Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hougang By-election Analysis (Translated)

Looking at recent news reports and political commentary, it seems that everyone feels that Workers Party “sure win” in Hougang and PAP is just “kiasu” (afraid to lose) to not announce by-election. (This analysis was written before PM Lee announced he will call for Hougang by-election.) This is actually quite hilarious.

Low Thia Khiang’s ingenious strategic bluff

Immediately after Workers Party Secretary General Low Thia Khiang announced the expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong, he went straight away to Hougang. From the look of the news video clip, Mr Low indeed enjoys great support from the ground. However at the very end of the interview, he has revealed his own worries. He said in front of the camera, “Perhaps the Prime Minister should look at the sentiment and should not drag too long for the by-election if you get National agenda and he wants to move on… that is my advice to him.”

I have gone through these words repeatedly but felt that it is a bit unreasonable. If the Prime Minister saw that passionate support, why would he want to have by-election early? I finally realize that Low Thia Khiang was just putting up a political posturing, “challenging” the Prime Minister, look at the support WP enjoys here, if you dare, call for by-election immediately! But why would Mr Low put up such political posture to challenge the Prime Minister?

This is a strategic bluff! At that critical period, WP’s greatest fear was PAP capitalizing on the adverse situation of Yaw-gate and called for immediate by-election to launch a “sneak attack” on the totally unprepared WP. Thus Mr. Low put up a “bravado” posture to effect a strategic bluff to prevent PAP from a rapid attack. If PAP had seized the opportunity and held by-election as soon as possible, it would have seized the advantage of the situation. WP’s greatest fear was PAP attacking while it was still in disarray, especially so if PAP fixed the date of by-election among the dates of budget debate. If that happened, WP would have to face the most severe test. Low Thia Khiang might not be able to exert his personal charismatic influence fully during the by-election. (This is also why I choose to publish this article after Budget Debate.)

However, fortunately Low Thia Khiang’s strategic bluff has successfully worked on PAP!

PAP’s misstep

After all, PAP has a ready candidate in Hougang and with its grassroot foundation, there should not be any problem in turning on the electioneering machine immediately. However, it was too indecisive. On top of that, it actually shows its fear of losing by letting its MPs to argue speciously on the Constitutional rules on by-elections. It is totally irrational for a ruling party which has ruled Singapore for 50 years to be afraid of losing in a small by-election in a single seat. Even a layman could understand that this by-election will not threaten PAP’s ruling party status. Even if it loses, PAP do not suffer any additional loss in seats! This is because this seat is originally an opposition seat. PAP do not suffer any real loss if it failed to win, but it wins it would be a surprise bonus! Even if it is just reducing WP’s support by a few percentage points, it is considered as a gain! This is a win-win situation for PAP!

On the contrary, if the by-election is being dragged for a few months, won’t it allow WP to have breathing space to re-deploy itself? PAP has quite a number of military generals within its rank and I am puzzled why they couldn’t come to such simple conclusions at all, resulting in its indecisiveness and missing the prime opportunity! If PAP is to lose with a big margin in Hougang this time round, even worse than the GE2011, they really deserve it!

Lack of Talents within WP’s rank

The next question is, why WP is worried about early by-elections? The reason is simple. All along WP adopted a closed management style. It will not groom any particular potential candidate during normal time. Even during the GE, the focus will still be on the few key candidates on the main battleground. Such management style is very effective during GE whereby the centralized control will prevent big mistakes being made. This is why even after GE, voters will only have impression on a few candidates among the lot and very few of them will have made deep impression on voters. How many candidates has WP groomed with high public profile from 2006 till the eve of 2011 GE? Even for Mr. Chen Shao Mao who has joined WP for years, he only came to fame with the help of the media providing him an early exposure which eventually made him a political idol.

Such conservative management may have its merits but it creates great obstacles in grooming young potentials among the ranks for political renewal. The selection of the less known candidate Png Eng Huat to hold the helm at Hougang exposed the awkward situation of the lack of talents among its rank.

The battle of personal branding

By-elections, especially when it is a SMC by-election, is normally fought on individual’s personal branding. Although Low Thia Khiang has absolute advantage in terms of personal branding in Hougang, but after Yaw-gate, I guess Hougang voters (especially those middle ground voters) will not just vote anyone put up by WP due to WP or Low Thia Khiang’s branding assurance without much scrutiny like GE2011. Hougang voters will definitely be more demanding on all candidates. If WP thinks that it could win voters’ confidence easily just like the past, then it will end up with a rude shock on a less than expected result.

This is also the reason why WP would rather select Png Eng Huat over other younger and more prominent individuals like Koh Choong Yong to take over the helm at Hougang. Low Thia Khiang knows very well that he can’t afford to make another mistake in the selection of candidate for Hougang, else his as well as WP’s branding will be destroyed overnight! Choosing a matured candidate will be safer in this case.

