Monday, May 9, 2011

GE 2011 aftermath, random quick thoughts, and prognostications.

This post is going to be written stream-of-consciousness style...

Is the PAP going to mend its ways, or is it going to be business as usual? I would like to think the former will happen, but I am very skeptical. Many PAP politicians seem too ideologically wedded to their positions (Mah Bow Tan, Lim Swee Say, Lui Tuck Yew, the list goes on...). Certainly, few if any would publicly backtrack on their stated policies. The PM apologised in this election for his government's performance (garnering a 3.2% improvement in vote share for Ang Mo Kio relative to GE 2006), but tellingly, no other politician did, least of all those who were responsible for policies causing the most grief to the electorate (e.g. Mah Bow Tan). Still, given the apparent act of contrition by the PM, a wait-and-see approach seems warranted.


More people will be willing to step forward to stand for elections for opposition parties, particularly the WP. The risk-reward ratio has changed with the WP's success in Aljunied. The WP can only grow stronger with their increased popularity and rising public profile. I have no doubt their efforts at recruitment of quality candidates from the private sector will be far more fruitful than the PAP, as I have previously stated.

The practice of slipping in weak PAP candidates into Parliament via "safe" GRCs helmed by prominent politicians will be reassessed by the PAP. That doesn't mean that the practice will be abandoned, only that it will be exercised with greater care. Frankly, the fact that the PAP had to scrape up a Tin Pei Ling from the bottom of the barrel to make up the numbers betrays the difficulty they have in recruiting loyal, quality candidates in number. The parachute tactic will continue to be a necessary part of the PAP's election arsenal as long as Tin Pei Ling-types continue to be selected.

However, I am grateful for one thing. Thanks to the fact that Marine Parade GRC was actually contested in GE 2011 (the last time it was contested was in 1991!), it is now possible to quantify the effect of the parachute tactic on vote share (the "Tin Pei Ling effect").

Marine Parade GRC, helmed by Goh Chok Tong in 1991, secured 77.2% of the vote share, versus 56.65% in 2011. The average PAP vote share in 1991 was 61%, versus 60.14% in 2011, virtually the same. The TPL effect could hence have accounted for as much as a 19.69% [(77.2%-56.65%)-(61%-60.14%)] swing in vote share.

This estimate is a high ceiling estimate; the swing in vote share can also be attributed to Goh Chok Tong's diminished popularity, the fact that he is no longer PM as he was in 1991, the generally inferior quality of opposition party candidates in 1991, and of course, the polar opposite "Nicole Seah effect". Granted all that and the fact that 1991 and 2011 are literally 20 years apart, but I think the TPL effect is probably good for a 5% vote swing against the PAP.

Given that the PAP's average vote share in GE 2011 stands at about 60%, that means that a GRC "lifeboat" can probably only comfortably accommodate at most one low quality free-rider, assuming linear additivity. More than that and the PAP risks sinking the entire GRC.


Prof Jayakumar has noted that the fact that an Opposition had won a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) proves that the political system in Singapore works and does not benefit only the ruling party (see here). This statement is disingenuous. The fact that it has taken this long for an opposition party to win a GRC, with a team clearly superior to the one fielded by the PAP in Aljunied, in a more favorable political climate, and almost all constituencies contested that hence diluted the PAP's strength, is an exception that proves the rule that GRCs disadvantage opposition parties.

It is possible that with the loss of Aljunied, the PAP may rejig the GRC system to stack the deck further in its favor. Jayakumar's statement above provides the perfect validation for such a tactic.

It is especially important for the PAP to adjust the GRC system if more Tin Pei Ling-types are to be put up by the PAP in future elections. Lifeboats need to get bigger for a wider margin of safety. Equally, the PAP is having difficulty recruiting quality candidates in number to "hold down the fort". Cabinet ministers and other heavy-weights can only be spread so thinly over so many constituencies. We may see the advent of 8-member GRCs in the not-too-distant future.

Perhaps a more stringent requirement to have not one but two minority race candidates in each GRC. Perhaps even a hard requirement to have one Malay and one Indian candidate in each GRC. This would raise barriers to entry for the opposition even higher than they already are now.


