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Written by Ng E-Jay
07 August 2013
There are reasons, solely my opinion of course, why the People’s Action Party (PAP) may call for an early general election in 2014 or 2015, rather than in 2016.
First, the previous general election in 2011 and the coming one which constitutionally must be held no later than 2016 (within five years after the first sitting of Parliament), are about preparing the PAP to operate in the post-Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) era.
The post-LKY era presents myriad challenges for the PAP leadership. LKY represents the strong, unwavering authoritarianism that has guided the PAP since its inception in 1959. Since the PAP took power, LKY has literally been the party — providing the foundations of its ideology, its philosophy, its policies, and the way it handles (or manhandles) political opposition. What the PAP has been is essentially what the man Lee Kuan Yew has been.
With the political influence of LKY rapidly converging to zero, the PAP leadership must find its footing without the comforting umbrella of his iron fist, and find a way to retain power on its own steam. This process cannot depend on Mr Lee Hsien Loong alone, for Lee Junior does not quite have the hard aggressive, authoritarian personality that Lee Senior had. The son does not have half his father’s guts, wits, quickness, and viciousness of mind and spirit.
Some have speculated (possibly erroneously) that part of this preparation process involves the “controlled loss” of a couple of GRCs and perhaps a couple of SMCs. While this idea is appealing, I have thus far rejected it on the grounds that it is beyond the intellectual capability of the PAP leadership to either conceive or manage such a strategy. Loss of GRC was a political inevitability (no force could have prevented it) because complete political dominance in a globalized society is impossible to maintain indefinitely.
Rather, the PAP leadership has been forced into a reactive posture as a result of its recent electoral losses (since 2011) which have been unprecedented in its history of rule. The reactive strategy thus far has been to force the Worker’s Party (WP) to be on the defensive, forever fighting fires and looking inward, and so have less energy and time to aggressively expanding outward. The PAP will continue that strategy, because this is the only one it knows.
The 2011 general election was the fairest general election the PAP has fought in a long time — an election without defamation suits, police reports, massive character assassinations, or huge budget handouts. Lee Junior is trying to wean his ministers and MPs off the milk and honey of a grossly unlevel playing field in order to prepare them for the possible political shakeups that may lie in the years ahead. This is growing up time for the pampered ones.
I suspect the 2014 or 2015 elections will be of similar nature — fair on the outside (that is, fair to the observer who reads only Straits Times), but with GRC boundary gerrymandering, and with the PAP still holding its firm grip on the mainstream press and engaging in small-scale assaults on bloggers and smearing of political candidates (but not of the magnitude of Tang Liang Hong or J.B. Jeyaretnam).
An early election gives the PAP the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of its new-found approach — the two-pronged strategy of containing the WP in its currently held wards, and at the same time actively and persistently discrediting alternative voices, especially those of the online community.
An early 2014 or 2015 election gives WP less time to re-group and also less time for other opposition parties like the NSP or SPP to rethink their model and attract new talent.
The PAP must surely know that support for the party is on a secular downtrend that is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon. The PAP has no adequate answer to this conundrum because it cannot as yet see beyond its own dogma (dogma institutionalized over the decades).
An early election in 2014 or 2015 is needed to rapidly push newcomers into ministerial positions, and anchor the next generation of leaders, before the internal political storm currently brewing within inner PAP ranks becomes too severe to be contained. If PM Lee does not succeeded in renewing the inner PAP leadership fast enough, the party runs the risk of fracturing. Even if a split within the next decade is inevitable, it is better for it to occur after renewal has taken place, not before.
Over the next two years, the global economy will slow down and Singapore is likely to enter yet another recession. The PAP knows that recessionary times are good for general elections because people are more concerned with basics like jobs and security, and it is easier to instill fear and doubt in them. The 2001 election taking place after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York was a case in point. Goh Chok Tong went out on a blaze of glory (75.3% of the national votes).
If my assessment is correct, the next recession in Singapore will be anywhere from mid 2014 to early 2015. This forms a window of opportunity for the PAP to call snap elections (never mind that they should really be looking after the economy).
In recessionary conditions, the intake of foreign workers will also slow, and the inflation level and cost of living will also taper off, leaving Singaporeans two less things to grumble about, and with their attention focussed solely on their own jobs and providing for their families. That is when the PAP will strike hard by insisting that only they can guarantee jobs for Singaporeans and the opposition can do absolutely nothing about job creation (just like in all other general elections that ever took place).
The transportation infrastructure (MRT lines, new highways) that is being built right now will only come online starting from 2016 to 2020. The PAP is also committed to keeping its current foreign talent policies intact and will only do gradual adjustments over the years. Hence, there is no benefit in waiting till end 2016 to call elections because the resentment concerning overcrowding and foreign talents will not diminish within the next several years.
Thus, I believe the PAP will call early elections in 2014 or 2015.