02 September 2015

PAP Nomads, Quitters, Stayers and Over-Stayers

Candidates fielded by the ruling People's Action Party in Singapore's Parliamentary elections generally fall in the following categories.

The Nomads
Nomads are candidates who contested, lost to opposition candidates and then moved to another constituency in a subsequent parliamentary election.

Desmond Choo contested (and lost) in Hougang SMC by-election in 2012. He moves to Tampines GRC (anchored by Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat) for GE 2015.

"Son of Punggol" Koh Poh Koon contested (and lost) in the Punggol East SMC by-election in 2013. He moves to Ang Mo Kio GRC (anchored by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) for GE 2015.

Ong Ye Kung contested (and lost) in Aljunied GRC in 2011. He moves to Sembawang GRC (anchored by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan) for GE 2015.

Past nomads include Andy Gan Lai Chiang, Heng Chee How, Mah Bow Tan and Tang Guan Seng.

It seems that the PAP believes that Messrs Choo, Koh and Ong probably are incapable of winning an electoral fight in an SMC and decided to move them to GRCs that are anchored by political "heavyweights" who hopefully may help smooth their path to Parliament.

Two things don't seem quite right about this.

First, although these PAP candidates will probably manage to be elected to Parliament when they contest GE 2015 in GRCs anchored by stronger candidates, they cannot change the fact that the majority of voters in SMCs previously had rejected them on a stand-alone basis despite strong endorsement and support by the ruling PAP. They cannot prove that, in electoral constituencies where voters can vote for individual candidates rather than all (or none) of the members of a team, they can convince the majority of voters to vote for them. It's an indelible blemish on their political record no matter what they do subsequently.

Second, these defeated PAP candidates could have earned some respect from voters had they shown determination and fortitude and stayed to fight where they had failed previously, instead of taking an easier or expedient route to Parliament and leaving it (i.e., passing the buck) to other newbie PAP candidates to try their luck where they (the previously defeated PAP candidates) had failed.

There are the incumbent MPs who quit politics after losing.

Lim Hwee Hua, Cynthia Phua, George Yeo Yong Boon and Zainal Abidin Rashid quit politics after losing Aljunied GRC in 2011.

They didn't stay to fight another day. Perhaps, they had had enough.

Past quitters include Ng Pock Too, Pang Kim Hin and Seet Ai Mee.

Sitoh Yih Pin stayed in Potong Pasir SMC and won in 2011 after having lost in 2001 and 2006. While his doggedness is to be admired, perhaps he knew that time was on his side and he could wait for ailing and aging Chiam See Tong to step down eventually (he moved to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2011 while his wife Loh Woon Lee Lina (Lina Chiam) stepped in to defend Singapore Peoples' Party's seat in Potong Pasir SMC).

Eric Low Siak Meng contested (and lost) in Hougang SMC in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Perhaps, he declined to be moved to an easier constituency and quite admirably fought to the bitter end. He reportedly has since retired from politics.

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remained in the Cabinet more than two decades after all other members of his 1965 Cabinet had retired, mostly to make way for new blood. After he stepped down as prime minister in 1990, he continued holding a Cabinet position until after the PAP's dismal performance at GE 2011. He was an MP up to his death earlier this year.

Even after his death, Mr Lee may be useful to the PAP in GE 2015. This past National Day, a recent recording of his reading the Proclamation of Independence was broadcast, even though it was a TV news reader who read it to us on 9 August 1965. Mr Lee was given a 3-minute tribute at the National Day parade and was mentioned repeatedly in the prime minister's recent National Day Rally speech that could have been mistaken for an election rally; sadly, his early Cabinet colleagues hardly merited mention. PAP candidates will likely try to associate themselves with Mr Lee.

Mr Lee stayed so long that the PAP now seems unsure or lost without him. PAP's Organising Secretary Ng Eng Hen recently lamented, "For this GE, for the first time, it'll be a GE without Mr Lee. No Mr Lee Kuan Yew to tell us what's a better choice, no Mr Lee Kuan Yew to tell us, give comments on the choice that we make."

Mr Lee's successor, Goh Chok Tong, remained in the Cabinet after stepping down as prime minister in 2004, until after the PAP's dismal performance at GE 2011, whereupon he was given the title of emeritus senior minister.

Mr Goh will contest GE 2015. He said, "[Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong] wants me to carry on. He wants me to help in the leadership transition to the fourth-generation team, as an elder. Smooth leadership succession is Singapore's unique strength to safeguard political stability and continuity of good government."

It doesn't reflect well on PM Lee Hsien Loong or his senior Cabinet colleagues.

It is so bizarre to have a prime minister's predecessor(s) linger around in the Cabinet, or even in Parliament, years after they have stepped down.

Irrespective of whether it is the prime minister who needs his predecessor(s) to stay or the predecessor(s) themselves who want to stay, the unavoidable implication is that the prime minister and his team cannot do as good a job without his predecessor(s).

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