One of the most startling things I observed when I stepped into a polling station for the very first time was the sheer number of old folks streaming in to vote. They came on walkers, canes and wheelchairs. Singapore's population has aged, and the oldest, staunchest of the PAP's supporters are literally aging and dying.

Lee Kuan Yew *may* have been right in saying that the young don't know better to vote PAP don't appreciate the struggles that we have gone through as a nation. Nonetheless, even the PAP has to acknowledge the relentless tide of mortality that is carrying away its most loyal bloc of voters. It must adjust its strategy and tactics accordingly if it is to remain victorious in the elections ahead. The Generational Shift Effect is starting to make itself felt, and it will grow stronger in the years to come.


If the recent PAP campaign is any indicator of how the PAP manages its internal affairs in planning and implementing public policies, then I am apprehensive what the future holds.

We had ministers saying things that contradicted each other, unilateral party reform proposed by one minister, and blame-shifting. Not to forget the MM's vote-WP-and-repent threat. Or the PM's apology that was followed by conspicuous silence by all the other ministers.

Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that we have preliminary indications of schisms and factionalism within the PAP itself. If this is what happens in public, what happens behind closed doors?

Then there is that vexing matter of who the next PM should be, as there is no heir apparent waiting in the wings at the moment. That means that the issue of succession is still very much undecided.

The PM can reshuffle ministers and redeploy those who are the most unpopular but who were nonetheless re-elected (Mah Bow Tan comes to mind). But every time he does so, he expends just that much more of his political capital within the PAP. If you were Mah Bow Tan and you kept insisting that housing was affordable, how kindly would you look on the PM deciding to reassign you to a different portfolio? You can only push people so much before they start pushing back.

The electorate is changing and demanding more choices. Is it possible that the PAP may also be changing and becoming more individualistic? And what might that mean for policy-making in the future?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Assessing the Generational Shift Effect in GE 2011

This is a technical post, so it will be rather dry. Going by previous pageviews, I doubt many people will be interested to read further, but nonetheless, I will need to perform the analysis and archive the results here for my own records.

The Generational Shift Effect (GSE) was previously defined here. The objective of this post is to assess whether such an effect is in fact present.

Given the differences between each election in terms of candidates, issues and media use, it is a futile exercise to rigorously reduce the results of each election to individually quantifiable covariates. My approach here is to simply look at the data and to check for interesting trends.

To recap, the constituencies that I identified as possibly manifesting the GSE were Radin Mas, Pioneer, Moulmein-Kallang, Sembawang, Sengkang West and Punggol East. This group consists of 4 SMCs and 2 GRCs.

My approach is to compare the PAP's vote share in each constituency in GE 2011 and to compare it against the PAP's vote share in the most recent previous election. However, except for Sembawang (which in fact has had its boundaries redrawn), none of the constituencies in the group above existed in recent history prior to GE 2011. This may seem like a bad thing, but it does have a silver lining.

While previous data may not be directly comparable to current data due to redrawn GRC boundaries, every new constituency in 2011 has a progenitor GRC. We can compare the PAP's vote share for say, Sengkang West SMC in 2011 versus Ang Mo Kio GRC (its progenitor) in 2006. We can also compare the PAP's vote share for Sengkang West SMC in 2011 against Ang Mo Kio GRC in 2011. So, in effect, we have two data points for comparison.

What we are really interested in are differences. Using our example above, we can calculate how well the PAP fared in Sengkang West in 2011 versus 2006 (using Ang Mo Kio as a proxy), taking the difference [1st difference]. We can also calculate how well the PAP fared in Ang Mo Kio between 2011 and 2006, again taking the difference [2nd difference]. It is the divergence between these two differences that may be attributed to the GSE (and other factors).

Now, let's turn to the data. I have excluded Radin Mas SMC from this analysis. Radin Mas was carved out from Tanjong Pagar, which has had walkovers for the longest time, so historical voting data is unavailable. In addition, the 'Lee Kuan Yew effect' in Tanjong Pagar would probably swamp any other effect, so I'm not even going to bother with further analysis here.

Table 1 below shows PAP vote shares for the constituencies of interest in GE 2011 as well as the most recent election. Except for Sembawang GRC, data for the previous election is taken from the progenitor GRC. Also, all previous data relates to GE 2006, except for West Coast GRC, which was last contested in GE 1997.

