Why WP is quick to caution voters about extrapolating Punggol East results
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Written by Ng E-Jay
27 January 2013
The Worker’s Party is clearly unprepared for a win of this magnitude, and wants to emphasize to voters that it will not try to bite off more than what it can chew. This is seen by WP Sec-Gen Mr Low Thia Khiang’s statement on Sunday that “people should not read too much into the Punggol East by-election results”.
“You can’t take the by-election result as one that is going to be the trend in the future,” Mr Low told reporters before the party’s victory parade.
“It is a by-election, it is not a general election,” added Mr Low, who also went on to reassure voters that they did not have to worry that the Government would be voted out.
It is obvious Mr Low was trying to pre-empt possible concerns from some quarters that if the WP were to continue performing in the same fashion in the next general elections slated for 2016, there is a chance it might upset the balance of power in Parliament or even pose a threat to the incumbency of the PAP.
Conceivably, the Worker’s Party reasons, concerns about a WP that is rising too rapidly could scare off some swing voters from casting their ballot for them.
Previously, WP had also taken pains to stress that it was ready neither to form an alternative government nor come out with a full set of alternative policies. My reading of this is two fold:
- Firstly, the WP wants to bring to voters’ attention that it is unprepared to be a shadow government with comprehensively researched policy alternatives, in order to caution voters and prevent them from raising their expectations of WP too high. In essence, the WP is acknowledging its own deficiencies and does not think it wise to hide it from voters. The WP knows that biting off more than what it can chew is the quickest way to lose support and demoralize voters.
- Secondly, the WP has most likely observed that whilst a large segment of the population may be unhappy with the PAP, they do not want the PAP to lose too much power in Parliament, much less lose control of the government entirely.
Mr Low could be justified in worrying that if people perceived that the WP was rising too fast, that itself could serve as a backlash that might put a cap on future growth, or even intensify the already vociferous criticism of the WP as a party that has marketed itself as little more than a watchdog or a co-driver to the government.
This is my assessment why the WP has been quick to point out its inability to form an alternative to the ruling PAP and that the Punggol East by-election results should not be extrapolated.
The WP is playing a political strategy much the same as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen who also said on Sunday that by-elections are prone to big swings, and that the results of the Punggol East race will not affect how the People Action Party (PAP) handles national issues. Both sides seem to be echoing each other, and probably for much the same reasons — to provide reassurance to their own support base that the status quo is not going to be overturned that soon.
WP’s continued insistence that it cannot be an alternative to the PAP and its acknowledgment of being poor on the policy front opens doors to other opposition parties who are better able to devise alternative policies and better able to scrutinize and pin-point the fundamental flaws of current government policies.
It is now up to other opposition parties like the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) to step up and fill the gap which WP has left, and in so doing, advance their own political standing with the electorate.