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The showdown in Aljunied

by Ng E-Jay/

photo credit: Aaron Lim

Aljunied GRC is shaping up to be the hottest potato of GE 2011. Mr Low Thia Khiang, Secretary-General of the Worker’s Party (WP), has left his Hougang stronghold to join his colleagues Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Muhamad Faisal bin Adbul Manap in an all-out attempt in breaking the GRC gridlock. This is the biggest, riskiest political gambit ever undertaken by the WP.

Mr Low has a record of four consecutive electoral victories, Sylvia Lim won an NCMP seat in the last election, and their team mates have excellent academic and career credentials. This WP “A” team is battling against a PAP team comprising two ministers, one potential Speaker of Parliament, and incumbent MPs who are very well established in the grassroots. This is a fight between the opposition’s best team and one of the best teams from the PAP, and is certainly a story for the history books regardless of the outcome.

The PAP team is obviously going to bank very heavily on PAP’s track record and their status as incumbents to convince voters. Mr George Yeo’s team claims that they have put in a lot of grassroots work since the last general election and can connect very well with Aljunied residents. Last week, the PAP team also laid out their plans for Aljunied GRC if they get elected, which include four new MRT stations, more blocks selected for the Home Improvement Program, 13 km of estate and park connectors, and more childcare centers.

So, what factors could work in WP’s favour?

Firstly, there has been significant groundswell since the last general election, which is likely to translate into more votes for the opposition nationwide. Even senior PAP cabinet ministers like Mr Goh Chok Tong has admitted that the ground is not as sweet for the PAP as before.

In the last elections, WP scored 43.9% of the vote in Aljunied. In this election, if WP’s Aljunied team increases its vote share in tandem with the national vote swing, victory could well be in sight for WP.

Secondly, WP has put together in Aljunied GRC what is undoubtedly the strongest team it has ever fielded, headed by the charismatic Low Thia Khiang himself who has been a Member of Parliament and has enjoyed the national spotlight for two decades. Mr Low is very experienced in managing the town councils, and is a seasoned veteran as far as taking care of the constituency is concerned. Voters should have little to worry about, as far as his ability to look after the day to day affairs of the ward is concerned. I feel that Mr Low’s decision to step out of his Hougang stronghold will be viewed positively by voters who will see him as putting the national interest and the party’s interest before his own.

Thirdly, WP has made it clear to Singaporeans and to Aljunied voters in particular that this is a high stakes move on the part of WP. The reason for embarking on this risky electoral venture is to break the GRC gridlock once and for all, so as to create the opportunity to work towards establishing a First World Parliament. I feel this message will go down well with Aljunied voters, who will not only feel empowered by WP’s message, but will feel a keen sense of responsibility to help continue the tradition established by estates like Hougang and Potong Pasir of having opposition representation in Parliament.

The PAP appears rattled by such a bold and decisive move by the WP to put all its eggs into one basket. Mr George Yeo on Thursday lambasted WP for putting Aljunied voters into what he terms an “emotional dilemna” He said that WP has placed upon Aljunied residents the “burden” of the opposition cause and the task of supporting the larger interests of the opposition at the potential expense of their own “enlightened self interest”.  And on Friday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew came out to frighten Aljunied voters by saying that he was sure they would regret their decision if they voted in the WP team.

The electorate is not new to these usual scare tactics, which are designed to play up fears that the opposition will never be able to take care of residents or do as good a job as the PAP in maintaining the constituency. Mr Yeo’s comments represent a new line of attack – it is an attempt to persuade voters that they are being made use of by the opposition and are being turned into political fodder. The implicit assertion in Mr Yeo’s comments is that the opposition (WP in particular) does not have voters’ interest at heart.

I shall not dwell on the merits or lack thereof of the PAP’s arguments, as other TOC articles have already addressed them, and I’m sure TOC readers, especially those voting in Aljunied GRC, can assess for themselves whether the comments by PAP leaders are worthy of consideration.

What is clear is that the PAP’s biggest battle is in Aljunied, and they will most likely leave no stone unturned in convincing voters that Mr Low’s team should not be voted into Parliament.

It is up to voters now to decide whether they wish to preserve the status quo and hand Aljunied back to the PAP on polling day, or whether they wish to give Mr Low’s team a chance at building a First World Parliament.