living issues to drag the PAP's vote share down to 60.1 per cent.

That election saw the WP winning its first GRC, ousting a high-powered PAP team led by Cabinet minister George Yeo. The WP retained Hougang SMC at the polls and went on to win Punggol East SMC in a by-election in 2013.

Since 2011, the Government has embarked on a range of policy measures - some of which had been in gestation before the polls - to address voter concerns, and analysts say this year's elections will show how its efforts have been received.

Said Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies: "The GE will be a good measure of voters' sentiment on whether the Government has helped citizens access and afford the key essentials in life: if they think the Government has dealt with the immigration issue that was also tied to higher costs and congestion, and if they feel that the Government has, in the last four years, given them a stronger sense of security and assurance about work, family life and developing a fair and inclusive society."

However, she felt a segment of voters would also hold the view that it is important to have some opposition representation in Parliament "to ensure that the Government is indeed responsive to the needs and concerns of Singaporeans".

This is a theme the opposition parties can be expected to use to appeal to voters. The Singapore Democratic Party began introducing its candidates yesterday, and the WP will do so from today.

The PAP has announced its line-up in all but four GRCs and Fengshan and Punggol East SMCs. It will name its teams for Marine Parade and Nee Soon GRCs today.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said that strong support from Singaporeans is critical for the country to move ahead in a challenging environment and to stay special.

"Here many races live in peace, and many from humble homes make good. We will surely meet challenges ahead, but whatever the world throws at us, as one people, we will overcome," he said on Facebook.

"If you are proud of what we have achieved together, and support what we want to do for our future, please support me and my team. We have to do it with you, in order to do it for you, and for Singapore. Together, we can keep Singapore special for many years to come."

This morning I advised the President to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election. Nomination Day will be...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, August 25, 2015

10 issues for GE 2015
By Aaron Low, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

Even before the first speech on the hustings has been delivered, several issues, both old and new, have surfaced in recent weeks among the political parties in Singapore.

How have the older issues evolved since the last General Election (GE) in 2011 and will new issues dominate GE2015?


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has cast this GE as one in which the next generation of leaders will be decided.

"More than that, you will be choosing the team to work with you for the next 15-20 years, and setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years," he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

His remark came soon after the issue of the Writ of Election, a legal document that sets the election process in motion.

It was also a theme he touched on in his National Day Rally speech, when he noted that he and some of his Cabinet colleagues were in their late 50s and 60s and "will not be around forever". This is why the next team of leaders had to be "ready in the wings".


China's decision to devalue its currency has wiped out more than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) from stock markets around the world in the past two weeks and is threatening to create another global financial storm.

Voters will head to the polling stations under these dark clouds and a domestic economy that looks set to grow at an insipid rate of between 2 per cent and 2.5 per cent this year.

For the ruling party, the threat of an economic downturn might serve to focus minds on how the PAP government has been the stable pair of hands that successfully navigated the country through previous recessions.


Similarly, external threats are also likely to weigh on the minds of voters as the election campaign season approaches.

Worries over the growing influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group as well as the rising political instability in Malaysia are two external threats that loom large, say analysts, who pointed to the symbolic timing of Polling Day: Sept 11.

"Sept 11 is a good international backdrop. Why? Most of the First World countries will be remembering the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001," said associate professor Alan Chong of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He added that PAP could use the occasion to remind voters about the types of external threats Singapore faces and tell them to vote wisely.


The presence of foreigners remains a sensitive issue, PM Lee acknowledged in his Rally speech on Sunday, noting that there were no painless solutions to this challenge of immigration. The country needs foreign workers to keep the economy humming, but had to manage the flow carefully to address public unease over the inflow. Immigration and foreign workers were hot topics in the last GE, with many Singaporeans complaining they were crowding locals out of jobs, MRT trains and buses. While the Government has taken steps to stem the flow of foreigners and address housing and transport woes, this issue remains the PAP's "Achilles' heel", said Singapore Management University (SMU) law professor Eugene Tan.


