5Cs of looming GE

5Cs of looming GE
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Election fever is running hot, and it is easy to lose track of developments at what could well turn out to be the midpoint of the election season.

This halfway juncture is assuming that speculation about an early-to-mid-September poll day is correct and based on the kick-off point being July 24. That was when the report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was released.

Candidate introductions have come thick and fast, not to mention the point-scoring that goes with the territory - recall the comments from the Workers' Party on the shock announcement by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew that he is leaving politics, and how the PAP retorted they were "crocodile tears".

Then, there has been the ebb and flow, and flow and ebb, of opposition party agreements on staking claims on constituencies to avoid vote-splitting three-corner fights.

So to save a lot of head-scratching, Insight has recapped electoral developments so far that Singaporeans need to know. As there have been so many, we have crunched them into Five Big Concerns (with a nod to the old joke about Singaporeans' five obsessions of car, cash, credit card, condominium and country club membership).

Times have changed, and so have the Cs. Today, as the nation gears up to vote for its future in the landmark SG50 year, the election 5Cs are shaping up as the Clash between the ruling PAP and the onward-marching WP. For example, what part does the latter's saga over troubled town council finances play on the political agenda now?

Then there is the much-vaunted opposition Consensus - what's happening now? And there are the new Candidates, of course. Insight looks at a new theme emerging there.

We also look at the Countdown to what might be a likely date, and fifth, we update you on the all-important election-mood barometer - the talk at the coffee shop.

Clash: PAP v WP on what election's about 5Cs of looming GE

At what looks to be the midpoint of an election season which kicked off with the boundaries review report in July, Insight's Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh highlights five concerns that could shape the campaign.

One major C is the clash over what GE 2015 is about, as the two major parties in Singapore's political scene - the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Workers' Party (WP) - vie to set the election agenda.

The ruling PAP has sought to put town council management front and centre, insisting the election is about putting in place the right leaders to take Singapore forward.

The WP is on the defensive on its town council record, but comes out fighting on another tack - its call to voters to elect more opposition to ensure a more responsive government, and checks and balances.

That town council issue is, of course, the Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council's (AHPETC) troubled finances. The Auditor-General has found serious lapses in the financial statements of the WP-run town council.

For the PAP, it is the gift that keeps on giving. Its MPs repeatedly throw up the AHPETC saga as a sign of the WP's shortcomings and its lack of transparency and accountability.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of "Third World town councils in opposition wards", while Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the PAP's focus in Aljunied GRC for this election is to "go in and sort out the mess that's in the town council".

The WP stressed that improvements have been made, and took aim at lapses in financial compliance by the People's Association and its grassroots organisations.

But Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam insisted in Parliament last Monday that while the accounts of all government departments are reliable and public funds accounted for, AHPETC's finances are in a sorry state, arising from failings on the part of the WP. "There's no remotely similar problem in government," he said.

The town council argument has presented two opposing views to the people, says Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Terence Chong. "The first is that the WP has mishandled the town council and should be booted out, full stop," he says. "The other is that the WP faced a system and climate that made it difficult for them to run the town council smoothly."

The PAP's AHPETC strategy may pay off, as it has stressed time and again that an MP has to be able to serve residents in their estate, say observers.

This comes into play in the party's claim that the polls are about picking a leadership team for the future. "It's not about how many opposition members there will be," says Mr Teo. "The Constitution guarantees there will be at least nine opposition members in Parliament. So the key issue at hand is that team for the future."

WP chairman Sylvia Lim has rebutted Mr Teo's statement: "It's up to Singaporeans to decide, whether they are satisfied with constitutionally guaranteed NCMPs (Non-Constituency MPs), or whether they would like to have elected MPs governing their constituencies."

Another issue rearing its head is transport, which came under the spotlight with the shock announcement by its minister, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, that he is leaving politics. Commuters have fumed over train breakdowns. Last year, there were 12 MRT delays lasting over 30 minutes - a four-year high. In the first half of this year, there were seven.

But any election-season agenda- setting has been mired in point- scoring rather than the issue of train breakdowns. WP chief Low Thia Khiang said he was disappointed that Mr Lui was stepping down, as he had done a good job.

On the view that Mr Lui's departure would take the heat off transport and help the PAP, Mr Low said he would "be very disappointed with the PAP if they allow a minister to resign in order to take the heat, because they are supposed to function as a Cabinet, as a team".

But the PAP's Mr Teo called it characteristic of Mr Low to "squeeze the most political mileage out of anything".

Consensus: A united opposition plan unravels

It looked too hunky-dory to be true. And so it proved.

The opposition, comprising a disparate mix of election success and failure, not to mention ideologies and personalities, looked to have reached a historic consensus on avoiding three-cornered fights.

Such fights tend to split the vote, tipping the scales in favour of the People's Action Party (PAP), so opposition parties usually try to come to an agreement on overlapping claims on constituencies.

This time around, after two pow-wows, and some to-ing and fro-ing, it seemed like "opposition unity" had finally been achieved, with nine opposition parties likely to contest in the polls in straight fights against the PAP.

Now, this has fallen into disarray. The National Solidarity Party (NSP) has gone back on its decision to leave MacPherson SMC to the Workers' Party (WP), just a week after announcing its decision to relinquish its claim.

It later said on Facebook that calls, e-mail and WhatsApp messages to the WP to sort out their conflicting claims went unanswered: "There is no respect for fellow comrades in the cause."

The NSP's about-turn has led to the resignation of its acting secretary-general Hazel Poa, showing further cracks within the party, which has this year seen a flurry of departures. She said she "strongly disagreed" with the party going back on its initial decision to bow out of MacPherson.

This is the first "resolved" claim that has disintegrated so far, but could more lie ahead?

Over in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, there is consensus now, with the Singapore People's Party (SPP) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) planning to send a joint team in to face the PAP.

But just how long the strange bedfellows will stay together is uncertain. Already, there is talk that both parties are each still hoping to secure a larger share of the five-man team, and although they both claim to be cooperating well now, their shared history is murky.

The DPP's secretary-general is Mr Benjamin Pwee, who in 2011 stood on an SPP ticket but lost in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. He quit the party a year later, citing differences over the leadership style and direction.

For political scientist Derek da Cunha, the NSP's U-turn in MacPherson hammers home the point that "there is no such thing as 'opposition unity'". "I have never felt that it was a realistic notion, given the vast difference in capabilities and resources across the various parties," he says.

"The WP is the only full-fledged opposition political party. I would use the term 'political party' very loosely for the other entities that project themselves to be in opposition to the PAP."

This is not the NSP's take. A statement by the party says: "This decision made by the central executive committee is final, and reflects our view that maintaining opposition unity requires mutual respect and a spirit of compromise on the part of all parties."

As for the WP - the only opposition party with elected MPs in Parliament - it seems to care less for claims of opposition unity, say observers.

Right after the changes to the electoral map were announced, the WP announced that it would stand in five group representation and five single-member constituencies. And it has stood its ground, refusing to back down on any of its claims on these constituencies.

This is no surprise, observers say, as the WP still remains the most viable and tested opposition party here in the eyes of voters.

Dr da Cunha tells Insight that Singapore might well be headed in the longer term for a consolidated two-party parliamentary system between the PAP and the WP.

"There is a strong possibility that the general election would likely confirm this two-party parliamentary system," he says.

See also: More stories on the upcoming General Election

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