Clearly, there must be, by now, a document with this title being circulated amongst PAP’s top cadre. The following is just my own stab in the dark – and if you’ve been (mis)led here by a keyword search, thinking it’s the real McCoy, I’m sorry. (And I’m not alone in saying so).
Traditionally, in Singapore politics, we can almost expect opposition politicians to trip up. In GE2001, it was Chee Soon Juan heckling the PM. In GE2006, it was the James Gomez saga. This year, we had Kenneth Jeyaretnam misquoting PM in a condolence letter.
Conversely, it was a given that PAP would roll a near-perfect score. Candidates with impeccable resumes would be trotted out; not all are eloquent but by-and-large, all generally somewhat likable. If all candidates were stripped of party affiliation, it would be a fair statement that the majority would chose the PAP candidates. Add the party’s huge resources, and every move is strategically-motivated and ably executed, leaving very little to chance.
But the tide seems to have turned in GE2011, with a 6.5% slip in votes and the loss of a GRC. Did the PAP play its cards wrongly this time? Or is the PAP’s new vulnerability a result of the shifting sands?
Let’s look at what I consider to be the three key mistakes in PAP’s GE2011 campaign.
[Note: Here, I define a “mistake” as something that – on hindsight – one wishes that one had not done; even so, I understand that you may not agree with what I consider a mistake, and if so, I’m sorry (again).]
Mistake 1: Fielding Tin Pei Ling. With the massive negative reaction following TPL’s introduction, the PAP could have shelved her candidature for one term; by their own admission, PAP has a slate of reserve candidates which included at least one surgeon. But, no, PAP chose to drive her into Parliament in the armoured convoy known as Marine Parade GRC. The convoy made it, but not without significant battle damage; SM Goh Chok Tong has announced his retirement from the Cabinet’ speculation is that it is linked to his GRC’s low share of votes.
Mistake 2: The Steve Tan faux pas. Clearly the PAP’s due diligence process is showing some cracks; perhaps there are some things that do not come up in polite conversation over a cuppa. In any case, Tanjong Pagar MP Baey Yam Keng was sent east to fill the ranks while overnight MP Dr Chia Shi-Lu got to walk(over) into Parliament as part of MM Lee Kuan Yew’s armoured convoy. (MM has since announced his retirement along with SM Goh, which makes one wonder if it has anything to do with his remarks on the Muslim integration or about Aljunied voters repenting).
The biggest mistake, IMHO, is to play for broke in Aljunied. With the GRC system, the nomination of candidates is akin to the game of Chinese poker. You can either spread out your chances or go for broke. It is not necessary a winning strategy – WP won both in Aljunied and Hougang; SPP lost both Potong Pasir and Bishan-Toa Payoh.
It was politically unfeasible to move FM George Yeo into a ‘safe’ ward. PM upped the ante in Aljunied with the announcement that MP Zainal Abidin would be Speaker of Parliament. Newbie (and touted 4G leader) Ong Ye Kung was probably sent there on account on his being more charismatic than the other new recruits. Still, this set proved no match for the WP’s A-team.
During the fog of the hustings, it was passé to praise but kosher to criticize. It was too easy to overlook the successes of the PAP administration over the past 5 years, especially during the Global Financial Crisis, where the introduction of Workfare and Jobs Credit effectively staved off unemployment, or new developments such as the Marina Bay area, Sentosa’s Resort World and the F1 night race.
In GE2011, PM Lee earned a mixed mandate. While PAP as a whole has lost points, PM’s Ang Mo Kio GRC enjoyed one of the strongest returns, providing him with moral authority that was not available to him in GE2006. The departure of MM Lee, SM Goh, Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim further heralds the possibility of changes, and the one clear message from GE2011 is that changes need to be made. Not only in the Cabinet, but also within the PAP itself.