Much has been done to fix the public transport problems, with the building of new train lines and addition of hundreds of new buses on the road.

But a massive breakdown on the North-South and East-West MRT lines last month, combined with crowded trains every morning, only serve to remind people that the efforts to fix the system are yet to prove effective.


After a concerted push to ramp up the supply of new Housing Board flats, alongside fresh measures to cool the housing market, complaints about costly homes are far fewer now compared to five years ago.

But, as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a recent interview, his "mission" to fix the housing situation is not yet complete.

Some Singaporeans still worry they cannot afford an HDB flat, while others wonder if the cooling measures could affect their property values in the long run.


A pet topic of opposition parties at rallies, the rising cost of living has been a major complaint among voters for many years.

This election will be no different, with renewed focus on Singapore becoming expensive, especially for the lower-income groups.

Tied to it is the widening income gap and whether enough has been done to narrow it.

Said SMU law don Eugene Tan: "It's not just about people paying more. The deeper unhappiness is the sense that economic growth and wealth have not been equitably shared."


One issue the PAP is likely to focus on is the Workers' Party's management of the town council looking after the constituencies it won at the last election.

In the past year, the PAP has been on the offensive. Its heavyweight ministers took turns to press WP in Parliament to account for mismanaging the finances of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The WP retorted that it has been transparent in giving information, and accused the PAP of politicking.

Expect fireworks on this one in the campaign ahead, analysts said.

"From the PAP's perspective, this issue relates to integrity and competence, but WP may cast it as the absence of a level playing field for opposition parties," said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.


If there is one strong argument for why people should vote opposition, it is that there is a need for checks on the dominant party in power.

In GE2011, there was a fear that with WP chief Low Thia Khiang and Singapore People's Party chief Chiam See Tong leaving their single seats for bigger group representation constituencies, there would be no opposition in Parliament.

Today, with the changed political landscape of WP holding seven seats, the debate is whether voters should give it even more seats.

Will its slogan of Towards a First World Parliament and call for more checks still hold sway now that voters have seen them in action?


Election campaigns in the past have always thrown up a fair share of surprises, from a defamation suit against Singapore Democratic Party's leaders on the eve of GE 2006 to a PAP potential candidate being dropped at the last minute.

This year, will personalities like SingFirst's outspoken chief Tan Jee Say make headlines? Or maybe a surprise candidate could show up on Nomination Day and disrupt various parties' well-laid out plans.

Much will depend on the events that unfold over the nine-day campaign.

GE2015: Top concerns likely bread-and-butter issues, immigration, say observers
Observers say these issues are the ones most voters have on their minds
By Pearl Lee and Lydia Lam, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

Bread-and-butter issues and immigration are likely to be at the top of the minds of most voters when they head to the polls on Sept 11.

Political observers say that concerns such as the rising cost of living, transport, housing, the economy, jobs and immigration, which is widely regarded as a key hot-button issue, are set to loom large at the hustings.

"The foreign talent issue is still there, especially for PMETs who want to see a greater reduction (in the level of foreign labour here)," said National University of Singapore political scientist Reuben Wong, using the acronym for professionals, managers, executives and technicians. "They will probably also have to deal with the whole debate about the transport infrastructure here... I'm sure the opposition will raise that at their rallies."

The view that voters will probably be focused on issues close to home comes as the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the largest opposition party, the Workers' Party (WP), have tried to frame the general election in a different way.

The PAP has sought to highlight accounting and financial lapses at the WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) in recent years over the past few months. Several ministers have also said that the polls are about putting in place the right leaders to take Singapore forward. The WP's retort, however, has been to call on voters to elect more opposition MPs to ensure a more responsive government.

But experts say these issues may not be the game-changer that both sides are hoping for them to be. In fact, an over-emphasis on the AHPETC debacle may even backfire on the PAP, said Singapore Management University's Associate Professor Eugene Tan. "There may come a point when voters feel patronised and feel PAP is dictating to them how they should feel and respond to it," said Prof Tan, who feels the issue of leadership renewal may also not be high on voters' minds.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh has a different take. She noted that top issues cited by respondents in an IPS survey in the wake of the 2011 General Election included having efficient government, dealing with cost of living, having a check and balance in Parliament and the need for different views in Parliament.

