Tuesday, 1 September 2015

PAP's strategy for 2015

No. PAP still doesn't have a strategy.

This is just my fantasy.

This is what I THINK PAP should do. But they won't.

Because they are too conventional, conservative, straightforward, politically naive, and unable to think out of the ballot box.

And also because my strategies are kind of unorthodox.

I had previously suggested some strategies for them. But apparently no PAP MP reads this blog. (And I criticise them for THEIR communication skills? What about mine?)

I read the news report on Goh Chok Tong's press conference.

Cringe-worthy.

Here's a free advice. From now on, at all Press Conference, after the formalities of introducing the new candidates. their background, their area of interest and achievements, etc say only this:
This election is about discovering the will of the people, what the people want, and who they think will most likely give them what they want. With free and fair election process, I am confident that the will of the people will be made known. And PAP accepts the results of the election whatever the outcome.
When it comes to arguing and debating, the PAP candidates DO NOT KNOW how to debate.

At best, their "arguments" are just opinions. Opinions which they think carry weight because, well, they are the PAP.

Lim Boon Heng says that the mood in Aljunied has changed. Then hedged his bets by saying that it is still an uphill struggle for PAP to win back Aljunied. In effect, what he said was, "we can win Aljunied! Unless we don't". He might as well not have said anything.

Goh Chok Tong seem to have missed the hypocrisy (or irony?) when he called the WP arrogant and if their arrogance included trying to replace him. In the history of the world, many people have been said to be too arrogant, and many have had their arrogance handed to them in a plate of humble pie. But never in the history of the world has anyone ever been said to be "too humble."

The PAP can afford to be more humble.

The mood shifted when PM Lee apologised to the voters in the middle of the GE2011 campaign. That act of humility was roundly applauded, but may have been too little too late. And it seemed to have been forgotten. By both the electorate and the PAP.

So, what should the general theme and strategy of the PAP be for GE2015?

[Note: The reason why I am thinking about PAP's strategy is because of their incompetence when it comes to campaigning, their lacklustre rallies (which gives "rally" a bad name), and their really really bad public comms (which completely redefines "public comms"... and not in a good way). They are NOT the underdogs, but as someone analysed after GE2011, they know policies, but they don't know politics. (In contrast, the opposition know politics, but don't know policies.)]

The PAP is trying to define the issues and present the case that PAP has done and will do the right thing. And the opposition's presence was irrelevant. So Tharman countered the idea that all the improvements in the last 4 years were because of the opposition.

How?

He said so.

Specifically, he said that it was "politically cunning" to claim that all improvements were because of GE2011 and the results of that GE. "I'm sorry, the world did not start in 2011," he said.

This is an example of PAP's debating skills. Or arguing skills. Or persuasive skills.

"Your facts are wrong. Let me tell you why. Your facts? Wrong!"
"Mr Tharman is right; the world did not start in 2011.
But the reality is that the politicisation of many Singaporeans did. And from their perspective, the Government's responsiveness in areas of deep public discontent - whether buses and trains, property prices, healthcare costs or foreign worker inflows - is due in part to the presence of the seven opposition members voted into Parliament since 2011, the largest number since independence." 
-Lydia Lim, "Can PAP crack it's performance paradox"
They need to learn how to debate, argue and persuade.

And they could be more strategic. How?


Focus on the WP

Firstly, recognise that the only credible challenge to the PAP is the WP. Their candidates are the only credible candidates. It is not the quality of their people, nor the content of their message, but the coherence and focus of their organisation in drawing support from the people.

PM Lee quoted this African saying during NDR2015: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

All the other opposition party has gone fast and gone alone. And gone nowhere.

WP has been going together and they have gone far. Recognise that. Appreciate that. Honour that achievement. But recognise also that the WP has decided that they are on a different journey from the other opposition parties. This is a strength, and also a weakness.

The primary focus and concern (of the PAP) then is to respond to the challenge presented by the WP honestly and with integrity.

Which brings me to the second point - Integrity and Honesty.


