Everybody seems to be talking about 2016.
Or rather they are thinking about 2016. Or are saying variations of "Just wait until 2016... THEN you will see!"
Like it would be a major upheaval in the SG political scene.
Sure, there will be changes.
The Workers Party (WP) has momentum, and it can gain some more ground, but it will not and does not intend to form the government. At least not in 2016.
Under Low Thia Kiang, WP has been prudent, cautious, strategic and steady.
Unless some ambitious hothead takes over, and tries to grasp more than the WP can reach, WP will continue on it's steady course of building themselves up as a formidable opposition.
But Low himself has tried to disabuse voters of any notion that WP will be taking over the government. At least not in 2016. Not while Low is in charge of WP.
And their Punggol East by-election win was the second-best (and also second worst) outcome they could have expected. (The best outcome was to have a credible showing without winning the seat - say 40%+ of the votes. The worst outcome would be to do no better than the other parties - poll less than 5% of the votes. Winning the seat with a majority, was the 2nd best, and 2nd worst outcome.)
One more ward to manage.
Yes, it seems effortless, but it is not and the WP is finding out that they need capable, competent people to manage these "local government".
And with Hougang and Aljunied, they were already stretched. Adding Punggol East was an additional stress they did not need at the time.
Nevertheless, while "local govt" is stretching their resources, it is not breaking it. While the PAP may whack them for not meeting standards, most people/voters don't care. They see it as the PAP bullying the WP, and it just gains the WP more sympathy votes.
But while this may work to their political advantage, as a credible and authentic political party with longer term goals of governing SG, the WP do take their failings seriously and would and should strive to improve. But time and the voters are on their side, so they can focus on political goals first.
They can plan and develop their capability and competency behind the scenes, and recruit more (capable) people.
WP would likely want to pursue their destiny in East Coast GRC and Joo Chiat SMC in the next GE. Those offer them the best chance keeping their momentum by chalking up more wins. It would establish their credentials as the "government in waiting", a rising power, and the people's (alternative) choice.
It is possible the Low may leave half the team to hold Aljunied, while he makes a foray for East Coast GRC. It could succeed.
Meanwhile, what should the PAP do?
I had suggested a strategy for them previously. But this is out of the box thinking and the PAP have shown absolutely no creativity, originality, or ability to depart from orthodoxy in their politics for them to even consider it.
But if they should choose to do so, they should make the announcement of not competing in Hougang, Aljunied, and Punggol East early. This is so that the other parties may assess if they have a chance to wrest these wards from WP.
These opposition parties may see the PAP as a huge challenge, but perhaps WP would be less of a challenge to them (NSP, SDP, RP)? Perhaps the voters in these wards are more open to an opposition voice?
They would be wrong of course. The vote for WP is a vote for WP. Not for opposition parties. Punggol East has proven that. Besides, unless the candidates are, like Low, "teo chew nang", they cannot win.
But the point is that PAP should announce that they are not contesting in AHPE because they have not won the voters in those wards over with their policies. They should also say that they are focusing their resources on "swing" wards where they believe they may lose - East Coast and Joo Chiat.
Is there any harm in saying this?
In a voting optional system (like the US), where volunteers work hard to "get out the votes", saying you believe you may lose, may actually help, as voters who would vote for you, but who may decide to skip voting, may decide to vote anyway and try to change the result. At the same time voters who intend to vote against you may become complacent and not turn up to vote.
But in a "voting is compulsory" system (like SG), what would be the effect?
Maybe, just maybe, borderline supporters who might have spoilt their votes may change to a vote for the party who thinks they may lose.
The WP response to such a statement from the PAP would be interesting to study. The most likely response would be an attempt to recover the underdog status. In other words, they will claim that they are more likely to lose.
Usually, candidates do not make such fatalistic pronouncements for fear of demoralising their volunteers. But this is Singapore. This is an Asian country. A little humility (and honesty) goes a long way.
Meanwhile, the PAP should study how the other parties (non-WP) are strategising. It would be interesting to see a) IF the other parties will challenge WP in Aljunied and Hougang; and b) HOW they intend to pry the wards out of WP's hands.
It may well be that their strategies may also be duds. But the PAP will at least learn what will not work.
Perhaps they will attack WP on their Town Council track record?
If PAP does it, it would seem like bullying or unfair. But if the other parties do it, it has literally the "impartiality" of a "third party".
