AHPETC is WP's Achilles' heel

PHOTO: The Straits Times

The People's Action Party's (PAP) position is that the town council issue is not a political attack on the Workers' Party (WP) but implicates serious issues of competence and integrity.

Will the accusations of WP's financial irresponsibility stick or will people dismiss this as another PAP political attack?

Should voters view the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) issue as a political attack on the WP, then it will backfire heavily on the PAP.

However, the AHPETC issue is clearly WP's Achilles' heel.

The WP has no bragging rights vis-à-vis their being equal to the task of running a Town Council effectively and efficiently.

The PAP's frontal assault of WP's ability and integrity in running a Town Council will continue intensely during the campaigning, especially in PAP-WP contests.

But the PAP must guard against making its entire GE2015 campaign mono-dimensional by concentrating its firepower on this issue.

There is latent potential that the AHPETC issue could segue into issues that the WP could capitalise on, such as whether the political and governance systems are titled in favour of the PAP.

In light of the AHPETC saga, some voters might carefully consider whether the party contesting in their constituency can properly run a Town Council.

They will also balance their views with their own experience and assessment with that of how the PAP-run town councils have fared and how they may have been favourably treated compared with an Opposition-run town council.

Given the many exchanges of accusations and competing narratives, voters may not necessarily fully understand what the brouhaha is all about.

The AHPETC issue is, of course, real and serious from a matter of corporate governance and prudent use of public funds.

But perception and reality on the ground may diverge significantly.

Areas under AHPETC may not yet experience any decline in service standards.

Public opinion

The PAP's efforts will come to nought if voters are not persuaded by the persistent attempts to demonstrate WP's incompetence and lack of integrity.

In the end, the court of public opinion may well be the decider rather than the intricacies of financial rules and probity.

Voters may well be inclined to look beyond the AHPETC issue and endorse WP's intrinsic value as the leading opposition party, and its role in Singapore's evolving political landscape where the idea of one-party dominance is increasingly being challenged.

If so, AHPTEC may well be a non-issue to most voters.

Meanwhile, the tug of war continues.

The writer is an associate professor of Law at the Singapore Management University.

This article was first published on September 1, 2015.
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