Monday, May 9, 2011

GE 2011 aftermath, random quick thoughts, and prognostications.

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

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

4 comments:

Ponder Stibbons said...

Now that the sole voice in the PAP who thinks the PAP has to change has been sidelined, I very much doubt that the PAP will change. Yeo was also the most adept at using social media. This was clear even before he had to try harder to connect with young people during the campaign. I doubt if the remaining PAP heavyweights will be anywhere as competent (relatively speaking) as he was at that.

SoonTong said...

/// 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)... ///

I would be wary about attributing the improvement to his apologies. You can almost be certain that the AMK GRC has been padded with friendly voters and those unfriendly moved to neighbouring precincts.

Ray said...

Generational Shift Effect is even more interesting than just a single global effect across the whole island. With finer spatial analysis from your previous post (assuming that it is significant), one can think of ways to dilute that effect. The most basic being partitioning those boundaries to dilute this effect, i.e. gerrymandering. More interesting from the Singaporean POV would be use of HDB policy to achieve/enhance the effect, an option not open to many elected governments.

mjuse said...

The GSE can be managed assuming the relevant spatial data is obtainable. However, I do think that with our older population aging and dying off, the GSE is not far from manifesting across the entire island.

Just like their economic policies that depend on immigration, wage stagnation and foreign direct investment to boost GDP growth, the PAP's electoral tactics are also reaching the point of diminishing returns. Gerrymandering could possibly reach the limits of its usefulness within the next 10 to 15 years.