The PAP knows that the ground wants more opposition and it is likely that more will be voted in despite the PAP's best effort. In fact, if the PAP tightens the rules and raise the bar, but more opposition candidates got voted in anyway, the question in the minds of the electorate would be, how many more might have gotten in if it were not for the PAP changing the rules?
However, if the PAP loosens the rules and opposition MP get voted in, the counter-question would be, how many would not have made it if the PAP had not relaxed the rules. Thus the PAP can steal the thunder from the opposition's achievement, and seem magnanimous at the same time.
So the changes that would mean more NCMP, smaller GRCs, and up to 12 SMCs will mean more doors opening for the opposition, and so more contests. This will address three issues.
Firstly, Singaporeans have complained that they are 30, 40 years old and have never voted in an election because of walkovers.
Secondly, more opposition would be challenging the PAP even without the changes to the election procedures. This way the PAP takes some of the sting out of it, by taking steps to encourage electoral contests.
Thirdly, by having more SMCs and smaller GRCs, they minimise losses, and the number of "lower-quality" opposition members in parliament if the opposition manages to capture a GRC. Consider, if Sylvia Lim contests in a 5-seat GRC, there is a small chance that her influence may be enough to win the day. If she is contesting in Aljunied like the last election with the same line-up on both sides, she would be in, with 4 "lightweight" or even poor quality opposition. Meanwhile the PAP would lose George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua - 2 ministers.
But Sylvia Lim might want to consider if she might have a better chance in an SMC, because the electorate in a GRC may weigh the advantage of voting for Sylvia Lim against the liability of less able opposition members.
So, if you have a high-profile opposition candidate, do you field this candidate in an SMC against a PAP backbencher, or do you try to put together a team with members of varying credentials and strength and hope to beat a PAP team anchored by a Minister? The increase in SMC may well defuse challenges to the GRCs.
The increase in SMCs to 12 (up from 9 currently) may see more opposition members in single seat wards. There are two now, it may be 3 or 4.
But even if the opposition goes after GRCs, they may be more likely to target smaller GRCs with stronger teams. After all, it would be easier to put together 4 good candidates than 5 or even 6. If the opposition does take a 4-member GRC, then the losses to the PAP would be smaller.
Chiam See Tong has indicated plans to pursue a Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. I doubt he will win because of his age, his health, and his lack of history in the new ward. Moreover, I fear Potong Pasir may revert to PAP without him. I do no know what sort of support his wife has, but the people may decide it is time to switch and with him leaving, they would have a good excuse to flip - after all, he abandoned them first.
So the PAP is hoping to contain the fallout and possible losses to the PAP of too many Ministers and too many MPs, and to steal the thunder from the opposition if they do manage to win.
That said, the opposition is showing signs of self-destructing. Despite the new advantages. They may well fail to rise to the occasion.