  Table 1. Comparing PAP vote shares for each constituency across elections. Larger image here.  
From Table 1, it is clear that the PAP's vote share has declined for all the constituencies under study. But how does this compare to the progenitor GRCs?

Table 2 below reproduces the rightmost column from Table 1, and includes another column showing the change in the PAP's vote share in the progenitor GRCs. Note that Moulmein-Kallang progenitor data is unavailable since Moulmein-Kallang was carved out of Tanjong Pagar and Jalan Besar. Tanjong Pagar was uncontested and Jalan Besar no longer exists. In addition, I have included a column to show the change in the PAP's average vote share across elections.

Table 2. Comparing changes in PAP vote shares. Larger image here.

In every constituency under study (except Sembawang and Moulmein-Kallang), the drop in the PAP's vote share has exceeded the drop in the PAP's vote share in the progenitor GRC. It has also exceeded the drop in the average PAP vote share across elections. Most striking is the divergence seen in Sengkang West, which experienced a drop in PAP vote share by 8% while in contrast, its progenitor GRC of Ang Mo Kio actually improved in its PAP vote share by 3.2%.

In the case of Sengkang West, the large divergence in PAP vote share between Sengkang West and its progenitor is unlikely to be due to the GSE. It is far more likely due to the fact that Ang Mo Kio is helmed by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Similarly, the divergence for Punggol East may be explained by the presence of heavyweight Teo Chee Hean in progenitor Pasir Ris-Punggol. On an opposite note, Moulmein-Kallang's poor performance for the PAP in 2011 may be more attributable to the presence of Yaacob Ibrahim (Orchard Road floods) and Lui Tuck Yew (hardly a ray of sunshine, see here).

For the remaining 2 constituencies, it is more difficult to reject the presence of the GSE. Khaw Boon Wan helms Sembawang GRC. Notwithstanding his $8 gaffe, he is still one of the PAP's more popular and stalwart politicians. Yet Sembawang fared poorly relative to the fall in the PAP's average vote share in this election (-12.8% vs -6.5%). This is an unexpected result which I interpret as the GSE exerting itself. For Pioneer SMC, I can't think of major reasons for the larger than expected fall in vote share except for the possibility that Pioneer is demographically much different from its progenitor, West Coast GRC. Again, I think the GSE could have exerted itself here.

Table 3 below summarizes the foregoing discussion in assessing the GSE. I have included a column showing which opposition parties contested in each constituency for GE 2011. Note that Sembawang and Pioneer, which I flagged as having a high likelihood of GSE, were contested by SDP and NSP respectively. The WP was the big opposition party winner in this election, presumably due to their branding, as surmised by Yawning Bread. So, we can exclude the "WP effect" from explaining the large falls in PAP vote share these two constituencies. In addition, neither SDP nor NSP fielded their 'A' teams or top candidates in these constituencies as well, so candidate differences should be muted.

Table 3. Likelihood of GSE and possible explanations. Larger image here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Voting along municipal lines: Penny-wise, Pound Foolish

I have never accepted the logic behind voting along municipal lines in Singapore. Never.

For many years, one of the main reasons that Singaporeans have given for not voting for opposition party candidates is that the quality of candidates standing in their constituencies has been poor. And the quality of opposition party candidates has indeed been generally poor for much of Singapore's history.

Even Singaporeans disgruntled with the PAP frequently vote for the PAP when they perceive that opposition party candidates in their constituencies are inferior in breeding, credentials or capability compared to PAP candidates, which is often. I expect this election to be no different.

On the surface, this would make perfect sense. After all, who wants a doofus to represent them in Parliament? How could a clown the likes of many opposition party politicians effectively champion the interests of their constituents, particularly in a PAP-dominated parliament that is known to place Singaporeans in opposition wards last?

To me, however, this is missing the point entirely. Think of the last 5, 10 years. What issues have impacted your life the most? What have your heaviest concerns been about? What are the root causes of your worries, your angsts, and the things that keep you up late at night?

