I was glad that the Hougang by-election was over and of course predictably Workers’ Party won that controversial seat despite the bad publicity that Yaw Shin Leong has created for the party.
In fact, anyone whom the WP would place into Hougang will most likely enjoy a shoo-in despite the popularity of PAP’s Desmond Choo.
Desmond must be hopeful as opposition ward Potong Pasir was finally taken over by PAP during last year GE when veteran opposition hero Chiam put his wife Lina there and contested in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC instead.
But this is Hougang – the ultimate opposition hot-spot whose residents do not care one hoot about the ruling party’s candidate credentials or how run-down their estate has being.
I visited Hougang last year and was shocked to realise that the estate is so old and sadly it reminded me of Chinatown in the 1990s!
Only if more Singaporeans can sacrifice themselves for ultimate democracy and glory…
Hougang residents must have felt that they are a special breed of people as they have casted their votes thrice within a year – GE 2011, Presidential Election and now the Hougang by-election. They must have being able to walk to the balloting station blindedfolded by now – all proud and feeling good about it!
Moreover, to Singaporeans, the people of Hougang represents the ultimate die-hard opposition force that everyone loves to be associated with. In fact, now it is charming to call yourself a friend of the opposition and the Workers’ Party has no lack of fans especially after the success of GE 2011.
Perhaps the Low Thia Khiang factor is still very strong in Hougang and he is seen more as a folk hero than a politician – who will bring Singapore out of the evil grip of the ruling party.
In fact, he may well be the one who will orchestrate the change of governance if things go his way by GE 2016 or 2021 and things seem to be moving very much along that direction.
If a general election is to called together with the Hougang by-election, there is a high chance that the PAP will lose 2-3 more GRCs as things seemed to have pretty much gone downhill after GE 2011.
The ruling party must have took the Hougang defeat bitterly as they seldom tasted it so often – all within 12 short months. They have lost the first GRC to WP and now lost Hougang SMC twice within a year and ironically the fault lies with the WP candidate Mr Yaw!
I have listed seven lessons to learn from the Hougang by-election:-
1. The tide is changing fast and furious
Following the success of WP in GE 2011 culminating with the take-over of Aljunied GRC, WP has being enjoying loads of popularity with the Generation X and Y.
Almost everyone I knew who hail from Generation X and Y are their fans. They spoke of LTK and Sylvia Lim in awe and hold them almost in similar high regard as our popular past President Ong Teng Cheong.
The WP rallies were packed to the brim last week and though I didn’t visit any of their rallies, I followed them up on their youtube videos.
Indeed, the ruling party must be very afraid now that the tide is changing and churning very fast against them and they seem clueless as to how to reverse it.
Their official feedback channel REACH and ministerial facebook interaction did little to bring back the lost communication they miss with the younger voters.
With an annual average of 30, 000 new Gen Y voters coming on board, their presence is significant and could change the voting pattern especially in those tight closely-fought GRCs.
After the fall of Aljunied GRC, there is the talk of at least 2-3 more adjacent GRCs falling – East Coast, Moulmein-Kallang and Tampines. All were contested by WP in GE 2011 with the exception of Tampines which was contested by NSP.
All the seats were lost by a mere 5-6 per cent and will remain hot GRC spots for contest in GE 2016. It is foreseeable that at least two of the three GRCs will fall to WP if things go the way it is by then.
It may be wise for other opposition parties to close ranks with WP and work out a plausible win-win solution for Singapore. Any 3-party contest will be beneficial for the ruling party.
WP was seen visiting Tampines GRC last month speculating rife rumours that they will be contesting in Tampines come GE 2016.
Anyway, the ruling party will have to figure out innovative ways to stem this changing tide or else they will lose more seats in five years’ time. It is foreseeable that in future our Parliament will consist of a mix of 1/4 WP and 3/4 PAP seats.
Looking at how our political landscape is shaping out, I figure that there is really nothing much that the PAP can do about it…
2. Scholars may not be best candidates
As I read through the credentials of the two candidates, they both stood poles apart – yet the weaker one on paper still won. Why?
Desmond Choo is the young hotshot of the ruling party elistic machinery – he is a scholar from the police force but now is working with NTUC as a unionist.
He is young, energetic and even likeable but though Png stood with a more popular brand in Hougang – he is seen as more matured, able to understand what are the frustrations of the general populace and is one of them.
Though educated abroad in the US, he is now doing his own business and does not belong to the elite group of Singaporeans – like many PAP candidates.
At least 1/4 of our PAP candidates are scholars and seem well to do.
Many voters have cried foul with the failure of the PAP MPs in identifying with the feelings of the common man in the street.
They all drive cars, stay in condos, have cushy jobs that pay four to five figures – how can they identify with the needs of the common folks?
PAP may have to change their strategy of putting up well educated scholars who have all the brains but little heart for election. They may face a bruisng battle come GE 2016 if they continue with their elistic attitude of putting up scholars as rightful candidates.
3. Playing dirty politics
Many arm chair analysts have told me that if not for DPM Teo, Desmond Choo may win abit more votes and I agreed with them.