Focus on your Strength - Integrity and Honesty 

Teo Chee Hean was also asked if 
"Mr Ong [Ye Kung] has been moved to a PAP stronghold to give him a higher chance of being elected, Mr Teo said Mr Ong, who is the director of group strategy at Keppel Corporation, is being fielded in a constituency that “best fits” him. "
The correct answer is "yes". The plan is so transparent, lying about it is just insulting the intelligence of voters. Moreover, you claim integrity as one of PAP's values. Integrity includes being honest. So the honest answer is "yes". And you can add on to it as necessary.
"Yes. We need capable and competent people who can take on a minister's portfolio. But that is just one criteria. The primary role of an MP is to represent the constituents. There are many competent people who we have declined to field because they may not (in our assessment) be able to connect with their constituents and represent their interests. But when we find the rare person who has both heart and mind, we try to persuade them to first stand as a candidate for MP, and if they are elected, to be Minister. Ong Ye Kung is, we feel, one such candidate. But it is the up to the judgement of the voters of Sembawang to decide if Ong Ye Kung is fit to be their MP. We believe he is eminently suited and able to represent the people of Sembawang, but in a democracy, all we can do is to present our best candidate and listen to the people, let the people decide. 
The PAP's strength is their reputation for clean govt, integrity, and honesty. This MUST extend to the conduct of elections and campaigns.

If you are going to be so straight and naive, you should go ALL THE WAY. Use your natural inclination to be obtusely honest to your benefit.

I fear what has happened is that someone (might have been me) told the PAP, "you suck at politicking!"

So the PAP looked up "politicking" in the dictionary (or maybe Googled it) and found out that it meant being sneaky, lying, and using any and all morally ambiguous means to win, and thought, "oh. So we get to be morally ambiguous or even immoral when politicking?"

No, you don't.
“If the people continue to support a government party that uses high-handed tactics against its political opponents, we are endorsing a bullying political culture.

“If the people support a governing party that uses governmental resources, including civil servants, to serve its partisan goals, we are condoning the abuse of political power as an acceptable culture. If you support a political party with the habit of fixing its opponents, you are breeding a political culture of fear.

“Using differentiating measures in policies to punish people who voted for the opposition breeds a culture of divisive politics.

“It also used to be said that the political incumbent has no obligation to level the playing field, that might is right, and that the political incumbent has the right to use all legal means to remain in power because everyone will do it if they are the incumbent. This is building a self-serving political culture.”
The age of PAP or LKY "fixing" the opposition is over - if it ever were in the first place. Firstly, the voters today won't stand for it. Second, the WP is a different opposition. You are not dealing with Francis Seow, or Tang Liang Hong. Or even JBJ (who is, in my opinion, an honourable man, but who spoke faster than he could think. I sympathise with him, because we have all spoken faster than we could think. His heart was in the right place. His head... probably needed the latest software patch. But I digress.)

As the dominant party, PAP must be meticulous in its treatment and relations with credible oppositions. I leave the definition of non-credible opposition aside for now. But as a rule of thumb, if they managed to get into parliament, they were chosen by the people and it behooves you to treat them as honorable MPs and the Loyal (and credible) Opposition. Because politics is all about perception.

That should be lesson #1. You'd think the PAP would know this. From the same article that featured Teo Chee Hean headlined: "Teo Chee Hean rips into performance of Workers Party" in which he was quoted as saying
WP’s win in the GRC not only resulted in the Government losing two ministers — Mr George Yeo and Mrs Lim Hwee Hua — it also meant that potential MPs such as Mr Ong Ye Kung, who is standing in the coming GE in Sembawang GRC this time, were also set back in their political career.
(Actually, on re-reading the news article, those words were not in quotes. Might have be reported speech rather than his actual words. But it was probably close to what he said.)

The point is, that paragraph painted the PAP as self-centred and and arrogantly blind to the perspective of the voters. If the media is supposed to be "friendly" to the PAP, it's doing a TERRIBLE job.

The voters DO NOT CARE that the PAP lost two ministers or one potential minister. Maybe they should, but they don't. At least, the voters that voted against the PAP do not care. This "confession" simply tells them that they have inflicted a deeper wound then they thought. That is all to the good as far as their intentions go.

