Cool heads rule as election campaign heats up

Cool heads rule as election campaign heats up
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Thousands of voters have turned up - armed with mats and drinks - to rallies islandwide to listen to candidates from a record 10 political parties fighting these polls.

The campaign has also heated up online. Over 650,000 people in Singapore have put up five million posts or comments on Facebook since Aug 31 about the election.

If anything, there is more discussion than ever on politics, with fierce debates between supporters of the PAP and those of the opposition online and off.

But as far as the parties are concerned, there seems to be a distinct lack of engagement on policies, says retiree Nelly Chong, 65. She has attended rallies for four consecutive nights but remains undecided about whom to vote for.

The Nee Soon GRC resident went for rallies by the PAP and Workers' Party - the two parties contesting in her constituency, and one by the Singapore People's Party.

"I find that they are talking about different things. Sometimes the PAP will say something about the WP but the WP will say something else about the PAP," she tells Insight. "I don't know if I will go for any more rallies but I haven't decided who to vote for so we will see."

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) political scientist Alan Chong says that the first half of the campaign has been marked by the lack of a single focus.

"It actually feels like they are talking past each other," he says of the political parties.

Might this lack of engagement be deliberate? What does it say about the campaign strategy of the parties - especially that of the two leading teams in white and blue?

How are voters to choose? And what surprises might lie in store as Polling Day approaches?

CONTAINMENT

The PAP is defending 80 seats in Parliament, the Workers' Party seven, and there are two new seats created to cater to population growth, making for a total of 89 seats up for grabs at the coming polls.

How each party chooses to fight for these seats depends on what its end game is.

For the PAP, a key question going into this campaign must surely be how best to contain the patch of blue that had grown rapidly in the eastern part of Singapore, from just one seat in the opposition stronghold of Hougang to six after the loss of Aljunied GRC in the May 2011 General Election, to seven when Punggol East also fell in a by-election in 2013.

Nationally, the PAP's vote share fell 6.5 percentage points from 66.6 per cent in 2006 to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 General Election. But in the wards contested by the WP, the PAP's vote share fell further. In East Coast GRC, for instance, it suffered a 9-percentage-point swing against it, setting that constituency up to be the front line of the battle between white and blue this time round.

One thing is certain: The PAP may have been caught by surprise by the tide of anger and frustration that swept its Aljunied GRC team out of Parliament in 2011, but it is not letting its guard down again.

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