Before DPM Teo came into the picture and trying to taunt Png with the NCMP saga, many have expected Desmond to win at least 43 – 45% of the votes as he really worked very hard on the ground after GE 2011 and came across as a nice sincere guy. Some Hougang residents were also not happy with Mr Yaw’s irresponsible behavior.
DPM Teo – himself not a very good politician and immensely unpopular on the ground due to his aloof nature, did Desmond no favour by hitting at Png and handed back the under dog status to WP. After that, WP sailed on smoothly with the campaign by playing along with DPM Teo.
PAP used the same tactic to good effect when James Gomez failed to come clean with the application form at the Election office but that was almost ten years ago when PAP was still not so unpopular.
The tide has changed now and for every taunt the ruling party made at the opposition candidate it could back fire at them ten-fold - this time it did backfired badly judging by the strong showing of the WP candidate.
Bookies were giving out odds of 3500 plus votes to Png but we all knew that he won more than that.
The ruling party will use all methods possible to stay in power and may even return to their usual old mold of intimidating political candidates standing with the opposition.
They knew that by playing the good guys in GE 2011 they have lost one GRC…but will they lose even more if they play dirty politics in GE 2016? Stay tune…
4. Gods with the people?
Its amazing how much downhill the country has gone immediately after GE 2011 – we have two major MRT fallouts last year, two car accidents within the span of three weeks and all driven by PRC Chinese crashing at the same spot and heightened angst at the prolonged unemployment of our educated PMETs as a result of the ease in hiring cheap foreign talents.
The xenophobia sentiments have never being so scary and there is this fear that the false calm beneath all the pent-up anger will one day fall apart.
Many locals have blame the foreigners for stealing away jobs, causing the cost of our resale HDB flats to soar and bringing in their own strange culture into our country.
Many foreigners who are mostly from third world countries fail to appreciate the wonderful infrastructure of our country and more worrying there is this feeling that they have little respect for the local citizens.
Random clashes have occurred between locals and foreigners all along but these are isolated incidents but with the recent xenophobia sentiments so volatile it may take just one silly mistake from a foreigner to create a mass havoc.
5. Choosing your candidates correctly
There is no way that you can choose a candidate correctly as the person will change along the way or he may even hide his secret from you until its too late. Even the ruling party has their own fair share of croaked politicans cloaked in shiny armours until their true dirty colours shone later on.
Many people have already knew about Yaw’s illicit secrets so its still a mystery when LTK said that he is not in the picture.
Moreover by chosing Gerald Giam for the NCMP’s role over Eric Tan, it is quite clear that LYK wants new young blood to rejuvenate the party.
I must salute LTK for taking the brave step of by-passing his favourite lieutenant who has since resigned from the party. Its the hallmark of a true leader who dares to make unpopular decision for the long-term sake of the party.
LTK must not shy away from continuing to bring in new blood to the party despite the fallout of a young hotshot – Yaw. Its the only way to rejuvenate the party else it becomes stale and unfresh.
In fact, many analysts have predicted that if LTK is suddenly taken away, the whole party may be in a limbo as there is no foreseeable leader ready to take over immediately.
Though Sylvia Lim is a solid Chairman of the party, she is always playing second fiddle to LTK and lack his clout.
We see how low-key Chiam has been since he contracted a second damaging stroke many years ago and he fails miserably as a party leader.
It may be wise for LTK to groom someone or a team to take over if something adverse happens to him.
6. Local issues are national issues
Its still puzzling why the ruling party kept denying that local issues are not national issues when they campaigned for the by-election.
The issues of inflation, low salary, foreign influx and general feeling of stagnation have affected the people of Hougang as much as they have on the general population.
How could they be different?
Are the Hougang residents not living in Singapore also and take the same congested MRT trains as other Singaporeans living in Punggol, AMK or Bishan? Do they manage to buy cheaper groceries than other Singaporeans living in Marine Parade or Tampines?
Perhaps the ruling party has all along knew that they would lose in Hougang and wanted the country to know that what happened in there is unique and peculiar but they are wrong!
How the people in Hougang felt is pretty similar to what most Singaporeans will feel if they could cast their votes today.
Its just that belonging in an opposition ward for so long make it so much easier to throw caution to the wind and making it so natural for them to vote back the opposition.
It just shows that it is so difficult to swing votes back to another party if they have already decided who to vote for mentally.
7. Division in WP
There is so much talk about a division within WP and it seems true.
After Eric left, things seemed normal and calm till Yaw came and haunted the WP leadership.
There was also talk of a dispute on whether to sack Yaw from his MP seat when he failed to come clean with the leadership.
The votes must be close and it showed that internally a split is brewing.
LTK is also known to be dictatorial – almost in the mold of LKY and could stand no nonsense from his followers.
It is perhaps this crude leadership style that manages to allow him to build up a credible tightly-run opposition party.
So far, there is no other opposition party that is better managed than WP though SDP is seem as coming up.
A split within the ranks of WP leadership will be disastrous for Singapore as the party seems well ready to ride with the tide. The ruling party will also be sending in spies to the party and exploit any loopholes within its ranks.
However, knowing LTK’s style, he will rather chop dissident members off than accommodate them.
Just look at Eric and Yaw and you get the drift.
Written by: Gilbert Goh