This is the "revised" statement from the voter's or Singaporeans' perspective:
WP’s win in Aljunied GRC resulted in Singapore losing a brilliant and able Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr George Yeo. Because Singapore lost him, we lost his experience, his intellect, and his unique perspective and interpretation of world affairs and how it pertains to Singapore and Singapore's interest. His loss to Singapore is immeasurable. It also meant in this case, that another Minister has had to take on the Foreign Affairs portfolio in addition to the Law portfolio. Minister Shanmugam is immensely suited to the Law portfolio but now he has had to divide his attention between two very important ministries. It would have been so much easier to have the talents and resources of George Yeo available to Singapore. The loss of the GRC also meant that Mr Ong Ye Kung, who can contribute as a minister to Singapore, was lost to us for the last 4 years. We have persuaded him to stand again, and with the support of the people, we can tap on his talents and abilities. But I can't help but wonder if he had been serving Singapore for the last 5 years (sic), what more could have been achieved? What significant contributions could he and the two Ministers we lost at GE2011 have made in the last 4 years?
The "pitch" for the stakes of the coming election:
What WP is offering Singapore and Singaporeans are ideals that are disconnected from reality and practical needs. Ideals are important. Without ideals we risk becoming uncivilised. But not all ideals are equal. Ideals and principles like meritocracy, integrity, incorruptibility, and pragmatism are critical to the proper function of a country like Singapore.   
The ideals and idealism backed by WP are not those that PAP believes are critical and may in fact be dangerous or crippling to Singapore - witness the loss of a talent like George Yeo, and the opportunity cost of delaying the possible contributions of someone like Ong Ye Kung. BUT, this is what democracy and politics are all about: the contest of ideas and idealism. There may be some way of objectively determining whether PAP or WP is correct. If so, we have not found it. Or if we found it, we have not been able to convince everyone that it is an objective measure. 
So we are left with politics and elections - if you think that WP ideals and idealism is more important, vote for WP. If you believe that the values and principles PAP has always backed - meritocracy, incorruptibility, integrity, and a clear-headed approach to solving problems, then vote PAP.
As I said, on re-reading, it may not have been what Teo said but what was reported. In which case, the news media is engaging in manufactured outrage. Being purposely provocative, or writing headlines that are deliberately intended to cause consternation, anger, or outrage.

In order to sell more newspaper, or draw more eyeballs to their website.

[If so, it may be necessary to control the press releases to ensure that your message is not distorted, intentionally or unintentionally, by the press & media.

But that is another matter.]


Take the High Road

The second point about honesty and integrity leads us to the third point: take the moral high ground.

Ask any detractors of the PAP, and you will probably hear, "what moral high ground? The PAP bullies the other parties and do not play fair. They hector and harass and use all means to undermine and sabotage the opposition."

Which is their opinion, coloured by their lens, but which has sufficient prima facie evidence to support those opinion.

Some of those accusations may well be unfair. BUT, that is the reality. The challenger will always be more easily forgiven, while the incumbent will be held to a higher standard.

And the incumbent SHOULD be held to a higher standard. They have more resources. They have expertise, experience, and official channels and resources at their disposal. They have the power to set policies. And they have been around so long that they have established links and channels to facilitate their operations.

Maybe you DON'T have an obligation to make it EASY for the opposition, but you do need to be seen as not being OBSTRUCTIONISTIC in your dealings with them. Perception is everything in politics.

But understand that the "moral high ground" does not include hectoring and harassing the opposition for not meeting the PAP's standard.

Take the AHPETC issue.

If there is criminal liability, I am sure the PAP would have ensured that the law came down hard on the criminals. That no criminal charges have been filed nor arrests made informs me that no law has been broken. Or no criminal offence has been uncovered. Yet.

Or the laws are inadequate.
But as long as a criminal investigation of some sort is not happening, everything that has transpired will be - and has been - viewed by many observers as political theatre.
Which means all the communications from MND has been at best harassment and hectoring. Or will be seen by the public as harassment, hectoring, and bullying. Or Political Theatre.

And this does not bode well for public perception, where it matters.

Yes, PAP supporters are properly horrified about the irregularities found in AHPETC management. But they would already be voting PAP, so their approbation and support is not in question.

