Reasons behind Aljunied swing

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party's capture of Aljunied GRC was a historic victory showing that group representation constituencies were not the fortresses they once were.

Of the 143,148 voters, 72,165 (54.7 per cent) plumped for the WP while 59,732 (45.3 per cent) chose the PAP, reported The Straits Times.

The numbers are almost similar to those in 2006 - except that 58,593 (43.9 per cent) voted for the WP while 74,843 (56.1 per cent) went for the PAP.

What led to such a drastic swing? What did the WP do right, and what did the PAP do wrong?

Li Xueying of The Straits Times gave six reasons:

First, and the most important: the WP went for broke with a solid slate of candidates

Mr Low Thia Khiang left his Hougang ward to lead a team of candidates with establishment-worthy credentials and credibility in Aljunied GRC.

Despite her protestations that Non-Constituency MPs do not have the same rights as elected MPs, party chairman Sylvia Lim managed to raise her public profile, with speeches that were both prudent in the choice of issues raised and hard-hitting when gunning for political points.

Then there is high-flying corporate lawyer and former Rhodes scholar Chen Show Mao, who not only captured minds, but also hearts.

Less prominent were Mr Pritam Singh, a postgraduate law student who later impressed many with his rousing rally speeches, and Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, a family counsellor, who is likely to try his best to make life tougher for the Malay PAP members in the House.

Together, they formed the "A" team of not just the Workers' Party, but the "A" team of the opposition, period.

The team had also worked the ground since the last general election.

Second: the spectre of not having any elected opposition MPs

Together with Mr Low, Singapore's second veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong left his stronghold as well to lead a GRC team - in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. Thus, the residents of Aljunied GRC were indeed, in a manner of speaking, given the national "burden" of ensuring that there is an opposition presence in Parliament.

Third: WP as a "loudspeaker"

A tide of frustration with the PAP helped propel many into the arms of the WP. While it was not a mere accidental beneficiary of this simmering resentment, its message of being a co-driver to the PAP and slapping the driver when necessary resonated with many who do feel that a wake-up call is due. This appears to resonate, in particular, with the middle-class voters of Serangoon, angling for more alternative voices.

Fourth: the PAP team's campaign strategy

From the beginning, the PAP team strove to focus on their local track record and plans for the residents. But the WP, which seems to have read the ground more accurately, simply refused to engage at this level, except on the penultimate day of the campaign. The residents had already absconded to a show on a different level - one that focused on the need for an opposition to keep the PAP in check. It was a WP strategy that worked in 2006 - and clearly worked in 2011.

Fifth: a regretful comment

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's warning that Aljunied GRC voters would repent for the next five years if they opt for the WP might have the ring of conviction (and a hard truth) about it. But the unintended inference - that those who vote for the opposition are thus sinners and would live to regret it - soured the ground.

Sixth: geography and history.

Besides Serangoon, the lowest scoring divisions were those that were closest to Hougang. One reason is the so-called spillover effect when Aljunied GRC voters are influenced by their family and friends across the border.

These are also areas that historically were hostile to the ruling party, such as when they were part of the old Cheng San GRC.

PAP's weakest links in Aljunied

Sources told The Straits Times that the lowest scoring division was Mrs Lim Hwee Hua's Serangoon, which garnered about 40 per cent of the votes.

Next up was Madam Cynthia Phua's Paya Lebar division. This was followed by Mr George Yeo's Bedok Reservoir-Punggol division and Mr Ong Ye Kung's Kaki Bukit division. And then came Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed's Eunos division.

All scored below 50 per cent, with Mr Zainul doing better by scrapping under with between 1,000 and 2,000 votes.


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