If the others chose NOT to challenge WP in their strongholds, there is also something to be learned. It means that the opposition is more organised. And more rational.
However, should the others challenge WP in their stronghold, it might well undermine any loose alliance.
My estimate is that the other parties will likely challenge WP. The Punggol East by-election would seem to suggest that opposition alliance is not very strong. It remains to be seen if this holds in a GE.
However, if they are to have a chance in AHPE, they will need to work the ground early, not come in and campaign for a few days.
But, there are some (at least 1) party who will try their luck even without working the ground.
If the PAP sticks to their non-strategic, unsubtle strategy of just flailing away at the opposition wards, they will still lose AHPE, and they may well lose East Coast, and Joo Chiat to the WP.
NSP lacks a "brand" but can they take either Marine Parade, or Tampines? Or both? I doubt they can win even one, but I have been wrong before.
The strongest opposition, is the WP, and they don't have 44 seats. Yet. Definitely not by 2016.
If WP takes AHPE, and East Coast and Joo Chiat. They would have 13 seats.
The NSP is the next strongest. Or ambitious. They have some credibility, but have not been able to parley their credibility to concrete election wins.
Even if NSP takes Marine Parade and Tampines, and Montbatten SMC, for 11 seats, the PAP would still hold 63 seats and would still be able to form the government. So the coalition government scenario? Unlikely. Not unless things change drastically in the next few years.
The PAP would have to lose another 20 seats to lose the right to form the next government. For that to happen, there would need to be a 10 percentage points swing against the PAP - they would have 42 seats then, not counting the 5 in Tanjong Pagar which I have excluded from the computation, as it was a walkover in the last two GEs, and it was not clear what is the sentiment on the ground.
Tanjong Pagar's fate may well depend on whether LKY continues to run. If he runs, he will likely hold the ward. But if he decides to retire, the backlash could be harsh. The lack of a challenge in the last two GE makes it hard to have an objective gauge of the sentiment on the ground. Whether he runs in the next GE will depend on any number of things and events.
With a 10-point swing, NSP could get a few GRCs - Marine Parade, Moulmein-Kallang and Tampines. Plus an SMC at Mountbatten - total 15 seats.
WP would also have Nee Soon, and Sengkang West for 19 seats.
Total of WP & NSP = 34 seats. There are 10 seats in two GRCs that will be hard to read - Bishan-Toa Payoh was challenged by Chiam in 2011 and PAP held on with 56.9%. A 10-point swing against PAP would put this in opposition hands. BUT, is the 40+% vote for Chiam and SPP or for any opposition party? Can WP or NSP or any other party take Bishan-Toa Payoh from the PAP?
The other unknown, as mentioned above, is Tanjong Pagar.
If we split these two GRCs between WP and NSP, PAP would have 42 seats, WP 24 seats, and NSP 20 seats.
And we would have a Coalition government situation.
Chances of this happening in 2016: Low.
Firstly, it requires a 10-point swing against PAP. While the PAP has been losing ground, a 10-point swing would be a major surge against them. There are still unhappiness on the ground, but this has been tempered with some progress in some areas. A 10-point swing would be more in line with a complete non-response to all the complaints.
Secondly, WP or NSP need to take Bishan-Toa Payoh & Tanjong Pagar. WP has not moved in on either of these GRCs. So if they want, they have to start now, but it is not clear that the ground is sweet for them. Same for NSP.
SPP is IMHO, a spent force. Even if there is a 10-point swing against PAP, it is not likely to swing to SPP. So Bishan-Toa Payoh is not clearly a "win" in the opposition column. Chiam may try again, but it is unlikely he will do better. Or better enough to win. But if he tries again, then the other parties should stay away because while he cannot win, he can pull votes. His best contribution would be to endorse another party, and then leave the other to leverage on the sentiment against PAP to win Bishan-Toa Payoh.
If SDA challenges in Tanjong Pagar, they are unlikely to win. If anything, the Singapore Voter is quite discerning. You might even say, "brand conscious". They want an opposition, but not any opposition. It has to be WP. Maybe NSP. But neither has done any groundwork in this GRC.
So with a 10 point swing against PAP, it may still prevail.
The best scenario I can see is WP taking another GRC and SMC for 13 seats in Parliament. NSP could maybe take a GRC or an SMC. But this is an overly optimistic scenario. NSP may still be shut out in 2016. But they will come close.