'All-out contest may have worked against opposition'

The all-out contest in the 89 seats at the Sept 11 polls may have led to a pushback by voters against the opposition, said Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim, who also cited lower levels of dissatisfaction with the Government as another reason for the large swing in national vote share in favour of the ruling party.

However, she did not think financial accounting issues concerning a WP-run town council or overconfidence on the party's part were factors in the WP's slide in support in its 10 battlegrounds.

"One of the things that did loom in people's minds is that, for the first time, all 89 seats were contested. Perhaps some people did feel there was some risk... the PAP might be dislodged as a government," she said.

"There is a perception that the opposition movement is growing strong, and there could have been a pushback on that because people still feel comfortable with the PAP as a government."

She spoke to reporters yesterday before the start of the party's procession in Aljunied GRC to thank voters for their support. The WP won Aljunied in 2011 with 54.7 per cent of the vote but garnered only 50.95 per cent this time round.

Despite the pushback, WP will not be adopting the by-election strategy, in which the opposition contests less than half the seats so the PAP is returned to power on Nomination Day, said Ms Lim. She added that there is "no reason for us to cap or there's no way for us to work together as an opposition movement to cap the number of seats we want to contest".

"I don't think that Singaporeans will really benefit from that, because fundamentally we also want Singaporeans to have a choice, and I think the ruling party is probably happy to have a mandate rather than a walkover," she said.

Ms Lim added that "the numbers do not suggest that" the party was affected by the governance and financial lapses at the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council. PAP leaders have accused the WP of mismanaging the town council and turned up the rhetoric during the first half of campaigning, although WP has maintained that there was no wrongdoing and problems in the accounts are being rectified.

But Ms Lim pointed out that while the PAP's national vote share climbed by almost 10 percentage points, the WP-held constituencies saw a slide of about 5 percentage points.

"So if the town council issue were to affect us we would see a bigger swing against us," she said.

Instead, Ms Lim listed other possible factors in the PAP's favour, "such as the feel-good factor of SG50 and the memory of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew", as well as positive sentiments towards the ruling party after policy changes.

The PAP won 69.9 per cent of the vote share, a 9.8 percentage point improvement from 2011, when it scored its worst showing since independence. Mr Lee, Singapore's founding prime minister, died in March this year.

The WP saw its overall vote share fall from 46.6 per cent to 39.8 per cent and it also lost the Punggol East single seat, which it won in a 2013 by-election.

When asked if the party had been overconfident of its support in Aljunied as it placed more emphasis on walking the ground in other areas during the campaign, Ms Lim said the WP had already done consistent groundwork there over the last four years. "It's logical that during the campaign period when we were actually going to contest in areas where we are not the incumbent, we have to do more work there," she said.

As for whether the electoral setback would affect WP's ability to retain and attract talent, Ms Lim chose to see it as "a very useful test of a person's commitment".

ziliang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 13, 2015.
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