I took this picture exactly five years ago on the evening of 1 May 2006. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) was holding an election rally in Woodlands Stadium, part of their contest for the Sembawang group representation constituency, which consists of Woodlands, Admiralty and Sembawang districts, at the northern end of Singapore island.
Health minister Khaw Boon Wan conceded last weekend that it may be a tougher electoral battle for the People’s Action Party (PAP) this time compared to 2006. Considering how small that rally crowd was, it’s hard to imagine that it could be any other way. Can it get any less tough?
In 2006, the PAP won 76.7 percent of votes cast for in Sembawang GRC, the PAP’s best performance in any contested group representation constituency. That being the case, it’s a very steep uphill battle for the SDP, so the PAP can remain relatively confident.
While he is quietly confident of the outcome in Sembawang GRC – a mostly working-class ward of 142,426 voters with a proportion of non-Chinese residents that is higher than the national average – he feels that, generally, the ‘ground is not as sweet’ as it was in 2006.
‘I don’t think people are angry. That is not my sense. But 2006, it was a lot sweeter,’ he said.
— Straits Times, 25 April 2011, Ground less sweet, says Khaw, but he’s confident
The first picture is somewhat misleading. The grandstand in 2006 was largely full, even if not exactly crowded. Here’s another picture I took at that rally:
One day short of five years later, 30 April 2011, I was back at the same stadium for another rally, also by the SDP. This is the scene on the field:
If you compare the first photo (from 2006) with the third (from 2011), I think you’ll agree that the crowd on the field was about three or four times larger. There was also a loose group of people seated in the bleaches in the far distance (opposite to the grandstand).
Don’t be misled by the size of the stage backdrop. The stage was substantially bigger in 2011. Thus, although the stages in both the 2006 and 2011 photos look about the same size, I and my camera were much closer to the smaller stage in 2006, and perhaps twice as far away from the stage in 2011.
The crowd in the grandstand was about the same, maybe a little more closely seated this time.
Overall, I think the attendance in 2011 was about twice the number of 2006. Several SDP volunteers I spoke to likewise gave me the same assessment. It’s a hopeful sign.
Two factors may need to be taken into account:
1. There was a light drizzle in 2006. It was only a slight drizzle, because I could move around and point my camera, but it could have put people off from making their way to the stadium. On the other hand. . .
2. In 2006, Sembawang was a six-member constituency, whereas in 2011, it has been shrunk to a five-member GRC. The captive population is smaller today. Of course, anyone, from any other part of Singapore, can attend the rally. Admission is not confined to Woodlands and Sembawang residents. The fact though is that these districts are really far out, which means that it is far less likely for non-Sembawang residents to make their way to Woodlands, so if the crowd is bigger in 2011, and from a smaller constituency, it probably does mean a higher interest level among Sembawang voters.
Whether that increase is enough to dent Khaw Boon Wan’s confidence will only be known after Polling Day.
Here are a few more pictures from the 2011 SDP rally in Woodlands Stadium. First, SDP candidate Jarrod Luo punching his fist into the air, followed by a close-up of a section of the crowd:
Tan Jee Say, who is one of four SDP candidates for Holland-Bukit Timah, touched on his economic rejuvenation plan in his speech. It calls for spending S$60 billion from Singapore’s reserves to invest in our future. He had spoken on the same topic the night before at the party’s rally in Jurong East.
Sixty billion dollars for my economic proposals? That really is “small change”, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for Holland-Bukti-Timah GRC Tan Jee Say yesterday.
It is “small change” compared to the surpluses the government accumulates over a few years and the investment losses it has sustained, he added.
He also noted that Dr Balakrishnan had said that $60 billion cannot be “small change” when it is a drawdown on the reserves.
— Straits Times, 30 April 2011, $60b is small change, Tan Jee Say insists
At Woodlands, he noted Vivian Balakrishnan’s demurral again, but went on to tell the audience that the government has never revealed a figure for Singapore’s reserves. Reveal the figure, he challenged the government, and let Singaporeans decide whether sixty billion is small change or not, he said. The crowd roared its approval.
At the side of the field, the SDP had a long stand selling a variety of souvenirs, newsletters, books, bottled water, etc. It was well patronised.