Governance of a City-State
[The Angle] GE2015: Looking back on the campaign period

In the past nine days, the Workers’ Party (WP) has tried to emphasise its national political role. It has taken credit for making the PAP Government become more responsive to voters’ concerns and has positioned itself as the country’s “insurance policy” against bad government.

Its message that 20 opposition politicians in Parliament is a “balanced Parliament” aims to set a benchmark in voters’ minds. The WP’s assurance that it is not gunning to form the government makes it sound reasonable, and its incremental electoral strategy seeks to convince voters in the East that they should have no fear voting at least five more people in blue into Parliament.

The PAP’s response – as its Secretary-General Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put it – is that voters should consider which company to buy insurance from and which policy; to be mindful of the character of the “insurance salesman” and his motivations.

Hence, the management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was central to the first half of the PAP’s campaign. PAP candidates questioned the track record of the WP Members of Parliament and asked voters to consider if they are worthy of further support, not only for their contribution in Parliament but in their performance in delivering local governance.

At the last PAP party conference in December 2014, Mr Lee had said that one more ‘checker’ in the House was one less ‘doer, thinker and leader’ for Singapore.

Will the WP’s assurance – that it now has the experience of Aljunied GRC to get it right in a second GRC – be enough for voters in East Coast to have faith in them?  Or will the voters set that consideration aside because they just want that alternative voice in Parliament? Might they think that the track record question is an artefact of PAP’s tactics to hobble the opposition?

Mr Lim Swee Say who is helming the PAP Team in East Coast GRC has stressed how the government has responded to voters’ concerns regarding the foreign manpower policies, cost of living issues and social security matters which means that there is no dire need for East Coast to host more opposition MPs. Other PAP candidates have in the final days of campaigning tried to emphasise how a PAP government has consulted, engaged, listened and responded to citizens through the five decades.

Turning to the West of the island, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP’s) Dr Chee Soon Juan has tried to present a new face to the voters of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – that it has become more concerned about the practical matters of voters’ lives than its previous fixation on political rights and civil liberties. He seems to have dropped his adversarial approach to politics.

Dr Chee’s running mate, Prof Paul Tambyah has helped to reinforce this new image with his campaign for affordable and quality healthcare. He also said at a rally that with 11 candidates, the SDP would not be in a position to implement its policies and while it would still push for them as ‘benchmarks’ for the government of the day to attain to, it is prepared to collaborate with it to bring improvement to Singaporeans’ lives.  It is taking a leaf out of the WP’s playbook.

The PAP’s response has been to look at the details of the policy proposals and assess their fiscal implications. The first salvo was fired by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan PAP’s candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC that is squaring off against Dr Chee’s team, at his party’s Nomination Day conference with the theme, “The Road to Greece”.

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, PAP candidate in Jurong GRC, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance expounded on the topic over the weekend in what seemed to be a well-received rally speech. He spelt out the tax burden that the middle class would have to bear if the SDP agenda were to be implemented. At a PAP rally last night, he stressed that the government’s approach to drawing on the income from the reserves is part of “prudent budgeting”, ensuring that social spending will benefit not just current but also future generations.

While the SDP proposes trimming defence spending to afford the bigger social spending bill, the Foreign Affairs minister, Mr K Shanmugam and other candidates of the PAP have said that Singapore must have a strong enough national defence system to keep her sovereignty intact.

So, the election debates take place at four levels – the local and management of municipal issues; the national issues of public policy; the national role of the political opposition in a one-party dominant state; and finally, the personalities involved.

There is a different mix of these at play in each of the hotly contested constituencies, which include East Coast GRC, Potong Pasir SMC and Fengshan SMC. Marine Parade GRC (which after boundary changes includes the GE2011 hot seat of Joo Chiat SMC) is being  closely watched, as is Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where Dr Chee is making his political comeback.

At the polls tomorrow, the PAP will hope that it is rewarded for its policies and performance, while the WP and SDP hope the idea of how they can hold the government accountable to the people will prevail.

With that backdrop, voters will likely assess the track record, the likeability and presence of the specific candidates on the ground, as well as the standing of the party brand in making their final choice.

According to the surveys on previous elections, the younger voters are the ones who will be thinking afresh about the parties because they won’t have long-standing party affiliations to tie them down.  They will also pay attention to what policies the parties stand for, the rationale and whether these speak to what they value. The upper-middle income professionals have a greater conviction about political ideals. Voters in the swing category will be assessing how well the PAP has performed on bread-and-butter issues (which the immigration issue feeds into) – it is the performance question that is likely to matter most to this group of voters.

Dr Gillian Koh is a Senior Research Fellow at IPS. View her profile here

For more insights on GE2015, please click here

Top photo from WP’s, SDP’s and PAP’s Facebook pages

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