It is fair to assert that the Workers’ Party has managed a respectable and effective General Elections (GE) campaign; with its victories in Aljunied and Hougang, as well as the significant mandates in other constituencies, the WP has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. Because of the unprecedented gains it has made, it is worth – in retrospect – to contemplate why the team led by Mr. Low Thia Khiang was able to make the much-heralded breakthrough in Aljunied this time round.
Rhetoric played a crucial role in the fight. Quite conservatively, it can be assumed that supporters in the contested area for the People’s Action Party (PAP) and WP respectively have had their minds set on Nomination Day. Campaigning was then imperative to sway the swing voters. The following points will categorically expound upon what I personally thought influenced decisions; though I will venture to opine that although the national sentiment was decidedly against the PAP, strategic propositions on the part of the WP secured the eventual victory for the latter.
The National Dissatisfaction And Disgruntled Voters
While Mr. Yeo simply had no control over the considerable unhappiness the on-the-ground Singaporean had towards the assortment of socio-economic issues, the WP was quick to capitalise on these frustrations. Rally after rally, interview after interview, the WP hammered home concern after concern; with rising costs of living, income inequality, the influx of foreigners, affordability of public housing and high ministerial salaries as the primary considerations. Emotionally, these were attractive talking points, and substantially gave the WP slate as a whole a chance to pursue recommendations or proposals.
WP’s comprehensive manifesto also constantly kept the party in the headlines, providing much fodder for constructive debate even before candidates were formally introduced. The PAP’s team minimal discussion of national issues might have been a calculated move given turbulent circumstances, but Mr. Yeo’s last-minute promise to spearhead internal reform may have been too little, too late.
A First World Parliament Versus Constituency Promises
The message that the PAP team consistently harped on was this: vote for us – given our experience in managing municipal affairs and walking the ground – and we will make Aljunied a better play to live for all. What this did was to secure the votes of residents genuinely concerned with upgrading and home improvements, as evidenced from the plethora of published letters arguing the need for a “world class estate” and maintenance.
On the other hand, the WP played it coy when asked about its plans for the area; though they did point to Mr. Low and Miss Sylvia Lim’s experience in the Hougang Town Council, and opportunistically alluded to the unequal grassroots advantages enjoyed by the PAP politicians. Their steady reference to their vision furthered the aforementioned national discontent; nonetheless, their last-ditch attempt to present a few sketchy broad proposals may be due to the realisation that they might be losing this specific group of voters.
The Emotional And Social Media Approaches
Both team leaders, Mr. Yeo and Mr. Low, presented their cases with great sentimentality, albeit for different purposes. The former shared about his dedication and passion in servant-leadership, while the latter touched on his emotional dilemma in leaving Hougang, and taking on a group representation constituency (GRC).
On a personal note, I was more emotionally connected to Mr. Yeo’s calm and impassioned rhetorical approaches throughout the campaign, and thought Mr. Low to be more aggressive in his multitude of speeches.
Mr. Yeo did engage in social media more enthusiastically then the rest of his team and the WP team, but spontaneous online responses were generally in favour of the Opposition side. Perhaps as a result of these interactions, it seemed as if Mr. Yeo was running a one-man show, single-handedly taking on the five-member WP team.
Mr. Yeo’s (In)Dispensability
The first thing the PAP did was to highlight Mr. Yeo’s credentials and widely-acclaimed intellect; in other words, trying to convince Singaporeans of his indispensability. Along the same tangent, the team also included a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, a future Speaker of Parliament, and a future office-holder: quintessentially, a team that is ‘too big or too important to lose’
But this strategy could have backfired. Importantly, this allowed the WP to do three things: one, to constantly remind voters that no individual or team is indispensable (with Mr. Pritam Singh famously using the football team analogy); second, to confidently proclaim that the WP team is more than competent to fill in these big shoes; third, to strategically oppose the GRC system, since Singapore is liable to lose a minister or office-holder wherever there is a strong Opposition presence. The last point, for me, was of exceptional importance.
Other Possible Factors
– Voting secrecy and considerations, to allay possible fears or insecurities.
– Controversy over the management or administrative abilities of the Hougang Town Council.
– PAP ‘s Mr. Eric Low’s ‘observations’ of Hougang as a slum.
– PAP salvos against Mr. Chen Show Mao, and the WP concept of a ‘First World Parliament’.
– Various analogies of the driver, insurance policies and the spare tyre.
– Impressive rhetorical abilities and eloquence of Mr. Pritam and Miss Lim.
– Dissimilar statements made by senior PAP ministers on the importance, significance and campaign strategies in or of the Aljunied constituency.