And she feels that the election will be a good measure of voters' sentiment on some of these counts, including whether the Government has helped them "access and afford the key essentials in life" and given them "a stronger sense of security and assurance about work, family life and developing a fair and inclusive society".

News of the coming election also came as no surprise to eligible voters The Straits Times spoke to after the election date was announced.

Many, like Mr Robin Tan, 33, say they hope issues such as those relating to transport and cost of living will be raised during the hustings, which start on Sept 1. "I'd like to see how the Government will ease transportation woes, such as the breakdowns and congestion in the trains," said the IT manager.

Others such as financial consultant Geoffrey Ying, 44, are looking forward to hearing candidates speak on issues like heritage conservation. "There's a need to do something to conserve some places such as Bukit Brown because they're important to Singapore," he said.

As for Polling Day falling on Sept 11, the date came as a surprise to some who had expected it to be on Saturday, Sept 12. The past three general elections were on Saturdays.

Whether it is Sept 11 or 12, civil engineer V. Krishna, 79, is just glad the date is out. He said: "It's good that it's coming because over the last month we've had a lot of announcements and unveiling of candidates."Bank officer Marvin Quak, 27, said: "The date doesn't really matter. What matters is the election results."

Additional reporting by Goh Yan Han and Choo Yun Ting

Candidates' election deposit set at $14,500
It is $1,500 lower than sum in last general election, but same as in 2013 by-election
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

The election deposit for each candidate contesting in the coming polls next month has been lowered to $14,500 - a decrease of $1,500 from the $16,000 required in the last general election.

The new sum was announced by the Elections Department (ELD) in a statement yesterday.

The ELD also told The Straits Times that the change was in line with the candidate deposit for the Punggol East by-election in 2013, when it was also set at $14,500.

The general election deposit amount was last raised - from $13,500 to $16,000 - in 2011.

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, each candidate's deposit is 8 per cent of the total allowances paid to a Member of Parliament in the preceding year, rounded to the nearest $500.

The deposit, however, will be forfeited if a candidate in a single- member constituency or a team in a group representation constituency receives less than 12.5 per cent of the votes in their constituency.

Singapore Democratic Alliance chief Desmond Lim Bak Chuan lost his deposit twice in two elections contesting in Punggol East - first in the 2011 General Election and then in the 2013 by-election held there.

Both times he was the worst performer in three-way fights.

The election deposit can be made at the Accountant-General's Department or at nomination centres before noon on Nomination Day.

The ELD also listed the nine nomination centres where the candidates will hand in their papers for contesting, according to their respective constituencies.

They will have to do so on Nomination Day, next Tuesday.

Nomination papers can be collected from today at the office of the Returning Officer at the ELD.

The department is open between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Friday, as well as between 9am and 1pm on Saturday.

Soft copies of the nomination paper can also be downloaded from the Elections Department website

Ng Wai Choong to announce election results on Polling Day
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

Senior civil servant Ng Wai Choong will announce the results of the upcoming polls after the last ballot is cast and all votes are counted.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) chief executive was appointed Returning Officer by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in April 2013, soon after People's Association chief executive Yam Ah Mee left for the private sector.

Mr Yam, now managing director at Sembcorp Design and Construction, became an overnight celebrity for his deadpan delivery of the 2011 election results.

Mr Ng, 49, was deputy secretary for policy at the Ministry of Finance before he was appointed to helm the EMA.

As Returning Officer, he will supervise elections in Singapore, including the Sept 11 polls.

Apart from announcing the results, he will also oversee the conduct of the polls and head the army of officials who will run the polling stations and count ballots.

He was the group assistant returning officer in the 2011 General Election, the presidential election in August that same year and the Hougang and Punggol East by-elections.

GE2015: Can PAP crack its performance paradox?
Its impressive policy record will likely be hammered by an opposition keen to claim credit for achievements
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2015

Now that Polling Day is set for Sept 11, the focus shifts to the next P - how well the parties have performed.

