Dear ASS Editors,
We are now in the year 2016. As we leave 2015 behind and begin anew, I would just like to share some observations about the results of GE2015 in which the opposition was trounced by PAP. These observations are based on my conversations with some friends who feel no strong inclination to vote for the PAP or the opposition.
The results of GE2015 should not be seen as just an endorsement of the PAP but also as a complete rejection of the more left-wing politicians and civil society activists. WP is seen as the just acceptable alternative that the swing voters want. Barely acceptable, but still preferred when compared to the scenario of an all-PAP parliament.
I have some friends who are swing voters and I have listened to their views both during GE2011 and GE2015. I was quite surprised after GE2015 when my friend who voted for the PAP in the constituency where she stays expressed sadness about WP's Lee Li Lian losing in Punggol East. I asked her why she felt that way. She said that it's because Lee Li Lian looks like a good person unlike the grumpy-looking old man from PAP whose name she could not remember.
I realized then that swing voters do not really bother to find out about current affairs, policies or party ideologies; they just vote based on their impressions of people running for office. That is why it is so critically important for opposition parties to be on the ground early and to make themselves familiar faces in the constituency where they want to contest.
People like Tan Jee Say, Goh Meng Seng, Sebastian Teo, Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan can talk as much as they want at rallies but still lose elections. This is because they do not work as hard on the ground as they should. They rely too much on their speeches. Chiam See Tong spent years on the ground in Potong Pasir, visiting houses and coffee shops till he finallywon. He was not a great orator and yet he won because of the personal connection he had with the voters of Potong Pasir. I asked my friend why she thinks the opposition lost so badly. This is what she said. "Besides Paul Tambyah and the Workers' Party candidates, the opposition slate was truly terrible". When I pressed further, she said that from her point of view, what she saw were all the hooligans of Hong Lim Park coming forward to run for political office.
Now do you see why opposition politicians should avoid protests at Hong Lim Park? Swing voters see those who protest at Hong Lim Park as hooligans. Singapore is still a conservative country and protests and civil disobedience are frowned upon. Politicians like Goh Meng Seng and Kenneth Jeyaretnam who frequently spoke at Hong Lim Park lost by huge margins in the GE. Civil society activists like Roy Ngerng, M Ravi, Janet Low Wai Choo and Han Hui Hui were soundly defeated. The voters clearly did not see their contributions at Hong Lim Park as anything worth rewarding. The majority had decided that they were definitely not heroes.
So the lesson is clear. Anyone seeking political office in Singapore should stay away from Hong Lim Park. Get your act together. Be active on the ground and explain what your party stands for. Most importantly, be concerned about residents and get to know everyone on a personal level. Get out of Hong Lim Park and get to work visiting residents and talking to them.
Singapore is not Malaysia. In Malaysia, many civil society activists have successfully become politicians. That is because Malaysia has a culture where a vibrant civil society can thrive. This is not the case in Singapore. Protests are not common here and protesters are not respected by the majority of Singaporeans. Civil society activists should know better than to think that their activism is going to win them votes.
There is absolutely no point in writing an excellent manifesto for a GE. Nearly all voters do not bother to read manifestos. Voters in Singapore don't care about political ideologies and tend to lump opposition parties together.
As for Tan Jee Say and SingFirst, my friend did not see them as serious politicians. The fact that they just appeared out of nowhere for the GE made her feel that they were opportunists. She was furious at the way they told voters not to vote PAP out of 'gratitude to the father' or they would end up 'in servitude to the son'. She found it very disrespectful. She didn't have a good impression of Tan Jee Say since he seemed unable to make up his mind on which election he wants to run for. First parliamentary election, then presidential election, then parliamentary election again, then what next?
There was no point asking her about NSP since the silly antics of some NSP politicians during the lead up to GE2015 is well-known. NSP has the problem where a bunch of old 'veterans' refuse to give way to young faces and want to contest elections till the day they die. These grandpas believe that they will someday succeed. They do not accept that their time has passed and that they are no longer relevant or popular. Unlike GE2011 where NSP had a fresh new candidate in Nicole Seah, this time round nearly all the opposition candidates were the same dull old warhorses again and the new candidates just did not seem credible. Think Choong Hon Heng and his 'handshake is basically a promise'.
I asked her about SPP. She said that she would have voted for SPP in a heartbeat if Mr Chiam was running for election. But she said that she has seen Sitoh do a lot of good work for the residents of Potong Pasir, and he is indeed active on the ground. He has been more visible in Potong Pasir than Mrs Chiam. The fact that SPP allied with DPP and fielded ex-NSP members in the GE showed their lack of candidates and members. She grimly said that the Chiam era is over, SPP is a spent political force and has no relevance to Singapore politics. WP was more prominent in parliament than Mrs Chiam due to the media attention given to them. The rise of the moderate WP has unintentionally spelt the end for SPP because they have no space left in the political scene. They cannot distinguish themselves from either WP or SDP.
She still did not trust Chee Soon Juan but she admitted that he has changed for the better. SDP's shift to a more moderate but 'willing and ready to confront if needed' stance paid off and that was why they were the second-best performing opposition party. On balance, her view towards SDP was neutral since her cautious view of Dr Chee was balanced by her very positive opinion of Dr Tambyah. She said that it would be good if SDP continued to attract likeable professionals like Dr Tambyah.
As for WP, she admitted that she had lost some faith in them because of the confusing town council issue but she would still have voted for them since they are new at managing a GRC and PAP started off that way too. She said that the WP candidates came across as simple and likeable.
The conclusion from my conversation with my swing voter friend is this. In tough elections like GE2015 where the ruling party has a lot of positive momentum due to the passing of LKY, SG50 and the Pioneer Generation Package among other ground sweetening policies and initiatives, a moderate oppositionparty will always do better than a confrontational party. SDP improved because they adopted a more nuanced stance. SPP lost their political space and were wiped out.
NSP, PPP, SingFirst and RP candidates were seen as too extremist, unappealing and unelectable. Most voters, including the opposition supporters just did not think these candidates had a realistic chance of winning. Hence these parties failed to even secure the full 30% core of opposition voters in any ward they contested.