Loyal WP supporters are likely to be sceptical of the findings and will see it as the PAP trying to "fix" the opposition. It may be impossible to change their mind, and it may not be worth the trouble.

The opportunity lies with the "swing voters". And for these voters, perception is as important as the facts. Or how the facts are presented matters.

And here is where PAP fails. And the fourth point.


Presentation matters. Perception is Reality. "Servant Leadership" must be SEEN and HEARD

In 2011, at the launch of the PAP's manifesto, PM Lee spoke of MP as "the servants of the people."
Which is all well and good. But much of what the PAP says doesn't sound like something a servant leader would say. Like this:
...no other party but the PAP is in a position to provide leadership for Singapore...
"If you vote for the opposition and they win many constituencies to form the Government, then Singapore is sunk."
So when do servants threatened their masters?

When they think they are the masters.

Humility.

It is not a natural position of the PAP leadership.

Which makes PM Lee's call to be servants of the people either just so much rhetoric, or ignored by the PAP Ministers if not MPs, or just lip service, or they really do not know what it means.

I'm suspecting that they do not know what it means. They say they make policy for the Heartlanders but they do not know what the heartlanders feel.

I learned from the link above that the govt stop building new hawker centres in 1986. PAP MPs have over the years asked for new centres to be built, but the government has been deaf to those appeal. For 25 years.

It was only after GE2011 that new hawker centres were planned and build.

Which sort of puts paid to Tharman's assertion that improvements were not because of the gains from the opposition (specifically WP) in GE2011. Even if it were true, the perception would be that PAP responded to the results of GE2011.

And Perception is Reality.

And how people feel matters more than how people think.
There are too many people with different ideas about which policies they like or dislike to cause all of them to think alike.
Instead, they are about sentiment and mood, about emotions that have to do with trust or distrust, happiness or disgust, like or dislike, and all those other feelings that make up how a person feels about something or somebody.
Also,
Negative mood has a stronger impact on election results than positive sentiment,
That means the PAP should refrain from doing anything that might lead to negative feelings about them. Like hectoring, bullying, threatening, and personal attacks.

Like harping on AHPETC in the absence of any criminal offence.


What should the PAP do?

"The WP candidates are honourable people. TheWP candidates are worthy opponents." Repeat until you believe it or can fake it.

Telling the Aljunied voters that they will "repent" is an arrogance not even allowed Lee Kuan Yew. Disrespecting the choice of the voters is like telling your wife she has bad taste. If voters in Aljunied are stupid for voting WP, what does it say about voters in other GRCs who voted for PAP? Oh voters who vote PAP are smart and voters who vote WP are stupid?

Self-serving isn't that?

Putting down the WP candidates and MPs that the people had voted for, is to put down the choices of the voters, and a critique of their decision. It's like a parent criticising their child's choice of friends. You may have good reasons to do so, but it's not going to make you popular with your child. And guess what? Democracy? Popularity contest.

The purpose of the General Election is to discover the will of the people.
What WP is offering Singapore and Singaporeans are ideals... Ideals are important. Without ideals we risk becoming uncivilised. But not all ideals are equal. Ideals and principles like meritocracy, integrity, incorruptibility, and pragmatism are critical to the proper function of a country like Singapore.   
The ideals and idealism backed by WP are not those that PAP believes are critical and may in fact be dangerous or crippling to Singapore - witness the loss of a talent like George Yeo, and the opportunity cost of delaying the possible contributions of someone like Ong Ye Kung. BUT, this is what democracy and politics are all about: the contest of ideas and idealism. There may be some way of objectively determining whether PAP or WP is correct. If so, we have not found it. Or if we found it, we have not been able to convince everyone that it is... objective. 
So we are left with politics and elections - if you think that WP ideals and idealism is more important, vote for WP. If you believe that the values and principles PAP has always backed - meritocracy, incorruptibility, integrity, and a clear-headed approach to solving problems, then vote PAP.
That should be the general tone and message of PAP facing WP challengers - frame the issue as a clash of ideals. But leave the decision to the voters.

