Long before the General Election (GE) was called on 23 June 2020, the People’s Action Party (PAP) was already on high alert with several members from the alternative parties, which include Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Lee Hsien Yang from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Tan Jee Say from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and the Workers’ Party (WP) in general.
The primary target on the PAP’s scope, however, was Dr Tan, who is the founder of PSP.
According to PAP’s Chan Chun Sing, when the PAP plans its political strategy, it “draws the strongest opposition’s plan first, and learns how to prepare to counter that”. It doesn’t do so for the weakest one though.
Mr Chan, formerly the Minister of Trade and Industry, was speaking about the PAP’s GE strategy in a closed-door meeting to 60 attendees in the northwest division in Bukit Panjang on 9 Jan 2019. He verbalised certain predictions and concerns about alternative parties’ policies manifestos, candidates, and campaign strengths.
PAP was wary of Dr Tan and Lee Hsien Yang threat
“In fact [we have been preparing] for Mr Tan and Mr Lee to [contest] in the northwest. If you’re unlucky, he would go to the West [Coast] and not the northwest,” Mr Chan commented, before letting off a boisterous laugh.
“You should prepare for this,” he cautioned.
However, on 25 June 2020, nearly a year and a half after this meeting, when responding to a media query about Mr Lee possibly contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC, Mr Chan said that “[they] are not particularly focused on who is coming or going”.
Turns out, what Mr Chan warned came into being, albeit partially.
On 25 June, Mr Lee’s membership to PSP was officially declared by Dr Tan. The PAP initially anticipated that Dr Tan and Mr Lee might contest in Tanjong Pagar GRC, but it was later revealed that Dr Tan will be contesting in West Coast GRC instead – without Mr Lee as a candidate.
Meanwhile, Mr Chan and the PAP have been squaring off in some coruscating back-and-forth with Dr Tan over a variety of issues during the campaigning period. Some of the issues include engaging in a televised debate with Mr Chan over competency of alternative parties in handling COVID-19 crisis, violating safe-distancing measures during a walkabout, and “gutter politics” and “fear-and-reward politics” that the PAP is employing. Regarding the debate proposal, Mr Chan has turned down the idea to have one.
Mr Chan foresaw that “more accountability” and “freedom of speech” would be part of The Workers’ Party’ strategy
Mr Chan then had a brainstorming session with the attendees on what Dr Tan and Mr Lee’s manifesto and political strategy would be for the next GE.
“Do you think they’ll stand up and shout: Vote PAP and Lee Hsien Loong out! I’m the man?” he jokingly asked.
Answers from the attendees were then tossed out.
“More accountability,” said one of the attendees.
“No, that sounds like Pritam Singh,” Mr Chan immediately replied.
In WP’s manifesto for GE2020, the party calls for related individuals to political office holders to be denied appointment to “key positions in national institutions, including organs of state, national media companies and sovereign wealth funds”.
It also feels that the “Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau should be overseen by a cross-partisan parliamentary committee”, and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Elections Department, and Electoral Boundaries Review Committee should have more independent jurisdiction and authority separate from the Government’s purview – among other things.
Another answer came from the floor: “Freedom of speech?”
“That is Pritam Singh [too],” Mr Chan stated.
WP’s manifesto also focuses on media and speech freedom, in which the party proposes an amendment to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act so that “the Government’s power to require a class of management shares in newspaper companies is abolished”.
It also wants the “licensing regime [to be] opened up to allow mass media companies to be majority owned and managed by locals”, and an “[establishment of an] independent regulatory industry body to investigate complaints against the media on grounds of ethics and journalistic integrity”.
Speaking about the WP, Mr Chan noted that the party’s strength was mainly ground campaigning.
Mr Chan anticipated that Dr Tan will go for the “true leadership” angle, hoping to stir the government back on the right track
“Are Singaporeans happy with the cost of living?” came another mock strategy that Dr Tan may use.
Mr Chan regarded it as a typical angle that all alternative parties tend to take.
“Some are typical angles [that] the opposition will attack: Ministers’ salary, cost of living, no accountability,” he said.
One of the attendees said that Dr Tan will resort to saying that he is “disgruntled” with the PAP.
In response, Mr Chan opined that it would be a “wrong tactic” for Dr Tan, but instead accredited it to the WP and SDP’s playbook.
“No; if you’re Dr Tan, first you must stand out from all the opposition parties. Then you must beat the PAP. [So] it must be something that only Dr Tan will say, that others can’t say,” he stressed.
Mr Chan then predicted that it would be something along the lines of “you like my face, you trust me, you know my record”.
He went on to say that if he was Dr Tan, he would say that PAP has “deviated from the truth”, adding that Dr Tan and Mr Lee will proceed to claim that “[they] are [the] true leadership; [they] will keep the truth straight and bring back the original PAP”.
On 5 July, Mr Lee commented on the kind of leadership that should be in Parliament. He compared the requirement of having “character and courage” to join an alternative party, whereas PAP holds candidates with illustrious professional credentials in high regard.
He also asserted on 1 July that PAP has “lost its way” and that “the current government has failed its people”. Hence, he urged all Singaporeans to “vote fearlessly” and “rescue the future of the country we love”.
“They will [present] an image that [PSP] would bring you back to the original PAP,” he affirmed.
In PSP’s manifesto, it encourages “diversity of views”, a political and social climate where Singaporeans “can speak up without fear or favour”, and a “review of POFMA”.
“And their policies won’t be so different from the PAP; it would be attractive enough to maintain the PAP [core], but trim the dangers that would bring PAP’s [power] back to its people,” Mr Chan added.
Besides that, Mr Chan foresaw that the PSP would be filled with lawyers and doctors to complement the powerhouse duo.
However, out of 24 candidates being fielded in GE2020, PSP only has one practising lawyer and one practising doctor.
Mr Chan felt threatened by Tan Jee Say
Mr Chan also revealed that the politician whom he felt directly threatened his position was Tan Jee Say.
“If Dr Tan [goes] back to the West Coast then [that’s] good. I don’t have to worry about the northwest already. [But] if Tan Jee Say comes back to Tanjong, I [will] panic already. Tanjong Pagar is hoping everyday for Tan Jee Say to come back,” he noted, adding that PAP “was looking high and low [to find] his party”.
Mr Chan believed that the “SDP was strong on the internet” when it comes to its reach and campaigning.
“Even if you prepare for Tan Jee Say, [when] he turns up you’ll [still] not be okay,” Mr Chan stated.
Tan Jee Say will be standing in the GE, although in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, and not in Mr Chan’s Tanjong Pagar GRC. So, he is safe for now.