Why PAP and WP disappointed at the Hougang By-Election

It’s probably a little late to write about the Hougang By-Election that happened over a week ago, especially since no one is really writing and talking about it anymore. It’s old news.

But I decided to write about it anyway, if only to do so before I forget my thoughts on this issue. And the basic message is: Both PAP and WP were disappointing at the Hougang BE.


Let’s talk about PAP first.

Let me state upfront: there’s nothing really wrong with Desmond Choo, other than the part where he appears on the scene a little too late at GE2011 to make any difference. I think it’s fair to say that he ran a decent campaign of appealing to residents on the ground. Being a handsome and like-able man helped too. It’s safe to say that he’s the kind of man most daughters wouldn’t mind bringing home to see the parents.

(Y! photo/Alvin Ong)

What really disappointed me was how the PAP elders intervened in Desmond’s campaign. To be fair, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the PAP leadership supporting a fellow party member. (In fact, it will be very odd if the PM himself didn’t at least “show face”). But the manner of intervention left much to be desired. Two episodes spring to mind:

We have Denise Phua’s comment about how opposition politicians aren’t needed because bloggers are the “real check on the PAP”. Which obviously deserves a face-palm. Like Mr Brown has pointed out, bloggers don’t get to vote and speak at Parliament.

But the real joke was when our dear DPM Teo Chee Hean who posed the question: “Was Png Eng Huat the best man from the Worker’s Party?” TCH’s logic was that since PEH was not good enough to be chosen as East Coast’s GRC’s NCMP, PEH is therefore some lightweight second-string fiddler.

Now if you think about it, this logic doesn’t make sense at all. Because TCH is basically saying that the best WP candidate for Hougang must be an existing NCMP or MP.

However, it is in the WP’s best interest to send as many people as possible to Parliament, regardless of whether they are a MP or NCMP. It’s a good thing to have more voices in support of your party. Hence, if WP were to send a NCMP like Gerald Giam to contest Hougang, they will have incured  a net loss of parliamentary seats (because Yaw Shin Leong has flown the coop). The same logic applies if WP were to send a MP like Low Thia Kiang to contest Hougang.

DPM Teo posed such a poorly thought out question that I expected WP to hit it out of the ballpark. WP could have pointed out the flaw in TCH’s logic, and countered that their motto of a First World Parliament meant that WP wanted as many voices in Parliament as possible to be the “voice of democracy”. It would have been consistent with their GE2011 campaign message, one that would slap down TCH’s query so decisively that the PAP would have a hard time recovering.

Unfortunately WP didn’t use this argument. Instead, it shot itself in the foot with its response.


Why the WP disappointed

WP’s first response to TCH’s question was to say that PEH rejected becoming a NCMP because he did not wish for “a government to dictate the number and type of opposition members we can have in Parliament”.

On that very night, an anonymous source by the name of “Secret Squirrel” emailed the media with a scanned copy of minutes to the  WP central executive council’s meeting held on 12 May. The minutes showed that PEH got 1 vote to be a NCMP. This placed some doubt of PEH’s claim that he didn’t want to be a NCMP.

Low Thia Kiang subsequently confirmed that the leaked minutes were real and a calculated move to sabotage PEH. (duh!) PEH was also forced to clarify that his name was on the NCMP ballot because he “could not unilaterally remove his name” and thus has to go through the process. So embarassing.

The moral of this story for WP is that it is a VERY BAD IDEA to lie in public when you are a politician. Especially when the lie can be easily exposed.

Fortunately for the WP, this matter was not something that the PAP and the mainstream media could pursue much further without looking like a bully. The incident was  forgotten fairly quickly by most people and Hougang was once again swept away by the WP on 26 May.

But we should not forget that WP has taken a few hits during this BE, and new weaknesses have been exposed that the PAP and other enterprising opposition parties can take advantage of:

  1. WP cannot afford another “Yaw-gate”. LTK can only claim once that he isn’t a private investigator that doesn’t know the lives of his party members. If another similar incident happens amongst his high-profile members, it is unlikely that voters will give him the benefit of the doubt for a second time. WP must do something. Tighten its recruitment procedures. Or make existing members give sworn statements to prevent their backgrounds and behaviors from causing future embarrassments.
  2. WP must prevent leaked minutes from happening again. CEC minutes are supposed to be secret. If they can be leaked once by disgruntled party members, they can be leaked again. No organisation is perfect, so who knows what other dirty linen could be exposed in the future?
  3. WP shouldn’t lie in public a second time. The opposition is enjoying a “honeymoon” period since it is perceived to do no wrong. But WP shouldn’t live on the assumption that the honeymoon lasts forever.
  4. WP needs to get its party members to toe the party line. It is silly that Dr Poh Lee Guan can claim to be a back-up candidate without anyone else in his party knowing. I’m not saying that all WP members should be like drones that only follow orders by the CEC. But high profile actions related to the BE should have been cleared and coordinated by the CEC.
  5. WP needs to find a way to stem its resignations or at least find a way for unhappy members to part ways amicably. I can only recall one party in recent years that has seen party members resigning in such a dramatic fashion. Eric Tan left when he was disappointed at not being made a NCMP. Sajeev Kamalasanan’s resignation statement claimed that Sylvia Lim discriminated against Indians. All this speaks of a poorly managed “Corporate Communications” department within the WP.
WP instigated this BE episode, and it is lucky to have survived mostly intact and victorious. Now that this episode has exposed the weaknesses in the WP, it is a good time for the party leadership to fix all these issues. 
As the saying goes, “Don’t waste a good crisis”. 

About sgthinker

I'm a 40-year old Singaporean male, and this blog pens down my thoughts and feelings about Singapore's political happenings, government policies and society trends. I hope this blog will provide a moderate voice in the growing online debate about the state of Singapore's society. Some of the posts here won't be solely written by me, since there will be times when other writers are more eloquent at expressing their views, in which case I'll share their insights (along with my comments). The content on this blog is owned by me.If you wish to share or reproduce the content, please attribute it to this blog.
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