Singapore: GE 2006


Chua Beng Huat

May in Singapore has been taken up with the General Elections (GE). The new PM, Lee Hsien Loong, waited until he had sufficient time to introduce new 'social welfare' and wealth redistribution measures before calling for a 'strong' mandate for his government. With these measures in place and an economy returning to record low unemployment level of 2.5 per cent, the PAP went to the polls. Polling day was on 6 May.

As usual, the PAP introduced more than 20 new candidates. Also as usual, the new candidates were all young - the oldest in his early 40s - well educated professionals who have no other reasons for entering politics other than being 'called to serve' by the PAP heavies. During their public début, all were dressed in white, the party uniform. None had anything 'political' to say. The blandness was deadening. So too was the election manifesto that was released with the slogan, 'Staying Together, Moving Ahead'.

A 'new' Worker's Party emerged as the opposition party to watch as it had been able to recruit more than ten young, university-educated men and women to run as candidates, including in three Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). Election rallies were alfresco mass entertainment for Singaporeans. As usual, it was the non-PAP party rallies that drew the crowds. They attracted tens of thousands nightly to their rally sites; PAP rallies paled badly.

The overall result was that the PAP won all the 84 seats but two.

The two seats lost, Hougang and Potong Pasir, were held by the veteran leaders of the Worker's Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance, respectively. PM Lee had dispatched ex-PM Goh to help the PAP candidates to 'win back' these two constituencies. Furthermore, the PAP candidates had promised massive expenditure to 'upgrade' the aging public housing estates in these two estates that, as opposition-held wards, had been deprived of public funds for decades. Both strategies failed abjectly, as the two opposition candidates improved on their winning margins over the last GE. Apparently, Singaporeans do not want to go back to an all PAP parliament, nor can they be bribed by 'estate upgrading' for votes.

The PM's own GRC polled only slightly better than 65 per cent against a slate of five completely 'green' young WP candidates, the oldest being in the mid 30s; a far cry from the 80 per cent predicted by one of its ministers. It is fair to say that the result was nothing 'personal' against PM Lee but against the PAP in general. The GRC led by high profile Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, faired even worse, winning only 56% of the popular vote, running against the WP's strongest team, led by the new party chairman, lawyer Silvia Lim. Supposedly, public anger against the PAP's hounding of the WP candidate, James Gomez, who had created a stir by failing to submit his 'minority' candidate application form to the Electoral Commission, was also a cause of the result. Whatever the reasons speculated, post-electoral talk was mostly about the 'what went wrong' for the PAP in these two GRCs rather than about its overall victory.

WATCHPOINT: The changing line up of political office holders, including ministers, will signal the passing of Goh's generation.


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