PAP's strategy for Aljunied

PAP's strategy for Aljunied
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Five years ago, the People's Action Party (PAP) lost two Cabinet ministers when Aljunied became the first GRC to fall into opposition hands.

Today, the ruling party is more chary about risking a political office-holder in the GRC held by the Workers' Party (WP), PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen said.

"We will fight for each vote and we will put in candidates that we feel can be a better team to take care of the municipal issues. But the realpolitik is if we feel we don't have that support, we'll have to make our own calculations," he told The Sunday Times.

"Why would we want to field somebody that we know has a higher chance of being rejected and deprive ourselves of an office-holder?Suppose you put five ministers in (Aljunied). Does that serve the purpose? Is it fair to other constituencies who have shown us greater support?"

Instead, Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, said the PAP strategy in Aljunied GRC is to stick to its "golden rule": field a team capable of taking care of the town.

"That's the minimum standard: that they have honesty, integrity and competency, and pass muster," he said.

His comments follow the scrutiny that the WP-run town council managing the GRC has come under for accounting and governance lapses - detailed in a special audit report in February by the Auditor-General's Office.

In 2011, the WP won 54.7 per cent of the Aljunied GRC vote, beating a veteran PAP team led by then Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and comprising then Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Zainul Abidin Rasheed, new face Ong Ye Kung and MP Cynthia Phua.

This time, the PAP troops seen in Aljunied GRC and the neighbouring WP-held single seats of Hougang and Punggol East are new faces, mostly from the private sector.

They include private banker Chua Eng Leong, SMRT deputy director Kahar Hassan, former investment manager Victor Lye, Rajah & Tann lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai and voice-over artist Chan Hui Yuh in Aljunied GRC; IT manager Lee Hong Chuang in Hougang; and CIMB Bank Catalist head Yee Chia Hsing in Punggol East.

None has been cited yet as a potential office-holder. Still, if an incumbent or potential minister loses, the PAP could technically bring him into Cabinet by first making him a Nominated MP. While this is allowed under Singapore's Constitution, Dr Ng said it is "unlikely" the PAP will do so.

"I would not go that course," he said. "To have the electorate vote against somebody and then to bring him in as an NMP to make him a minister doesn't speak well of the system."

More three-way fights?

More multi-cornered contests could feature in the next general election with several constituencies already claimed by more than one opposition party.

And despite these overlapping claims, several party leaders have said they will stand their ground.

Among those eyed by more than one party are Tanjong Pagar, Tampines, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris-Punggol and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs; and the single seats of Whampoa, Mountbatten and Potong Pasir.

This puts all eight active opposition parties - the Workers' Party (WP), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), Reform Party (RP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Singapore First Party (SingFirst) and Singapore People's Party (SPP) - potentially on a collision course if they do not reach a compromise.

For instance, up to four parties - the DPP, RP, SDP and SingFirst - have indicated interest in or held walkabouts in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Party leaders told The Sunday Times that while they will not deliberately initiate three-cornered fights, they will not go out of their way to avoid one either. But it has become harder to avoid competing in the same areas given several high-profile defections from parties since the 2011 General Election.

DPP secretary-general Benjamin Pwee, for example, was in the SPP team that contested in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2011. He quit the party a year later. He now intends to contest the GRC on a DPP ticket, and deploy someone to Potong Pasir - which was held by his former mentor and SPP chief Chiam See Tong for 27 years. If Mr Pwee's DPP does pick Potong Pasir, it could be taking on Mrs Lina Chiam, who lost narrowly in 2011 to the People's Action Party's Mr Sitoh Yih Pin.

NSP president Sebastian Teo said his party will not shrink from places where it has been working the ground. These include Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs and the single seats of Whampoa and Mountbatten. "We are not scared of three-cornered fights," he said.

But he disclosed that he has vetoed some members' requests that NSP contest Potong Pasir, and Moulmein-Kallang GRC - where the WP fielded a team in 2011.

Mr Goh Meng Seng, who applied in May to register his People's Power Party, has his sights on Tampines GRC. He contested there in 2011 when he was with the NSP.

SDA chief Desmond Lim said his party will definitely field a team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, where it contested in 2006 and 2011. SingFirst - launched in May last year - is also staking claim to the GRC.

Mr Lim said: "We've never stopped our activities there, and continue to work the ground and serve the people wholeheartedly. We won't speculate as to which party is coming (to our turf) or not."

Opposition party leaders took pains previously to call for unity.

But they say they are less worried about the vote being split after the seminal Punggol East by-election in 2013. The outcome put paid to the conventional wisdom that a multi-cornered contest would disadvantage the opposition. In a four-cornered fight, the WP won with 54.5 per cent of votes cast. The SDA and RP candidates won less than 2 per cent of votes combined.

Said Mr Pwee: "It's not a multi- cornered fight just because more than two parties run. It's a fight only when voters see three or more credible candidates."

But jockeying for a constituency may be moot if it no longer exists once new electoral boundaries are released - a point noted by SingFirst secretary-general Tan Jee Say. "We can't talk seriously when the boundaries are not known. We want to avoid multi-cornered fights. But what happens if a GRC is split two or three ways?" Still, he is hopeful "goodwill will prevail" before polls in the opposition camp.


This article was first published on July 05, 2015.
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