Two gentlemen must be having sleepless nights after the disastrous showing at the Punggol East by-election – PM Lee Hsein Loong and disgraced ex-speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer.
The Prime Minister must be cursing his luck when SDP decided to withdraw from the by-election battle a few days before Nomination Day thus handing the crucial initiative back to the Workers’ Party.
His trump card of a 4 or even 5-corner by-election battle would logically split the votes among the opposition parties but with the withdrawal of big-boy SDP, only minnows Reform Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance stood in the way of a rampaging Workers’ Party.
The other person who may have trouble sleeping lately is Mr Michael Palmer who was sacked because of spousal infidelity triggering a vital by-election for Singapore.
The by-election loss is significant for Singapore as it sent out a clear message to the government that all is not well and voters are willing to vote with their feet now – regardless of the consequences.
It has also cemented WP’s status as a resolute trusted opposition party deserving of their swing votes.
I have listed ten reasons why PAP lost so dramtically to the Workers’ Party in this by-election even when the latter has put up a normal Generation Y female candidate:-
1. Lost touch with the ground
Its common knowledge that the ruling party has lost touch with the ground for many years resulting in a disastrous showing at the previous GE 2011.
Many ministers and civil servants are sitting in their sheltered ivory towers dictating policies when clearly they are unsure what hit the men in the streets.
Most are paid handsomely with year-end bonuses and average 3-month performance bonuses to realise that the wages of the average Singaporeans are being squeezed hard by unscrupulous employers out to make a quick buck in their businesses.
Worse of all, government aid agencies are also not doing much to help the average Singaporeans hit by structural unemployment.
For example, there are many complaints lined up against unemployment-related aid agencies such as CDC, NTUC, Caliberlink, TAFEP and e2i and so far none has being able to come up with any pulsating programmes to help the jobless PMETs.
The main grouse of most jobless PMETs visiting such government aid agencies is that the consultants are often very young and unable to relate to the middle-aged clients knocking on their door.
Most applicants also do not hear from their consultants again after the first visit which adds on to their frustration.
2. Escalating cost of living
In his midnight press conference, WP chief Mr Low Thia Khiang has echoed what many Sngaporeans felt about the rising cost of living.
Inflation has being cruising along at 4.5% on average for the past one year and shows no sign of abating.
To complicate matters further, our wages have being depressive all along hampered mainly by the availability of cheaper and younger foreigners.
Its the vicious cycle of having to earn more money in order to make ends meet and when it comes to survival issue, Singaporeans show their practical side by voting against the government.
3. SDP last-minute pull-out
SDP was the first party to enter the by-election fray and many were shocked when they announced that they would be pulling out of the contest few days before nomination day – effectively handing back the advantage to WP.
SDP has being growing in strength with their well-thought-out papers on national issues and they also manage to attract some top brains in Dr Ang Peng Guan and Dr Vincent Vijey.
If SDP is still in the by-election battle, it is envisaged that PAP will win as the popular leftist opposition party could command at least 15% of the votes casted – votes that are meant for the WP.
WP must really thank SDP for their historic win and hopefully we will see more of such strategic partnership in GE 2016 as the battle ground will prove to be more fiery and brutal than the recent by-election.
Our PM will probably need to be more politically astute as so far he has lost two by-elections within a short eight months’ period and if he lose more seats in GE 2016 he may have to vacant his PM position.
4. Top surgeon vs normal trainer
As usual, PAP fielded an elite in top surgeon Dr Koh and to his credit he came across as someone who is genuine and ready to help.
However, the average Singaporeans are sick of such elite candidates as the government is currently all filled with such top-brass people who are unable to connect well with the ground.
People are unable to relate to the top echelon well now given the serious wage gap between the have’s and the have-not’s.
We have one of the world’s worst wage gap and many Singaporeans question how can a $50,000/month surgeon comprehend the frustrations of those earning a paltry $2000/month as a low-end technician struggling to keep his job from hungrier cheaper foreigners?
PAP needs to do away with fielding top elite candidates in future election as sometimes it can back fire hard on them as seen in the recent Punggol East by-election.
5. By-election effect
Many PAP top guns have stated that the by-election effect has suited the opposition side more and I tend to agree with them on that.
In a by-election contest, the opposition has some advantage as the government is already formed and it will not rock the boat too much if an additional seat went to the opposition.
WP seized this political advantage and hit hard on this point during their rallies.
So far, PAP has lost three of the four by-election contests and it could be true that voters will not hesitate to vote in an opposition candidate as there is no loss to them when they do so.
