Monday, May 9, 2011

The Times They Are A-Changing . . .

The 2011 General Elections (GE) is over and will go down in history as a landmark election for a number of reasons.
Based simply on the results, the following are the most notable.
For the first time, the Opposition managed to break through the seemingly impregnable Group Representation Constituency (GRC) fortress that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) had put in place in 1988, and close contests in a number of the GRCs.
The Workers’ Party (WP) secured 54.7% of the popular votes in Aljunied GRC to gain the mandate to serve the residents there for the next five years. To top it off, WP retained its seat in Hougang with an improved resounding mandate of 64.8%.
With a total of six elected representatives in the House of Parliament, WP is well-placed to be the alternative voice of the people and the agents for ‘checks-and-balance’ in government.
The party’s overall performance of 46.6% of their total contested votes also augurs well for the shining star among the opposition parties. In all wards contested by the WP, no less than 41% of the votes went to the party, with as much as 49% of the votes in one constituency.
WP could further increase its voice to eight representatives in Parliament should it subscribe to the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme.
In contrast, the fortunes of another long-standing opposition political icon, Mr Chiam See Tong and his Singapore People’s Party (SPP) did not fare as well.
After serving the constituents of Potong Pasir for the last 27 years, Mr Chiam’s presence in Parliament will no longer be felt. His wife, Mrs Lina Chiam, lost out to PAP’s candidate in the contest for Potong Pasir by the slimmest of margins of 114 votes, while Mr Chiam – in his bid for a GRC – lost out to the PAP team in the Bishan-Toa Payoh ward after securing only 43.1% of the votes.
Even though the SPP was unable to unseat the PAP and was itself unseated, the closest of margins of victory (0.7%) in local electoral history would ensure a continued voice for SPP and its supporters in the House by way of the NCMP scheme, provided the SPP takes it up.
The elections also marked the first time that standing office holders found themselves at the losing end of the voting process. In losing Aljunied GRC, PAP lost Foreign Minister George Yeo and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, as well as the likeable Zainul Abideen Rasheed, who had been touted as the next Speaker of Parliament. The voters had apparently disassociated a candidate’s office from the party branding he/she was carrying.
This election is also be marked by the continuing downward trend of the popular vote for the PAP. Despite winning 81 out of 87 seats, PAP’s share of the total contested votes fell a further 6.5 percentage points to hit a low of 60.1%, even lower than the 61% secured in 1991.
Looking back on the two GEs helmed by PM Lee Hsien Loong, the party has lost a combined total of 15.2 percentage points. If this downward trend remains unabated, it could mean a further decline in the PAP’s share of popular votes come the next elections in 2016.
It will be remembered that the PAP had made reconnecting with the people and internal reform its platform in the closing days of the electoral campaign. Whether it was a desperate last-ditch move to stem the tide of voters going over to the opposition or an astute 11-hour strategy to win back the ground on the recency effect is debatable.
GE2011 will also be remembered for the public apology made by no less than the PM himself for mistakes made by the PAP government. Never before had this happened, especially in the context of an election. It was a gamble of a move to show a more human face by the PAP. The gambit may have paid off, given the PAP victories, albeit by slim margins.
So, now what?
With the elections over, it’s time to get back to the business of government and governing the people for the PAP. But the PAP had also indicated that it will do some soul-searching and studying of how to adapt to the new electorate.
If this effort by the PAP is well-intentioned, it will, of course, be good for the electorate as it could mean that the PAP is trying to go back to its roots of being a people’s party.
The days, months, and years ahead until the run-up to GE 2016 will probably see the PAP being put under constant scrutiny by a much more involved electorate who have now had a taste of a true electoral contest and the power that rests in their vote.
How they fare in the next elections would very much depend on how true they stay to their words. The electorate will certainly make their displeasure heard should they lose their way again.
The opposition too, should not rest on its laurels or languish in defeat. The results of the elections speak volumes of the work that they have done over the last two years, going by the pronouncements made by various opposition parties at the close of the elections.
Riding on the back of the support they received in this election, the parties and their candidates should continue to work the ground they have campaigned in, carving up GRCs into single member wards and assigning shadow MPs to stave the possibility of future redrawing of electoral boundaries, and get to know the people they wish to serve better and let the people get to know them as individuals, party branding aside.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the voters should not just be a once in five years event, it should be a constant and continuing effort with eyes ever on the lookout for the constituents and ears ever on the ground to hear the pulse of the people.
At the end of the day, the end goal of the electoral battle is to gain the right to serve the people, and as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had rightly put it from the get go of GE2011, the elections is about you. It is not about party renewal, not about goodies that are after all paid with taxpayers’ money, it is first and foremost about you. Even the PAP had to concede in the end that the elections is about you.
We would do well to remember this as we get on with the business of living and working in this place we call home.

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