30 minutes into the vote counting process for Aljunied GRC at the 2011 general election, former minister George Yeo said he knew his team had lost the contest because “the trends were adverse”.
That was what Mr Yeo, who led the People’s Action Party (PAP) team in the Aljunied contest, was reported to have said by the media after the results were out.
Mr Yeo’s team had garnered just 45 per cent of the votes, against the 54 per cent of the team from the opposition Workers’ Party (WP).
“Having committed 23 years of service to the residents, it is only natural for me to feel disappointed but this is politics,” Mr Yeo said of the results.
He may have been disappointed but perhaps not surprised, if what Mr Yeo says in his new book is anything to go by.
In “George Yeo On Bonsai, Banyan And The Tao”, Mr Yeo said he “was prepared for a possible loss of Aljunied GRC in 2011”, apparently after a “professional pollster friend” of his advised him that the PAP team would likely win only 43 to 47 per cent of the vote in the constituency.
His friend had come to the conclusion after conducting an analysis of certain trends.
Nonetheless, Mr Yeo says that he had kept this prediction from his teammates so as not to “demoralise” them.
The PAP team had comprised several heavyweights, including the former second minister for transport (Lim Hwee Hua), former senior minister of state for foreign affairs (Zainul Abidin Rasheed), former MP Cynthis Phua, and then newcomer Ong Ye Kung, who was touted to be of “ministerial calibre” by the party.
The WP had fielded an “A” team comprising party chief Low Thia Khiang, party chairman and former NMP Sylvia Lim, corporate bigwig Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Muhamad Faisal Manap.
The PAP’s loss in Aljunied was the first time that an opposition party had won in a GRC.
Mr Yeo says in his book, which a compilation of his speeches and writings, that although he had been mentally prepared for the Aljunied loss, it was nonetheless “painful”.
Mr Yeo then announced shortly after that he was quitting politics altogether, and that he would no longer participate in the next general elections, which is due by January 2017.
He said then that it was better for a younger person to contest Aljunied in the next round and try and win it back for the PAP.
Mr Yeo, however, also said that the PAP needed to be “transformed”, given the results of the elections which saw a further weakening of the vote share for the party.
It had slid a further 6.5 per cent, to 60.1 per cent.
This had prompted Mr Yeo to call for a review of how the PAP went about its business, and for it to do some “soul-searching as to how our society has changed and why there is this resentment against the government.”
“I’m part of the debate for change from within,” Mr Yeo said then, referring to the PAP. “I’m often a minority voice but there are others who feel the same way.”
He added that “it’s important to shake the box” from time to time.
This, he explained, was “because whatever system you set up after a while becomes so predictable that it doesn’t capture all the feedback that it needs to have.”
“So a certain shaking of the box is required from time to time — and this is such a time.”
Although news reports then had reported that he was retiring from politics, Mr Yeo’s reply was more nuanced.
“Am I retiring from politics?” he asked at a press conference. “My own view is it is the responsibility of every citizen to be involved in politics because politics is about the way our lives are run collectively. So I don’t think I’ll ever retire from politics because I am a citizen of Singapore. And I’ve got beliefs, I’ve got views and if I can make contributions, I should.”
But he did say that he will not be participating in the next general elections and would leave the task of winning Aljunied back to a younger person.
This drew criticisms from some, who accused him of leaving the PAP team and its activists to fight the next battle in Aljunied.
Mr Yeo’s response was: “I didn’t resign. I was voted out.”