That, in turn, informs voters' views on who they think can best represent them over the next five years.

But what is the relevant timeframe to assess past performance?

Is it the People's Action Party's (PAP) 50-year track record of leading Singapore since independence in August 1965?

Is it the 10-year record of the team under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has been at the helm since May 2004?

Or is it the four-year record of the opposition, which won its first group representation constituency in the watershed General Election (GE) of May 2011?

As the party that forms the Government, the PAP has been on the offensive in seeking to define the terms by which political performance should be judged.

The timing of this election helps it make its case that good governance is vital to Singapore's survival and success. Both the year-long Golden Jubilee celebrations and the week of national mourning in March for founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew have brought to the fore how far this nation has come in the past 50 years - under PAP leadership.

At the National Day Rally on Sunday, PM Lee highlighted the bond between the Government and people over the last 50 years as one of three factors that enabled Singapore to get to where it is today.

"The Government has kept its promises, what we said we would do, we did do. We have kept our politics honest, we insisted on high standards of integrity in public life, no corruption, no dishonesty.

"We are also honest when it comes to policies and when it comes to the choices that we have to make. We do not shy away from hard realities, we do not sugar-coat difficult issues. We do right by Singaporeans," Mr Lee said.

He also held up the achievements of his team in the last decade - in strengthening safety nets, in housing, healthcare, education and in beautifying the city.

On the upcoming GE, he said: "This election will be critical. You will be deciding who is governing Singapore for the next five years; but more than that, you will be choosing the team who will be working with you for the next 15-20 years. You will be setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years."

At the same time, the PAP leadership has sought to debunk the opposition's claim that having it in Parliament keeps the Government responsive and accountable to voters.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was the most explicit in doing so, in a speech he delivered 10 days ago to the Economic Society of Singapore. In it, he made the argument that the most remarkable aspect of Singapore's development is not economic growth per se but inclusive growth that has seen incomes grow across the board, with measures in place to moderate inequality and keep social mobility high.

"I recognise of course that there is some political cunning in saying that this all came about because of GE 2011. I'm sorry, it didn't. The world did not start in 2011," he said.

"We made very clear our intentions and motivations well before 2011, made clear that it was a multi-year strategy, and step by step, starting with the kids, through working life, and into the senior years, we have been moving towards a more inclusive society. We intend to continue on this journey, learning from experience and improving where we can. But this is a far more important agenda than a reaction to 2011," he added.

Mr Tharman is right; the world did not start in 2011.

But the reality is that the politicisation of many Singaporeans did. And from their perspective, the Government's responsiveness in areas of deep public discontent - whether buses and trains, property prices, healthcare costs or foreign worker inflows - is due in part to the presence of the seven opposition members voted into Parliament since 2011, the largest number since independence.

If such sentiments hold sway among swing voters - who, according to a 2011 Institute of Policy Studies survey, now form the largest bloc at 45 per cent of the total - then the Workers' Party (WP) may still be in a political sweet spot. It remains the PAP's only real rival at the polls.

During the 2011 campaign, WP chief Low Thia Khiang asked voters to elect opposition MPs to serve as co-drivers because "without co-drivers, Singaporeans keep getting taken for a ride".

Do voters still find such an argument persuasive? Even if some are disappointed by the WP's performance in Parliament or have doubts about its ability to manage a town council, others may believe that what the opposition party needs is yet more electoral support to help it grow and strengthen.

For the PAP, this state of affairs results in a performance paradox it may well find hard to crack.

Its team of ministers has worked hard to address the hot issues of GE2011. They have put more buses on the road, improved train capacity, ramped up the supply of new flats and cooled prices, moderated the inflow of foreign workers and introduced generous healthcare subsidies for pioneers and those on lower incomes, with lifelong medical insurance coverage to kick in for all from November. That is an impressive policy record.

But what will it yield in terms of votes? Will voters applaud what the Government has done? Or give the credit to the opposition? We'll know on Sept 12.


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