When to call for a by-election in Hougang: The dilemma faced by Prime Minister Lee
Posted by temasektimes on March 11, 2012
Speaking in Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says he intends to call a by-election in Hougang, but has not decided on the timing yet as he will need to take into account all relevant factors such as the well-being of Hougang residents, issues on the national agenda, as well as the international backdrop which affects Singapore’s prosperity and security.
The Hougang seat fell vacant after its ex-WP MP Yaw Shin Leong was sacked from his party over his failure to address allegations surrounding his alleged extra-marital affairs with multiple married women, including a few party members and a neighbor from China.
Hougang has been a WP stronghold since 1991 when WP Chief Low Thia Kiang won the seat with 52 percent of the votes. Mr Yaw garnered 64.8 percent of the votes in last year General Election, trouncing the PAP candidate Desmond Choo in the process to become the best performer among the opposition candidates.
While the decision to call for a by-election lies solely with the Prime Minister, PM Lee faced a dilemma in deciding on the ‘right’ time to call for one to optimize the chances of a PAP victory.
Dragging the by-election for as long as possible will give its likely candidate Desmond Choo sufficient time to build up support in Hougang and to frustrate Hougang residents already disgruntled with the Workers Party for causing them to be stuck in such a predicament. However it may backfire spectacularly on the PAP if the seat is left vacant for too long which will give the perception that the PAP is not concerned about its residents’ well-being.
The choice of a candidate is also a tricky issue with some PAP stalwarts openly calling for PM Lee to field a ‘strong’ candidate like former Foreign Minister George Yeo or NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Ong Ye Kung to boost its chances of recapturing Hougang.
Doing so will send a signal that the party has little faith in Mr Desmond Choo thereby spelling a death knell for his nascent political career and it will not necessarily ensure a victory for the PAP either.
Sticking with Mr Desmond Choo will cast doubts in the minds of the detractors if the PAP is really serious in winning Hougang as for all his hard work on the ground, Mr Choo is still relatively new and inexperienced. However, at the present moment, there are no signs of the PM Lee ditching Mr Choo yet as he remains the PAP grassroots adviser for Hougang.
Though the result of the Hougang by-election has no impact on the governance of the nation as the PAP remains firmly in control of the government, it will inevitably unleash another wave of anti-PAP sentiments on the ground which will distract the nation from more pressing issues and put the ruling party in front of the ‘firing squad’ again, an unpalatable prospect for many PAP MPs and ministers who barely survive the vicious online ‘flaming’ and smearing from last year’s two divisive elections.
Judging from the current situation, PM Lee is unlikely to call for a by-election soon to give Mr Desmond Choo more time to win the hearts and minds of Hougang residents as well as his policies to take effect with the recent announcement of the Budget. In the absence of Mr Yaw, Mr Choo has been filling the void in Hougang with his weekly ‘tea party’ sessions conducted at Hougang Community Club. An on-going effort to set up an employment center to help unemployed Hougang residents is also welcomed by many.
As the opposition already has 5 MPs and 3 NCMPs in Parliament, there is no pressure on Hougang residents to vote in another opposition MP to prevent the PAP from getting a clean slate unlike in the past and therefore the ground may in fact be sweeter for the PAP this time if it plays its cards right. Long-suffering Hougang residents may well think it’s time for them to put down the ‘national burden’ of ensuring an opposition presence in Parliament which has deprived them of critical government funding over the years.
Instead of throwing out the usual ‘carrots’ in the form of estate upgrading and veiled threats to turn Hougang into a ‘slum’ if it rejects the PAP again, the PAP should capitalize on its brand name of ‘reliability’ to differentiate itself from the Workers’ Party whose ex-MP Yaw Shin Leong simply ‘abandoned’ Hougang residents in the lurch and went ‘missing in action’ when his sordid affairs were dug out and exposed. But it should remember not to indulge in mudslinging and character-assassination which will surely peeve off voters again.
While a victory for the PAP in Hougang will help to lift sagging morale within the ranks of the PAP, reducing the margin of victory for the Workers Party to less than 5 percent will prepare the stage for the party to recapture Hougang in the next General Election. After all, Mr Sitoh Yi Pin lost to Mr Chiam twice before winning Potong Pasir eventually. Mr Desmond Choo should persist in his efforts to serve Hougang residents which will not be gone unnoticed as the hurt left by Mr Yaw in their hearts continues to linger on.