'Social media did PAP a favour'

PHOTO: The New Paper

Of the 28 Workers' Party candidates fielded in 10 wards, only six made it past the post. What happened?

The Workers' Party (WP) lost all the seats it contested except in its strongholds - Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC.

Even at Punggol East SMC, which it won in a by-election in 2013, WP lost to Mr Charles Chong, a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate who was parachuted into the ward.

How bad was it for the party?

In Hougang, a WP ward since 1991, the party saw votes slip to 57.69 per cent from the 62.08 per cent in the 2012 by-election which Mr Png Eng Huat won.

In the 2011 General Election, WP's Yaw Shin Leong won with 64.8 per cent of the votes.

The lowest it garnered in the ward was in 2001 with 55 per cent of valid votes.

And things were not much better at Aljunied GRC.

WP's "A" Team, which included party chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim, retained their seats but not without drama.

Was it a case of PAP doing well or WP doing badly?

After all that talk of opposition parties making headway in 2011, did it turn out that the swing at that time was because of angry votes against the People's Action Party (PAP)?

And are voters less angry now, causing the national swing even in WP strongholds?

There are the feel-good factors with SG50 goodies being rolled out and other policies introduced post-2011.

But Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan had another perspective - fear.

"Social media probably did PAP a favour because they were just pointing to a massive defeat for the PAP.

"That probably galvanised the middle-ground voters. The haze is a reminder of Singapore's vulnerabilities, and these vulnerabilities made it even more important for voters to make an intelligent choice," he said.

Victim of swing

While it appears the Aljunied team was hurt by the town council saga, Hougang may just have been a victim of the national swing towards PAP.

In 2011, Mr Low sensed the ground was sweet and gambled big, moving out of Hougang SMC to lead a team in the five-seat Aljunied GRC.

The team included WP's star player, corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao.

But for GE 2015, the WP leadership decided against risking all even though it attracted a good crop of candidates.

While it was keen to expand beyond Hougang and Aljunied, the party leadership sensed the ground wasn't sweet enough for a top name from Aljunied GRC to move to East Coast GRC or even Fengshan SMC, where the party was expecting close fights.

Ms Lim had teased voters with a picture of her tucking into a plate of fried oyster or orh luak at a food centre in the ward.

Her "taste of Fengshan - heavenly" comment sparked speculation that she was going to contest in Fengshan.

Instead, WP counted on a vote for blue, whoever the candidate.

In Fengshan SMC, it fielded shipping lawyer Dennis Tan against Ms Cheryl Chan, a PAP grassroots worker of 10 years. WP lost.

In East Coast GRC, WP talked up its team which included team leader Gerald Giam, business consultancy CEO Leon Perera and National University of Singapore (NUS) Associate Professor Daniel Goh. WP spoke of leadership renewal, pointing to the East Coast team.

At an East Coast GRC rally, Ms Lim introduced the team as the party's next leadership.

The East Coast team also lost.

WP didn't do itself any favour by dismissing talk of a grand coalition with other opposition parties. It even skipped a second meeting with the opposition parties which were trying to carve out seats to avoid three-cornered fights.

Taking own path

In MacPherson SMC, WP made it clear it was unhappy when the National Solidarity Party decided it was also going to contest the seat.

Mr Low himself had said previously that the party was under pressure in 2001 to join the newly formed Singapore Democratic Alliance.

"We built ourselves up and today, after 20 years, we are still talking about opposition unity.

"The Workers' Party has taken its own path, and I believe that is the path on which we can build a credible party to offer Singaporeans a credible choice. And I think we will continue with that path," said Mr Low.

Mr Giam put it more bluntly at a rally speech: "The people in Singapore have demonstrated a desire for greater opposition presence. Many of them have come up to us and told us that they want to see a greater opposition presence in Parliament, but not just any opposition."

The euphoria from 2011 was missing at Hougang stadium last night.

The mood was sombre after supporters received news of WP losing Fengshan and Punggol East.

Hougang MP Png Eng Huat tried to keep spirits up by greeting supporters and shaking their hands with the crowd chanting "huat ah!".

But the smiles were forced.

This article was first published on September 12, 2015.
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