10 June 2006

The Fate of Aljunied

I had estimated WP's chance of getting Aljunied last month at about 50%. I wasn't too far off, but wasn't quite near the mark either. They secured 43.91% of the votes, which was rather disappointing to many, including me (I'd prefer them to fall on the other side of 50%). Shortly after the results, there were many people who said that though it was a pity, WP has put up an excellent fight, and it is likely that they will win Aljunied GRC in the next general elections (assuming it is not going to be dismantled). I also had similar thoughts, but now that the dust has settled, I think that is not going to be easy to achieve.

Firstly, although WP's attack came hard, it failed to capture the constituency, and this high number of votes to the opposition would've alerted PAP to this constituency. PAP will double their efforts: there will be more carrots and there will be more sticks. Votes by precinct will be analysed and appropriate gerrymandering will be applied. More heavyweights may be moved in by the next elections, so as to strengthen the consequences (to the people) of not winning. In another words, WP will not enjoy the sort of element of "surprise" that they had. With a well prepared defence, it will be hard for WP to capture the fortress.

Secondly, PAP has expressed its intention to reconsider its election strategies. What they are going to do in exact, I cannot be sure, it is safe to assume that they may no longer choose to use the lift upgrading as pork barrel politicking (since it has backfired in Hougang and Potong Pasir). They may open the media up further since it became quite clear that suppressing opposing views may be of ill to them. And I think it is likely that Lee Hsien Loong will further his plans for a more open society, whether he believes it is for the good of the society or the good of his mandate. In any case, some of the strongest points for voting for the opposition may have disappeared. Thus, more people may give PAP their votes in the next election, because there are less things the opposition argue on to win their hearts. That's not to mention that PAP will probably be careful not to commit the same mistake as they did in that James Gomez incident, which definitely has lost them quite some votes.

Thirdly, as Jeyaretnam rightly pointed out, the flagship GRC of WP (i.e. Aljunied) did not perform as well as previous flagship GRCs. All those GRCs got a percentage higher than this one. In fact, there is a worrying trend: the percentage of votes is steadily dropping. From 1988's 49.11% (Eunos GRC) to 1991's 47.62% (Eunos GRC), to 1997's 45.18% (Cheng San GRC), the numbers have been slipping every election (2001 was an exception, since its flagship GRC, Aljunied, sank even before setting sail). This downward trend may be coincidental, but it may still be an indication of results and it won't be easy for WP to reverse the trend in the next election.

However, one thing that is very different is that this election has seen one phenomenon WP's Aljunied candidate Goh Meng Seng calls "political awakening". Because of the availability of this alternative media which provides, if not balanced, at least the other side of the news, people are more educated on the choices they have and the arguments behind it. The accessibility to such information opens one's eyes (or mind) to the stormy political undercurrent beneath the calm surface we always see on the mainstream media.

Also, WP's candidates in those past flagship GRCs are usually PAP bashers, often using words and actions that rouses the public's emotions. So emotion, not logic of their arguments or integrity of the candidates or policies of the party, was the key to win votes. But this time, I must say this is not as much the case anymore. WP presented itself as a very credible party. Its policies are rational and its candidate are of high calibre. They have the potential to win the votes of those who subscribe to reason.

These two factors may have triggered a shift in the paradigm of local politics. Therefore, the three points I listed above may no longer be valid. Perhaps even without the element of "surprise", the WP can still increase their share of votes. Perhaps opening up the media will result in more people being politically aware of the advantages of an opposition voice in parliament. Perhaps the trend does not apply because the circumstances are no longer the same.

But the future of politics, as it is, will never be known until it come history.

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