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Written by Ng E-Jay
02 January 2013
From the looks of it, the Prime Minister’s Office will be compelled to call for a by-election in Punggol East SMC no matter how much they are reluctant to expose the precipitous drop in support for the PAP that has occurred.
In the meantime, there are some issues that I wish to address.
(a) Some people have called for WP to step aside and let other parties have a chance at contesting Punggol East, or for SDP to refrain from engaging in a multi-cornered contest.
I find this sentiment undemocratic. Every party has the right to improve its branding and market itself to voters through an electoral contest. No party should be expected to step aside for the sake of another party. Asking parties to keep giving way to each other would keep each of them small and weak. That is precisely what the PAP wants — for there to be many parties, but each small and weak.
How can a party grow strong if it is not free to contest and test its branding even in the most challenging of constituencies or even where there is a possibility of a multi-cornered fight against a possibly stronger party?
How can a party learn and improve itself if it is forced to confine itself to a very limited set of constituencies? That is the surest way to ensure it will never grow and never become great.
(b) Some people say a multi-cornered fight would hand Punggol East to the PAP on a silver platter.
If all it takes is a multi-cornered fight to ensure an easy victory for the PAP, then perhaps the PAP deserved to win anyway.
In the 2011 elections, had Desmond Lim not contested, his 4.5% of the vote share would have gone to Lee Li Lian, but she would still have lost. She might have gotten a chance to become NCMP, but that issue does not apply in a by-election.
What if the PAP wins the ward very narrowly (say, by a 1% margin) due to vote splitting? I would say that is an acceptable outcome in a by-election, and besides, that would mean the PAP certainly was not handed the victory on a silver platter. In fact, if this outcome happens, the opposition parties would learn that victory in 2016 is achievable with a little more hard work.
(c) If an opposition party performs poorly compared to the WP in Punggol East, it would be seen as a spoiler and that would bring it a bad image.
This sentiment is understandable and unavoidable. That is why each party apart from WP must carefully weigh its options and perform its risk-benefit calculations. Is the increased exposure and the chance to showcase its policies worth the risk of being seen as a spoiler? That is a question each party must decide on.
(d) Give way to WP now, and use this as a bargaining chip in 2016 horse-trading.
Let me assure all my readers that this strategy has zero chance of ever working.
The WP has absolutely no intention of returning any other party’s goodwill or being a team player in the next general election.
The WP wants to edge out all the other parties by contesting more and more seats in each election, and refusing to compromise except perhaps in special situations where a beneficial deal can be reached.
The WP certainly had no intention of compromising with NSP in Moulmein-Kalling in 2011. I can also assure you the WP would have no intention of compromising on places like Tampines in 2016.
This behaviour is not wrong. Every party deserves the chance to grow as quickly as possible. By contesting aggressively and refusing to give way, the WP is simply pursuing a logical, self-serving strategy of expansion and capacity building. What good would WP bring to itself if it gave way to smaller parties and denied itself a chance to grow?
Knowing this, however, other parties need not feel obliged to give way to WP or expect to use a concession as a bargaining tool.
In fact, the WP is looking for a chance to test its party branding, which it deems superior, against other opposition parties. The Punggol East by-election may just give WP what it has wanted for a long time.
It is then up to parties like the SDP to show that a test of party branding against the WP need not end in tears, but may instead end in joy.