Almost without exception, I think I can state categorically that the most immediate concerns of most Singaporeans stem from issues related to national policies implemented in the last 10 years. These policies heavily impact important issues such as the cost of living, housing, influx of foreigners, income inequality, unemployment, health care, retirement and education.

In Singapore, the PAP designs and implements all major policies that govern the lives of Singaporeans. These are NATIONAL policies. In this country, national policies impact your life the most, and they have far-reaching effects on you, your family and your children.

These policies are more important than whether your MP can successfully petition for public funds to be spent in your constituency on playgrounds, covered walkways, refurbished wet markets and other matters that I deem of little consequence. Even the value of your property (if you own one) is dictated more by decisions made at the national level, e.g. zoning and land use planning done by the URA, or transportation infrastructure planned by the LTA.

If you feel hard done in by the PAP's policies, and practically every middle-class or lower income Singaporean is a victim on some level or in some aspect of their life, but you vote PAP because you think that the opposition party candidates standing in your constituency "cannot make it", then you are shooting yourself in the foot. You are being penny-wise, but pound foolish.

Realistically speaking, the PAP will still form the next government after this election due to the preponderance of their vote-share. That means they will still get to appoint all the cabinet ministers and still get to set all national policies.

This election is not about forming a new government. It is a referendum on the policies set by the present government. If you can't stomach the thought of voting in that unknown MP wannabe from the opposition in your constituency, think of it not as him representing your interests, but as him a visible signal of your displeasure with the PAP and how they must change their policies for the benefit of all Singaporeans.

All of the above would be true even if the quality of all opposition candidates was uniformly poor. But that is not true today. Today, the quality of many opposition candidates is as good, if not better, than the PAP candidates.

Many Singaporeans are excited about the contest in Aljunied, and I dare say, envious. They are envious not because voters in Aljunied actually have a realistic chance of voting in opposition party politicians in this election, but because Aljunied voters are in an enviable position of having to pick between two credible teams vying for their vote. It is not a dilemma, as some fool of a PAP supporter pointed out. It is a lovely feeling to be courted. A feeling that unfortunately few Singaporeans can claim to have experienced.

If you live in a constituency that has credible opposition party candidates, and you are unhappy with the current government's policies, you have no excuse not to vote for the opposition party.

If you are like me, and you live in a constituency contested by opposition party candidates that lack credibility, you still have good reason to vote for the opposition if you have felt victimized by our current government's policies. As I have highlighted above, voting along municipal lines is a case of being penny-wise, pound foolish. The wiser decision would be to vote along party lines.

Related to this is the great fear, played up by the PAP and their sycophantic mainstream media, that voting in opposition party candidates is tantamount to inviting legislative gridlock.

First of all, as I have pointed out above, legislative gridlock is a dim possibility given that the PAP is unlikely to lose more than 50% of seats in parliament. They will likely still get to pass all the policies they want. In fact, they are likely to retain more than the two thirds majority required to change the constitution at will, the highest law in the land.

Secondly, and this is an important point that I have not seen anyone in the media or blogosphere make, from my perspective as an average Singaporean, I do not think that legislative gridlock is such a bad thing if the policies that would have resulted otherwise were to impact my life negatively.

The PAP's greatest claim to fame is their contribution to economic growth. But as is patently clear to anyone who has an operating brain cell, the fruits of economic growth in this country have not been shared evenly, just like their costs. With every gain, there is a concomitant cost. The impressive rate of economic growth in recent years looks considerably less impressive when one takes into account the increased stresses that all of us experience from the rising cost of living, yawning income gaps, longer working hours, angst over retirement, more foreigners and strained infrastructure.

With regard to economic growth, ask yourself this: cui bono? Then ask yourself, who has borne the bulk of the costs?

Net-net, do you genuinely think that you are better off today? You MUST know the answer to this question if you are to vote wisely.

As a Singaporean, the last thing that I want in a government are smart, ambitious, capable people working against my best interests. Gridlock would be preferable. As Warren Buffett once put it, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."

Even though the opposition party candidates in my constituency are less than impressive, I value them for what they are and what they represent to the PAP, rather than what they can do for me. I may not think highly of them, but they disagree with current PAP policy and like every opposition party, it is part of their campaign platform. As an instrument to convey my displeasure, that will suffice for my vote, at least for now.