Are the PAP Deliberately Throwing This Election?
Rarely have things looked so good for an Opposition candidate as they do for Chee Soon Juan tomorrow in the Bukit Batok by-election.
Firstly, the Opposition in a rare display of unity have allowed CSJ to have a clear run at the seat. Apart from an early wobble out of the Chiam stable various opposition figures as well as all the usual suspects on the left/socialist front have got together in support. Even GMS seems to be refraining from criticism.
Secondly, this is a by-election so people can vote for CSJ without, whether rationally or irrationally, worrying that it will result in any change in the Government. This phenomenon is known as The By-Election Effect.
Thirdly, it is an SMC not a GRC so the electorate get to vote just for CSJ without worrying about weaker members of his team and without CSJ having to compete against a senior Government Minister. Historically senior opposition figures have done very well in SMCs, when in a straight fight.
Fourthly, it allows the Bukit Batok residents to assuage any guilt they might feel at having handed an overwhelming mandate to the PAP in the last election. Whether that landslide was as a result of the LKY hagiography or from fear that too many opposition were contesting and might take over the Government in coalition or because the WP had tarred all opposition with the brush of not being able to manage a Town Council we can’t know for sure. But whatever accounted for the opposition catastrophe in 2015, there should be a rebound in this by-election. Voters can redress the balance a tiny bit and at the same time deliver a message to demonstrate that their vote cannot be bought too cheaply.
Finally, the PAP choice of candidate. The PAP has chosen a fairly weak candidate and one from a minority race who unlike Michael Palmer or Darryl David has not even a partial Chinese background. If the race factor previously worked in their favour it seems the PAP have deliberately chosen to handicap themselves in this by-election.
Of course it also helps that the SDP were very quickly able to put a stop to people calling this the Chee by-election. Thank Goodness for that. For all of the above and more we have to ask can Chee fail?
A relatively gentlemanly battle
All this begs the question of whether the PAP are even concerned about losing the seat. Certainly the coverage from our state media has for once been fairly balanced and much more equal time has been given to reporting the SDP’s rallies and press conferences.
The SDP have accused the PAP of playing gutter politics and CSJ has spoken of the PAP having spared “no effort to engage in the most revolting and vicious type of gutter politics“. However in truth the attacks are mild compared to the vicious racism and personal attacks that my father and family had to endure from Lee Kuan Yew and his ministers. In contrast Lee Hsien Loong’s attacks on CSJ have been fairly mild. The only one using his family in this election is Chee himself, to the usual dramatic effect. The comments about Chee not having a job are surely only a way of getting back at me for GE 2015 when I voiced the opinion that PM Lee had never had a real job. LHL’s and Grace Fu’s comments about CSJ never having a real job are only reactive to what I said about LHL. Before 2015 I pointed out that the PM had never had a real job. He was given a senior position in Daddy’s company at an early age and his rise was nothing short of meteoric. Since being cushioned in a GRC he has never faced a real competition. (It needs repeating actually , although I digress, that Lee has no mandate until he wins in an SMC.)
You could even consider the battle to be gentlemanly (relatively, this IS the PAP we are talking about) compared to the total war waged over Cheng San in 1997 where the electorate were warned in no uncertain terms, through graphics in the State media, of the very serious financial consequences for them if they voted in JBJ.
Quite the opposite of putting out such graphics, the PAP quickly watered down any interpretation of Murali’s comment that a planned upgrading project would not go ahead if he was not the MP as a threat to withhold resources from the residents.
Chee has spoken about how he will not beg on bended knee or words to that effect but again this is only paraphrasing the words of the late President Devan Nair, a PAP man, who was speaking in some astonishment at the viciousnesses of the attacks on my late father JBJ. Nair said in his memoirs that Lee Kuan said after JBJ’s victory at Anson: “I will make him (JBJ) crawl on his bended knees and beg for mercy” but Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff, he has never crawled nor begged for mercy. In fact the PAP haven’t required Chee to approach on bended knee. He was given a discount on his defamation fines. Presumably he approached them fully upright and asked for that discount, enabling him to pay off his bankruptcy. This also compares favourably to the treatment that my father received when he missed one payment by one day (a banking error). The international press is unlikely to accuse the PAP of gutter politics given that is part and parcel of Western elections, particularly in the US as we have seen with Donald Trump and his attacks on his opponents. So all in all, I feel that the gutter politics card has been overplayed and it’s all quite mild stuff, easily rebuffed and Chee has been given a good run on an admittedly unfair course.
