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PAP caught in Catch-22 situation with Aljunied GRC, says analyst

SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) organising secretary Ng Eng Hen’s latest comments on PAP’s readiness for the next polls are another sign the General Election could be near, possibly soon after the National Day Rally, said political analysts.

PAP caught in Catch-22 situation with Aljunied GRC, says analyst

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) organising secretary Ng Eng Hen’s latest comments on PAP’s readiness for the next polls are another sign the General Election could be near, possibly soon after the National Day Rally, said political analysts.

And ratcheting up intrigue in the forthcoming elections, which must be held by January 2017, they added, are Dr Ng’s comments about the PAP’s strategy for the electoral battle in Aljunied and the make-up of the possible new candidates it has found.

In an interview with The Sunday Times published yesterday, Dr Ng, speaking on contesting Workers’ Party (WP) in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), was quoted as saying: “Why would we want to field somebody that we know has a higher chance of being rejected and deprive ourselves of an office-holder?”

Analysts said such a strategy captured the challenges the PAP faces in reclaiming the first-ever GRC it lost — its team of candidates in 2011 included several ministers and Mr Ong Ye Kung, a new face touted as a potential office-holder. Whether the WP keeps its team in Aljunied intact — headlined by party chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim — is one factor to consider, they said.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan said the PAP is caught in a Catch-22 situation: “Putting heavyweight candidates may reflect how seriously the party wants to win back Aljunied, but they could risk losing office-holders. However, taking the less risky option almost certainly results in a situation where WP is more likely than not to retain their seats.”

Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, added: “For things to flip in Aljunied, minimally, it will have to be the case where voters decide they do not want a WP team, or that the WP splits the two big leaders from the GRC. It will not be a vote for a PAP team.”

What compounds the equation is the theory that the best time to claw back a constituency is immediately after it has been lost, said Associate Professor Tan. “After a while, voters could become comfortable with the fact that it has become an opposition ward, as with Hougang.”

However, political scientist Bilveer Singh, from the National University of Singapore, said that should the WP leaders venture into other constituencies, it would weaken the party’s position and the public may “punish the WP for ‘abandoning’ them”.

He hypothesised that the PAP could stay away from pushing the issue. “At a strategic level, Dr Ng may be signalling that the PAP can live with Aljunied being run by the WP. It is good for democracy and, yet, having exposed the problems of bad governance that Aljunied residents will have to live with, the choice will be up to the voters,” he said, referring to the scrutiny on the opposition party’s town council management.

With Dr Ng indicating that the slate of new PAP candidates is ready, Assoc Prof Tan felt that the polls could be called within the next six months, while Assoc Prof Singh said it could be as early as weeks after the National Day Rally — normally held two weeks after National Day.

Recent hints that polls could be held soon include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s May Day Rally speech, which observers said carried a heavy political accent, and his targeted Cabinet reshuffle in April.

Meanwhile, on Dr Ng’s comments that the new faces from the civil service, military and police will be “in the minority” — contrary to the norm for the party — Assoc Prof Singh said the PAP may have realised it needs to recruit talent that reflects the changing socio-economic and political flavour of the nation. “The Opposition has hardly got the government-type people on its slots and has been doing well with the electorate,” he noted.

Whether coming from the private or public sector, Dr Koh stressed that candidates need to be able to manage complexities at the helicopter-view level, as well as have a good understanding of how ordinary Singaporeans think, feel and act.

Echoing Dr Ng, she added: “Managing a town council is the very basic criteria, and has to be done well. So whether from the public sector or the private one, the heart of service and these capabilities will be key.”

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