By Howard Lee
By now, it would have been blatantly obvious to Singaporeans that the ruling People’s Action Party would not field anything close to a B team in Aljunied Group Representative Constituency, let alone a candidate that it feels is of “Ministerial caliber”.
The PAP’s traditional conservatism demands it. They have been slowly eroded out of Aljunied GRC over the past three general elections, and the victory by the Workers’ Party in 2011 was hard won and based, many believe, on the need to introduce a check in Parliament against the right-leaning policies of the PAP. It would take a while to pry away the confidence that citizens have put into WP, and this year is not likely the right time.
Furthermore, former PAP lead candidate in Aljunied GRC George Yeo recently revealed that he has been informed by a “pollster friend” that his team’s chances in Aljunied were slim before campaigning, and add to that the flood of apologies that came in mid-way during the hustings, it would have been clear that the PAP had seriously lost touch with the ground in 2011. Jumping in now with big guns blazing would be grave folly, as it would imply that it is once again ignoring the grassroots approach.
Hence, it is not so surprising to hear the following statement from Defence Minister and PAP’s organising secretary, Dr Ng Eng Hen, about the PAP’s “strategy” in Aljunied GRC:
“We will fight for each vote and we will put in candidates that we feel can be a better team to take care of the municipal issues. But the realpolitik is if we feel we don’t have that support, we’ll have to make our own calculations.”
It is more surprising, however, to hear this statement from him as well:
“Why would we want to field somebody that we know has a higher chance of being rejected and deprive ourselves of an office-holder? Suppose you put five ministers in (Aljunied). Does that serve the purpose? Is it fair to other constituencies who have shown us greater support?”
No one in their right mind would expect the PAP to field even one Minister or “Ministerial caliber” candidate in Aljunied. Calling it a Catch-22 situation should not even be considered – the PAP ha so far not demonstrated the capacity to wrest Aljunied back from WP using strength of candidate alone. The two humiliating losses in the Hougang and Punggol-East by-elections, when all the traditional cards were in their favour, should have pointed that out rather painfully.
However, Mr Ng would now say that an obvious loss, or at least a very high chance of a loss, would mean that the PAP would be “deprived” of an office-holder, potential or otherwise, which presumably would be “unfair” to the PAP’s supporters in other wards.
It would seem that the PAP has not learned a thing about humility in politics.
First, it still continues to assume that the party alone holds the right to decide if a candidate should be a Minister or a municipal caretaker. And when it does decide that someone is, will it then choose to one again parachute the candidate into a “safe” ward to secure the seat for said high-caliber individual? Are the votes and views of citizens even necessary in this matter?
Second, it continues to perpetuate the position that those who vote for the PAP will have the best candidates. And Mr Ng seems to have done nothing more here than parrot the lines of his boss, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when he revealed at a recent conference: “And if we take the view that if you voted against me, I shall help you first, because that shows my largeness of spirit, then I think we will go extinct as a Government.”
In all honestly, why? Does the PAP not realise that such rhetoric could potentially agitate voters, assuming that its antics in discrediting the WP as a municipal care-taker – which again assumes that that was what Aljunied GRC residents voted WP into Parliament for – has not further put-off voters? Why would it even suggest that some voters deserve better candidates compared to other voters?
If the PAP is really sincere about winning back the ground, then get on the ground. Either that, or take a step back to examine what Singaporeans were really angry about leading up to GE2011, and work towards rectifying those from a policy perspective, rather than bicker endlessly about municipal issues. Show that you can be a bigger party.
And if all that is not sufficient, and you are really confident that you have the right candidates, disband the GRC system and let each man and woman earn their keep in single member wards. Let them prove that they can win the hearts of voters.
If anything, this “strategy” for Aljunied GRC ha done little more than suggest that the PAP has no confidence that the slew of policies that it has rolled out since GE2011 has been successful in winning back ground support. The mighty PAP is now hedging its bets for the tinderbox that was Aljunied GRC, because it has no way of guessing if it will ignite in the wrong way again.
But if the party wants to retain any shred of respect with voters, it would have been sufficient for Mr Ng to just say, “we are taking a careful and slow approach, we know it will be a long haul battle, we have learned our lesson and prefer to work it from the ground up”.
Why pin it on voters for “depriving the PAP of an office-holder”? Is it even right to put this responsibility on voters?