"A General Election has two levels of importance. At the local level, you are choosing your parliamentary representative, your Member of Parliament. At the National Level, if your MP is a member of the party that wins the majority of the seats in Parliament, they will form the government of the day. 

Other than the PAP, no other party has put up enough candidates to form the government even if the party wins all their contests.  This means they have no plans to form the govt. All they can hope for is to take away more seats from the PAP, to weaken the PAP, to deprive Singapore of able MPs who could contribute to Singapore as Ministers. They have already done this with George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua when they took Aljunied. 

They do this because they believe the PAP is too powerful. Too powerful for what? Too powerful for them to beat and take over.

So what are they saying and doing? They say; "PAP is too powerful. PAP doesn't know everything. PAP doesn't have the answers to everything."

Firstly, if the PAP is too powerful, shouldn't it have the answer to everything. 


But we agree. PAP does not have the answer to everything. That is why we look are always looking for capable people who can help us with the answers. That is why we bring in new people at every election, and old Ministers make way for new MPs. Or sometimes the new MPs can help by asking the right questions. So we can look for the right answers.

We do not always get it right. 

Which brings us to the second point or question.

If the PAP doesn't have the answers to everything, then is the solution to give the PAP the chance to find people with the answers, better answers, the right answers to the right question? Or is the solution to reduce PAP's "power" (because WP say PAP too powerful)? And reduce the PAP's chances of finding the right people with answers to Singapore's problems? And vote in the WP because they have the answer? (Oh, wait! They said they DON'T have the answers.)

We think the answer is to find better people with better answers for Singapore and get them to contribute. 

WP thinks the right answer is to reduce the PAP's ability to find the right answers. But they don't intend to provide any answers because they did not even attempt to challenge 45 seats, to try to take over the government.

But this is understandable. PAP wants PAP to grow. WP wants PAP weakened so they can eventually take over from PAP. In the last election, they said they wanted to be a co-driver. They are not co-drivers. But they are along for the ride. They are up in the front passenger seat. Getting a free ride. They hope one day to be able to take over. Its like learning to drive a car just by watching a driver from the front seat.

BUT, it is NOT IMPORTANT what the PAP wants, or what  the WP wants. The PAP wants what it wants because we believe that that is what is best for Singapore. The WP wants what it wants because they believe that is what is best for Singapore. 

Is it possible for both to be right? Probably not. So how should this be decided?

This is a democracy, so it should be decided democratically. At the ballot. 

Many of you will vote for WP because you believe the WP message that the PAP is too powerful, that the PAP does not have all the answers, that the PAP needs to be stopped. That is a valid belief. We don't agree with it, but it doesn't make it wrong.

Some of you will vote for PAP because you believe that the PAP may not have the answer to everything, but the PAP at least have some answers, and it is better to continue from a base of knowing some answers, than to start from scratch with NO answers. That is also a valid belief. And of course we agree with that.

But these are two opinions at best. 

And this is ultimately the choice that is to be decided democratically. Do you believe the future WP proposes, or do you believe PAP? Then, you choose at the polls.

WP says they want to empower your future. You are already empowered, in the present. Today. You get to decide who you believe, and which future you trust."


[AFTERNOTE:

You may feel cheated after reading this post. I understand.

PM Lee and PAP is saying this election is about leadership renewal.

Isn't the pitch I am proposing exactly the same?

Not exactly.

The PAP's pitch is that Singapore (and voters) MUST give PAP a mandate to govern Singapore.

The proposed approach here is to be more humble, less imperious, more accommodating. 

Instead of presenting the PAP's "solution" as the irrefutable conclusion, the future of Singapore is pitched as a contest of ideals and idealism, of values and conviction. With the voters in the driver's seat deciding which future they want. 

It may well be that voters may vote against PAP. If so, they would have voted against PAP with the hard-sell that PAP is famous for. The difference is that with a hard-sell, in addition to losing the election, the PAP also loses face.

With the softer approach, if the PAP loses, at least it lost with dignity, without ranting and raving about voters who will repent their choice. 

With the softer approach, at all times, the voter's choice is respected and accepted. With the hard sell, the voter is supposed to listen to the PAP, and bow to the implied threats. 

It will not work.

... to be continued?]







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