Interestingly, ex-WP leader of East Coast GRC team Eric Tan, who has resigned after GE2011, is a superior choice than Png Eng Huat in terms of popularity, resume as well as seniority. But WP has chosen Gerald Giam as the NCMP instead of Eric Tan using the excuse of party renewal while breaking the unwritten rule of granting the leader of the GRC team priority of being the NCMP. This resulted in Eric Tan’s resignation. In retrospect, this is a chain of ironies. After all, WP didn’t expect to be forced into a by-election in Hougang!

The Crisis of 3 Corner Fight

After WP expelled Yaw Shin Leong, there was a couple of opposition members showing interests in Hougang by-election. I have said then that it is best for them not to take advantage of WP to go into a 3 corner fight. If these people really contest in 3 corner fight, it would not be justifiable and most probably they will suffer humiliating defeats.

However, there is one exception and that is NSP. It could affect the result of this by-election. NSP participation in the contest will add to the uncertainty of this by-election.

As the former SG of NSP, I can understand why NSP will want to contest in Hougang 3 corner fight. Of course I still hope that this could be avoided through negotiation but it seems that chances are slim for it to be resolved. It is not just about “revenge” for NSP to contest. It has its own strategic considerations. During last GE2011, WP has basically bulldozed into Moulmein-Kallang with its second or even third tier team, even if it means to have a 3 corner fight with NSP main Team B. Although NSP has bitten the bullet and avoided the 3 corner fight by withdrawing out of Moulmein Kallang, but it is believed that WP will be even bolder and bulldoze its way into Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs to go head on with NSP. This will force NSP out of the more “fertile” ground in the East. NSP may use this by-election as an advanced battle to test each other’s relative strength. Especially so when the price of this battle even if deposit was loss, is much lesser relatively.

IF NSP really decides to fight it out in Hougang’s 3 corner fight, it is possible for it to send Nicole Seah. Nicole Seah’s high public profile will maximize the impact on WP Png Eng Huat. If WP really lost Hougang due to Nicole Seah’s contest, that would be the ultimate karmic retribution. Of course personally I don’t wish to see PAP benefiting from this by capturing Hougang.

Although Nicole Seah has high public profile but she must make her contest as a justified cause else she may pay a heavy price politically. NSP has to consider carefully the pros and cons of contesting in Hougang by-election. If it so decides to send Nicole Seah to contest, I could only wish her good luck.

It isn’t Optimistic for Workers Party

Politics is unpredictable. Who would expect WP to have such big happenings within a short period of 9 months? Nobody can predict accurately what kinds of turbulence this by-election will bring. Of course many WP members and supporters are full of confidence so much so that they expect the result of this by-election will be even better than the 64% it has achieved in GE2011. However in my opinion, there are only conditions and possibility for WP’s result to fall. Whether it will lose Hougang due to a 3 corner fight will depend on whether it would lower its pride and negotiate for an amicable settlement.

Of course, the longer the by-election drags, the better it is for WP. This is because WP would need more time to allow Hougang voters to know its candidate who has a deficit on public profile. . Of course, it would be best if WP could invite Eric Tan back and contest this by-election. This will increase WP’s ability to withstand the impact of a 3 corner fight. However, this may just be my own wishful thinking.

Goh Meng Seng

P.S. I just realize I have left out a very important factor. Since this is the battle of personal branding, if PAP is smart enough, it may send TV celebrity to contest. Don’t underestimate the impact of this celebrity effect, it could well become PAP’s the most effective weapon! TV celebrity Tay Ping Hui is a well known PAP member and he has all along shown vast interests in contesting in elections. Recently he has even evoke Nationalistic sentiments to rebel against foreign students. Although these are extreme acts but nevertheless such populist acts have won him substantial support. If PAP send him to contest, this by-election would be very interesting to watch. Imagine, Nicole Seah, Tay Ping Hui and Png Eng Huat…. I believe in the end, Png Eng Huat will be totally marginalized while the by-election turns into the show down between the TV celebrity and the political rising star!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective. It seems WP has stepped much on your toes and you seek payback. Appreciate what you have done for the sake of democracy, but I would rather you keep the conflicts between you and WP to yourself. Posting such an article only shows people how ungentlemenly you are. While the facts may be true, that WP has bulldozed their way into M-K GRC, NSP and WP should not be at war with each other but work with each other to defeat the ultimate villain PAP. I was an NSP volunteer as polling agent the last election and I found NSP briefing to be very disorganized and ill-planned. There were insufficient polling agents at my particular polling station and no clear instructions. If NSP had contested in M-K, I think the results achieved might have been worse than WP. So instead of criticizing WP, get your act together, find good candidates, build up exposure for them, come up with better manifestos, educate your candidates properly and make your party strong. Next election, we hope you can work together with WP, field talented star candidates and win over a few GRCs.