Friday, April 29, 2011

GE2011: The Aljunied Conundrum

GE 2011 kicked off with much fanfare and excitement built on a more vocal opposition that deployed social media to successfully increase their collective profile. From A-teams to suicide teams, star candidates to secret weapons, the voting population certainly seems spoilt for choice when it comes to opposition candidates to choose from.

Having myself attended the WP rally at Hougang on 28 April, I found myself swept by the euphoria of the massive crowd made up of die-hard Hougang supporters and rally groupies of all walks, shape and colour. I left Hougang that night with a spring in my step and warm feeling that one can only experience when expecting a life transforming change.

Then I read the papers article the next morning on George Yeo’s comment that the “WP was forcing Aljunied residents to pick between self-interest and pushing the Opposition cause”.

My knee jerk response was to brush this statement off as a sign of the PAP feeling jittery about their chances in defending Aljunied GRC and were thus resorting to a tried and tested use of the mainstream media to cast doubt over the Oppositions’ chances.

But as I reflected over my own motivations behind my voting decision, the good feeling vibes of that rally night wore off. Subsequent decisions with friends over how they intended to vote killed off any remaining vibe I had. And here is why.

Self-interest vs Opposition Causes?

All of my friends sung the same tune when it came to the rising cost of living, influx of foreigners, affordability of HDBs … etc. But when it came to making a decision on the voting day, here is where the choir started to sing off tune.

While we all agreed that changes needed to happen, it seemed that for some, though they wanted a better government, they actually just wanted a better PAP.

When it came to macro-level policies, they drew a distinction between Ministers and Member of Parliaments. The former being responsible for national issues, while the latter, in charge of municipal matters.

So what happened to their support of the Opposition I wondered? My feeling is that they would like more Opposition members to be in Parliament to ever to often ruffle the feathers of the decision makers, but when it comes to choosing their MP, they would still prefer a PAP member. A good example of this thought process was WP’s Yaw Shin Leong who declared he voted for the PAP when face with a choice between a PAP candidate and an SDP candidate for his ward in 2006.

So back to why George Yeo’s statement affected me so. Was the WP burdening the Aljunied constituents to maintain any semblance of Oppositional representation?

The WP team in Aljunied certainly looks the most impressive with Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Chen Show Mao. However, with the WP’s stand that they will not accept the NCMP slots, certainly all their best eggs are in one single basket. From the point of view of an Aljunied constituent, one would surely be aware that the whole of Singapore is watching closely.

They can’t get away with saying: “I voted PAP because the Opposition rep they sent was lousy, or too young, or too inexperienced, or too radical….etc”, because from my stand point, it is as good as it gets.

Prediction: 7 May 2011

My sober prediction for GE 2011 is that the PAP might end up with 55.5% of the valid votes and 85 out of the 87 seats.

The improved showing for the opposition is a mark of how far they as a collective have come since 2006. But even with an improved performance, the status quo is maintained.

It boils back to the psyche of the everyday voter that is concerned about is immediate environment. Are there enough buses through my estate, is the estate clean, are there new facilities to revitalize my neighbourhood, are there developments that have helped raise the value of my property and so on.

While it is romantic to think about the struggling Hougang-ers and Potong Pasir-ers leading a revolution that will sweep Aljunied and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs, practicality ultimately trumps idealism.

Low’s cult following will ensure that Yaw Shin Leong will retain Hougang. Chiam’s legend might just be enough to allow Lina to retain Potong Pasir. But they have built this support by walking the ground and serving the residents day-in day-out. They did not need a financial crisis or a Mas Selamat escape.

So ultimately, the question is whether their political cache is portable. We shall have to wait and see.