Correction: The Budget debate will conclude on the 13th of February, and not on the 3rd as mentioned in the article. We apologise for the error.
Choo Zheng Xi
In an earlier article, I highlighted how the Integrated Resorts’ dim prospects were an important factor that could lead the People’s Action Party (PAP) government to call snap elections early this year.
I’d like to point out several other indicators that have since strengthened my belief that an election sometime in early March is likely. Before that, I should appropriately caveat that neither myself nor my sources cited in this article are making any claims to absolute certainty.
A little bird told me
As unlikely as a snap election sounds, two recent conversations made me reconsider the prospect in greater depth.
A friend of mine (let’s call him Source 1) is in contact with PAP grassroots personnel who told him that party flags and banners have been ordered from China. This could be an indicator that they are being prepared for an impending election.
A second source who is actively involved in PAP organizational work told me that things were ‘heating up’ on the ground. When I pressed him on specifics, he was initially reticent but eventually relented: ‘Look at their internet activity. All the MPs in Aljunied have a Facebook page, and almost all the P65 MPs.’
Conjecture or possibility? Let’s test the theory.
Mortality and economics
Two external factors bolster the snap election hypothesis. One of these is unpredictable, the other less so.
The founding father of the PAP, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, still wields strong influence in the party and has long been associated with the country’s success. After systematically retiring the Old Guard who founded the PAP with him, Mr Lee is the paramount symbol of the PAP’s permanence.
Mr Lee’s style of politics is synonymous with the PAP brand: a brutally tough, unapologetic, suffer-no-fools attitude that Singaporeans fear, if not respect. This grudging respect, however, is not hereditary. On the shoulders of second and third generation PAP leaders, the mantle of these qualities are increasingly grating, and have been criticized as arrogant, insensitive, and elitist.
Mr Lee is already 86 years old. Last December, he had a pacemaker implanted to remedy irregular heart rhythm. The question on the minds of many Singaporeans, but which few dare to voice openly, is this: how long more can he live?
Certainly, this will weigh heavily on the minds of the PAP, who will not want to go into an election without him in such uncertain times.
Slightly more predictable is the negative economic climate we are heading into. Globally, phrases like ‘the worst recession since 1929’ and ‘global downturn’ have been used ad nauseum. Retrenchments are likely to increase dramatically in the years ahead, and economic growth is likely to slow.
Employment statistics and first quarter growth will only be released in March, while the budget debate will conclude on the third of February. It would come as no surprise if the budget includes substantial handouts to boost consumer confidence.
Retrenchments are likely to be brutal after Chinese New Year, as bosses usually put off breaking the bad news until after festivities are out of the way. This will be reflected in first quarter growth statistics at the beginning of March.
Ideally for the government, it will want to call the election while the pleasant buzz of a generous budget is undisturbed by a raft of bad statistics.
More tea leaves
Events of recent months seem to support my second source’s claim that things are ‘heating up’ at grassroots level. I’m hard pressed to remember the last time the Prime Minister made a personal appearance at a constituency New Year countdown to press the flesh.
The government’s phased liberalization of the rules governing political videos could be the final plank in their strategy to establish a beachhead in cyberspace. Already, the Young PAP Facebook presence is impressive.
Despite the strong push by internet activists to completely repeal restrictions on political films, the reality is that the PAP has the most to gain from the liberalization. To call the election before the opposition has built up a comparable internet presence would make good strategic sense.
Again, I make no claim to clairvoyance. I’d be happy if TOC readers could write in with tip offs or views about when an election will be called and why.
Read also: Why there mustn't be an election this year by Alex Au.