Throwing the election?
So if we agree that the PAP aren’t trying that hard to win are they actually trying to throw this election? Or at least are they not particularly concerned about the prospect of a CSJ victory on Saturday? I can think of a few cynical reasons why, although no-one in their right mind throws an election, it might suit them to lose this seat.
- It will avoid a backlash. The PAP may be treading carefully in the wake of their crushing victory in the 2015 general election when the full weight of state machinery, state resources and state media was put behind the PAP. LKY’s death, fortuitously coinciding with the state manufactured SG50 celebrations, was so cynically exploited by his son that it revolted even his sister. Like any general who wins an overwhelming victory, for example Macarthur with the Japanese after the surrender, a show of magnanimity is necessary, if only to avoid rallying support for their defeated opponents. The PAP strategists know that too great a degree of ruthlessness in crushing the remnants of the Opposition risks the opposite reaction.
- It will give support to the PAP propaganda that Singapore is a democracy. The vote share of the PAP win in the last election, being close to that obtained by dictators in North Korea, Belarus and Russia, has weakened the arguments put forward by PAP apologists at home and abroad that Singapore is a democracy. That argument that Singapore is a democracy has so far been remarkably successful. When coupled with careful manipulation of economic statistics and the judicious use of money to buy friends it has given the PAP Government a much kinder and gentler image than they had in the 1980s and 1990s. If CSJ wins on Saturday it could be a public relations bonanza for the PAP and at the same time take the wind out of the sails of critics from Western organisations.
- It would act as a check on the WP. Allowing CSJ, whom LKY called a “dud” along with JBJ and said he would not permit in Parliament, to win would provide a check on the WP. This check has disappeared now that SPP have lost all hope of ever reclaiming Potong Pasir. An SDP seat in Bukit Gombak would probably stop WP from venturing out from their strongholds in Aljunied and Hougang and confine them to the east.
- The PAP may be convinced that SDP will not be able to run a town council. OK, this is cynical even for me. The PAP may want to show that any Opposition will not be able to run a Town Council effectively. The fact that the PAP were able to show just how much money friends and associates of the WP MPs were making from running the Town Council in Aljunied greatly damaged all the Opposition in 2015. If the SDP make a hash out of running the Town Council (no matter how much more difficult it is for them than for the PAP who control the state resources) or can be shown to have profited financially or to be lacking on transparency, then that will be another setback for all the Opposition. I’m not saying SDP cannot run a good TC of course, I’m saying that the PAP may think that.
- It will stop any epidemic of PAP MP zipper malfunctions. Last time there was a PAP indiscretion followed by a resignation, the PAP were able to regain that seat without too much trouble. Now it has happened a second time. They may fear that MPs and candidates will be thinking it is no big deal, just a personal matter, we will win the seat back anyway. PM Lee has only really paid lip service to the campaign (apart from attacking Chee but he can’t help himself there) with one obligatory walkabout etc. and a less than stellar replacement candidate. Maybe Lee is sending the message to his backbenchers and candidates for next GE and the women who would bed them: ” See what you have done! We have lost a seat. We have lost a town council. You have let down all these residents and the party.” It sends a much stronger warning than if the PAP regains the seat easily.
- It supports the retention of the GRC system. If Chee wins than the PAP will have a perfect excuse for retaining the GRC system for the next 100 years or so.
What if Chee doesn’t win but performs strongly?
If Chee loses but not badly enough to be replaced as leader then this is a scenario that also plays well for the PAP. A strong result for SDP will shore up the old guard in the SDP and the status quo in the opposition. It will ensure that the Opposition remains the same and what the PAP fears most is change.
Meanwhile I have rarely seen the stars rarely align so favourably for an Opposition candidate as they have done for CSJ in this election. This election is now his for the win.