Cautious attitude shows respect for voters

When this newspaper predicted that Nomination Day would be an uneventful affair, we wanted to be proved right, of course.

But drama-junkies that journalists are, there was a part of me that wanted us to be wrong.

That someone, somewhere would make that last-minute switch, and take a risk that could possibly change the course of this election, if not history. None of that happened yesterday.

The Workers' Party (WP) kept all seven of its MPs in their respective constituencies to defend their seats, including party heavyweights Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Chen Show Mao.

Two former Non-Constituency MPs, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Yee Jenn Jong, are leading the challenge in East Coast and Marine Parade GRCs as expected.

And even though the single-member constituencies (SMCs) it is contesting have been the object of much speculation, WP deployed long-time party faithfuls in Fengshan, Sengkang West and MacPherson over more high-profile recent recruits like Mr Daniel Goh and Ms He Ting Ru.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) had announced its entire slate in advance, but kept the door open to last-minute changes. Even though it was unsaid, it was clear these changes would probably be made in response to WP's choices. But as the WP stuck to the script, the PAP stuck to its script, too, and made no changes to its line-up.

The result of all this is that the only really newsy items from yesterday were a clutch of unexpected three-cornered fights in three SMCs.

After being on-again and off-again, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) finally decided to contest in MacPherson and deliberately set up a three-way fight with PAP and WP.

Mr Cheo Chai Chen is a blast from the past, having been MP for Nee Soon Central from 1991 to 1997 when he was with the Singapore Democratic Party.

But I think the real import of NSP's decision is a signal to WP that although they are smaller and less popular, other opposition parties are not to be pushed around.

NSP staked its claim to the SMC when it was split this election from Marine Parade GRC - its reasoning being that the party contested the GRC in 2011 and won a decent 43.36 per cent of the vote.

But it faced pressure from some opposition supporters to cede the ground to WP, which people thought had a better chance of unseating PAP's Tin Pei Ling in 2015. WP also did not seem willing to engage with NSP over this.

But putting these smaller fights aside, what was the key takeaway from Nomination Day 2015?

It was clear from today that no one in the PAP or WP is in any mood to take big electoral risks.

The PAP may be riding on residual goodwill from the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the high of the SG50 celebrations. It may have in these past four years tightened immigration, made homes more affordable and introduced universal health insurance, but somehow it feels it cannot afford to be complacent.

The WP may have appeared to be on the ascendant, winning not just a GRC in the last general election, but two more SMC by-elections since then. Its argument that these victories have forced PAP into more responsive policy-making resonates with many, but lingering questions over the management of its town council mean that it, too, cannot afford to be complacent.

This cautious attitude is good for voters as it shows that neither side feels voter support can be taken for granted. Lessons have clearly been learnt from the last general election, which showed that even prominent ministers can fall.

Whether it is putting forward an over-arching vision for the nation, or taking care of facilities and funds at the local level, politicians have to work hard at explaining themselves and earning the vote.

Which is the way things should be, really.

This article was first published on September 2, 2015.
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