6. The damaging AIM fiasco
It is unfortunate that the AIM fiasco happened few weeks before the announcement of the by-election contest.
Many netizens have speculated that the PM may want to avoid further embarassment as an investigation is already under way into the AIM scandal by calling for a snap by-election.
Will PAP win this by-election if he postpones it to a much later date?
It is anyone’s guess now but the AIM scandal has embarassed the government and may have even persuaded some voters in Punggol East to vote for the WP.
To it’s credit, the WP has spent alot of time on their third and final political rally focusing on the AIM issue and I am sure that many voters who attended the rally would be swayed.
7. Influential political blogs
I have spent more time reading about the by-election news in our socio political blogs than on the government-controlled Straits Times.
This is serious as such blogs tend to be rather anti-government and slanted but unfortunately there is no way that the government can control or curtail them.
Socio political blogs such as TRE, TOC, The Real Singapore and Temsaek Times have enjoyed increased readership during by-election period as netizens tend to flock to such sites for an alternative view.
The Straits Times will lose out here as it tends to stay very neutral and even pro-government in all it’s reporting drawing many sincere readers away.
The lack of a free press will hurt the government more in future as young impressionable Generation Y voters will flock to socio political blogs for their daily feed.
I am sure that many voters from Punggol East have been reading up such blogs as most of them are techno-savvy and from the younger generation x and y groups.
The influence of political blogs must not be taken lightly as come GE 2016, more than 30, 000 new workers hail from the younger generation Y era will be able to cast their votes and they are all internet savvy and highly impressionable.
8. WP Chief vs PAP DPM Teo
To his credit, WP chief Mr Low Thia Khiang has taken effort and time to build up a tight opposition outfit which is both disciplined and professional.
He has sat on the reins of his MP seat for more than two decades and bid for his time with utmost patience.
Politics is a funny business and when you enter it at the right time and place, you will be elected.
Mr Low is also politically astute and managed to survive the dark years of the Lee Kuan Yew’s era by doing what he is best at – waiting.
He knew that the time is not right yet for a political revival in Singapore then and has taken the time to focus on building a reliable team over the years.
To many Singaporeans, Mr Low represents someone like a Robin Hood who is out there trying to fight for the down-trodden living in dictatorship.
Mr Low also has a capable chairman in Ms Sylvia Lim and she complements his lack in mystery of the English language by filling up for him in many Parliamentary speeches and press conferences.
It is a good partnership and the WP looks compact and profesional now.
DPM Teo on the other hand is rather unpopular due to his aloof personality and talk-down mannerism.
Mr Tharman will make a better choice spearheading such by-election strategies and moreover Singaporeans have grown to like his cool personality and gentlemanly look.
With two failed by-elections to his bag, DPM Teo may need to either examine how he presents himself to the public or better still step aside and let someone else holds the baton in future.
9. Weak leadership of our Prime Minister
The fact that the PM allowed his deputy to handle the two by-elections showed that he is either very busy with something else or do not treat the two by-elections as very important on his agenda.
Many Singaporeans are surprised that the PM did not show up at all until the very second last day of the campaigning when he spoke at the PAP rally.
He must be busy attending to something very important – something much more significant than the voters of his country.
He left the campaigning very much to DPM Teo and other ministers like Education Minister Mr Heng Swee Kiat.
This is a by-election which he could ill afford to lose as the consequences are enormous and far-reaching and I am sure that he wished he could have done more in the by-election campaigning in view of the disastrous showing.
It is tantamount to letting your lieutenants fight a war all by themselves - of which defeat would have devastating outcome.
WP chief Mr Low on the other hand personally visited Punggol East door-to-door on the first day of campaigning with his candidate Ms Lee and voters like to be wooed than shunned here.
He also penned a personal message to the voters and it was mailed to all the residents staying in Punggol East.
PAP’s Dr Koh, on the other hand, is often seen alone visiting the residents and DPM Teo only joined him intermittently giving the impression that the needs of the constituency are overlooked and underemphasized by the ruling party.
10. Unfinished amenities at Punggol East
DPM Teo has justified the loss to unfinished amenities as the contractor for the Rivervale Plaza has gone bust.
There is also a lack of childcare centres and many voters have questioned what their ex-MP Mr Michael Palmer has been doing all along.
There are also the report of a shortage in bus services routing from the MRT station and residents have to rely on the packed infrequent LRT services nowadays.
It is unsure how these unfinished amenities contributed to the disastrous showing for the PAP but one thing is for sure small things do add up and voters will remember them vividly before they cast their vote at the ballot box.
Written by: Gilbert Goh