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GE2020: SDP fails to make inroads despite change of strategy

GE2020: SDP fails to make inroads despite change of strategy
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) strategy of focusing its firepower on single seats failed to bear fruit last night, as the party lost in all five constituencies it contested - even as a nationwide swing towards opposition parties helped raise vote shares.

The party's top two leaders - secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and chairman Paul Tambyah - both improved on their party's performances in Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang, but neither did well enough to secure a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seat as one of the best-performing losers. Professor Tambyah was the party's best performer with 46.26 per cent of the votes in Bukit Panjang.

The party's candidates in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC and Yuhua SMC all received less than 40 per cent of the votes.

The results mean the SDP has been usurped by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) in the opposition party pecking order. While the Workers' Party will have 10 MPs, the year-old PSP, led by Dr Tan Cheng Bock, looks set to take two NCMP seats for its narrow loss in West Coast GRC.

The SDP had entered the election with a new strategy and optimism that it could make a breakthrough after decades out of Parliament.

However, the results from last night made clear that the party continues to have trouble finding a convincing case to make to voters.

The SDP seemed to undergo one of its most extensive overhauls yet heading into the election. Perhaps the most noticeable change was to shift its focus away from GRCs and toward SMCs - specifically Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang.

While most parties typically deploy their party leaders to lead their GRC teams, SDP sprang a surprise on Nomination Day by fielding Dr Chee and Prof Tambyah in single seats. Analysts said its shift away from GRCs was perhaps understandable, given that the party did not fancy its chances in the two it was contesting.

On the ground, the party also shifted its focus to municipal issues, with Dr Chee notably steering away from the civic issues he is most associated with.


The SDP was also quick to zero in on shortcomings within Bukit Batok, such as the delays in improvement works by highlighting them on its Facebook page.

It was unclear if the party's arguments about its municipal chops were convincing to voters, especially in Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang where it was up against PAP candidates who had deep connections to grassroots and had spent years doing ground work.

There were also moments where the party's attempt to portray itself as a constructive party was foiled by its combative DNA.

It was embroiled in a dispute for several days over its claim that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) was planning to raise the population to 10 million.

When the PAP said it had no such plan, the SDP claimed it had pressured the party to back away from its plan.

There were also occasions, including the televised debate and an online rally, where party candidates brought up the budget of the Youth Olympic Games in an apparent attempt to needle Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is leading the PAP's team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

Ultimately, some voters said the party did not give them a reason to switch allegiances.

Tutor Angela Lee, 40, a voter in Holland-Bukit Timah, said: "There is nothing wrong with voting for the incumbents if everything is fine, even if you know things are not perfect. That's because you do not know if things will get worse."

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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