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NCMPgate: A question of dubious relevance

By Choo Zheng Xi ~

Political pundits are asking: was the Workers’ Party (WP) Mr Png Eng Huat the first, second or third best candidate the WP considered for the post of Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP)? Was Mr Png’s name on the CEC ballot ballot or not?

Voters of Hougang should be asking: does any of this matter?

Voters of Hougang Single-Member Constituency go to the polls on 26 May 2012 to select a Member of Parliament for the electoral district of Hougang. The candidate selected by the WP must primarily be assessed on his ability to connect with the voters of Hougang.   

After general election 2011 (GE2011), Mr Gerald Giam, who contested in East Coast GRC, was selected by the WP’s CEC to be the WP’s second NCMP. The ostensible reason for his selection was the WP’s emphasis on party renewal.

Doubtless the question of ability played some part in the selection, but it would be a stretch to imply, as Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean recently did, that the WP CEC’s NCMP selection process was a referendum on the WP candidates’ abilities.

More important to the WP’s CEC were probably broader concerns of party branding in the wake of an unprecedented and historic national election.

Lest it be said that I am a WP apologist, let me make clear that I think the WP and Mr Png have made a tactical misstep in taking DPM’s bait. By explaining that he disagreed with the NCMP scheme and stating that he asked not to be considered for the position, Mr Png has made the choice to play in DPM Teo’s sandpit.

Implicit in Mr Png’s statement that he asked not to be on the ballot for the NCMP position is this: “if I wanted the post, I might have stood a good chance of getting it”. The more correct answer would have been to say that DPM Teo’s comparison was a meaningless one.

On a separate level, the WP has chosen to frame the Hougang by-election through a national lense, and so must address the question of whether the WP is ready for prime time on the national stage head-on.

In this regard, Hougang voters will be justified in giving some weight to whether or not internal tensions within the WP could potentially act as an impediment to the Party’s ability to serve residents’ needs on a municipal and national level. These questions have been cast into stark relief by Dr Poh Lee Guan’s antics prior to Nomination day, and the now re-opened wound of how Eric Tan was treated in the wake of GE 2011.

But as important as questions of Party unity are, the question that really should take centre stage is whether or not Mr Png is the right person for the right ward at the right time.

Internal party politics is riveting for political observers in the know, but much less impactful to the ordinary voter in Hougang.

Mr Png still has time before polling day to find his footing again.

To successfully weather “NCMPgate”, Mr Png needs to re-focus his campaign around his work in Hougang’s Constituency Committee since 2007.

Mr Png’s biodata tells us he worked with “several voluntary welfare organizations to provide needy and elderly residents with food every day”.  Mr Png needs to continue to communicate his track record to the voters in Hougang, speaking through the war of words being played out on national headlines.

Despite the PR hiccups, this by-election is still very much Mr Png’s to lose: the WP enjoys incumbent advantage and many Hougang residents feel an enduring personal loyalty to Mr Low Thia Kiang.

However, the concerns highlighted above and the dogged campaigning by the PAP’s affable and formidable Mr Desmond Choo means that Mr Png needs to keep a laser-like focus on the real issues to keep Hougang in the WP’s column.

Choo Zheng Xi is the Consultant Editor for The Online Citizen.

This article is published by The Online Citizen, 20 Maxwell Road, #09-17 Maxwell House, Singapore 069113.