The Ruling Party still does not get it.
According to mainstream media reports, the Ruling Party attributed the loss of Punggol East to 2 reasons: (1) Voter unhappiness on the events surrounding Michael Palmer’s stepping down from MP-ship and (2) the By-Election Effect. The message appears to be that the Government will still continue with business as usual and deliver what they had earlier sought to deliver.
The analysis is flawed and misses the woods for the trees. The Ruling Party seems to ignore the voices of discontent on policy matters, despite the fact these voices have grown louder, culminating in the Punggol Pandemonium.
Let us look at the reasons cited by the Ruling Party. First, voter unhappiness over Palmer-gate. This cannot not be correct. One could similarly argue that there was (even more) unhappiness over the Yaw Shin Leong incident. The Ruling Party even took pains to take a higher moral ground by arguing that it had dealt with Michael Palmer’s stepping down transparently and decisively. This was an attempt to differentiate itself from Yaw-gate. Yet, any unhappiness over Yaw did not translate to an erosion of support in Hougang.
Second, the “By Election effect”is, in my view, overstated. Even in a General Election scenario, most Singaporeans would think it is improbable that the Ruling Party would lose their right to govern. That must have been the sentiment of Punggol East residents in GE 2011 too. It would not intellectually honest to attribute a massive swing of more than 10% to the By Election effect.
There seems to be a reluctance by the Ruling Party to recognize that there have been growing ground discontent. The Punggol Pandemonium reflects the broader unhappiness of Singaporeans over many policy issues.
This reluctance to publicly acknowledge these unhappiness (and the underlying policy deficiencies) is puzzling, especially since Punggol provides an indication as to how voter sentiment might swing in the next GE, particularly in constituencies where the PAP winning margin was similar to the 54% margin in Punggol during GE 2011 – e.g. Potong Pasir (50.36 %), Joo Chiat (51.02%) and even Sengkang West (58.1%) and Mountbatten (58.6%). A refusal to acknowledge, let alone address, ground discontent could have detrimental consequences in the next GE.
Dr Koh Poh Koon was unfortunately dismissive of “online noises”. This is regrettable and perhaps reflect the broader sentiments of the Ruling Party on such “noises”. While these “noises” may not be reflect views of every Singaporean, these “noises” reflect the views of concerned Singaporeans who worry about where Singapore is headed, and who would like to have a hand in steering that direction.
The Punggol Pandemonium is a validation that online “noises” do reflect the actual ground sentiments.
Interestingly, Punggol East residents seem to send a signal that they prefer a candidate who appears to understand the sentiments on the ground, and one who has shown commitment and continuity in the constituency, instead of the archetypal PAP candidate – successful professional, and one who is touted to be a potential office holder. It signifies a rejection of elitism and our brand of Meritocracy.
It is really not hard for the Ruling Party to pick out the reasons why they lost Punggol East.
They just need to listen.