SDP’s prospects may be pointing north

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.

[snip]

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.

15 Responses to “SDP’s prospects may be pointing north”


  1. 1 The Pariah 1 May 2011 at 02:44

    Alex – Do you have photos of PAP rally turn-outs for GE2006 to compare with GE2011?

    Whilst PAP rally turn-outs have never been overwhelming in the last decade, I don’t recall them being as thin as this GE. Am I wrong or what?

  2. 2 Xmen 1 May 2011 at 04:57

    Tan Jee Say’s $60B proposal is an investment in Singapore’s future.

    On the other hand, Ho Ching invested Singapore’s billions in the failing American and European banks.

    Vote wisely.

  3. 3 yuenchungkwong 1 May 2011 at 07:01

    SDP’s publicity efforts are much more effective today with the use of the web, so that it no longer resorts to civil disobedience episodes to make a point; however, it would take some years to live down its past image of being something of a public curiosity object and get taken seriously as a party with a workable political platform

  4. 4 Sembawang voter 1 May 2011 at 07:08

    haha ..i was there last night! Truly a good turnout!

    However I’m not sure if the higher support will be enough to translate into an electoral win😦

    1. Quite a number of people were streaming out; merely came to listen for a portion of the speeches and not all.
    2. At the work place and the coffee shop, talk is still on voting PAP.
    3.It’s not the A Team.

    PS: As a teacher I welcome SDP’s proposal to reduce class size. Our pupils are active learners;no longer the passive learners of old so a class size of 20 is a necessity if we are to truly engage them.

    • 5 Chet 2 May 2011 at 02:37

      Civil servants need to remember that it was WP Sylvia Lim who, in parliament, spoke for overworked security personnel in immigration and customs. Now SDP Tan Jee Say advocates for smaller class size. So many PAP MPs, yet too few (none??) that speak for civil servants.

  5. 6 KH 1 May 2011 at 09:02

    I was at the SDP rally at Jurong East Stadium on 29 April. Yes, they have a lot of things than one can buy from. One up for them for the organization.

    At the Hougang rally which I attended on 28 April, I noticed some things never change, positively speaking. There was an ice-cream man, a young chap selling drinks and his mother (I think) selling muah ji and a couple of others. I don’t know if they are the same people who were there at the 2006 election, I suspect so. I thought it was very nice of the WP to let these non-WP volunteers make a living on a day like this. One up for the WP.

    I don’t attend PAP rallies, but from what I’ve read online, the food and drinks are provided free of charge. I’ve seen a photo showing a man at a PAP drinking a packet of Yeo’s and having a carton of Yeo’s drinks by his side. No one sells anything because they would be nobody to buy given the pathetic attendance. 2 down for the PAP.

    Oh, and I had a good laugh watching this video from the onlinecitizen (TOC). A TOC volunteer spoke to some members of the audience at the PAP rally at Yio Chu Kang on 29 April. Here it goes:

    TOC: Where did you get the the food from?

    Auntie: Given by CC.

    TOC: Which CC were you from?

    Auntie: Tanjong Pagar CC.

    TOC: Tanjong CC come until here?

    TOC: So you’re not from Ang Mo Kio?

    Auntie: No. We stay in Red Hill.

    TOC: Wah, come until here. You come to support the Prime Minister?

    Auntie: Laughs (woman on her left uttered No lah). It’s not far if you come by bus.

    TOC: Do you have to come by yourself?

    Auntie: By chartered bus.

    TOC: Then you have to wait at the CC?

    Auntie: Ah ah.

    TOC: What time?

    Auntie: Murmurs…

    TOC: Who asked you to come?

    Auntie: The people at the CC.

    • 7 Shocked 1 May 2011 at 13:49

      What was shocking about the video was to see our former army chief who has just “won” Tanjong Pagar without contest,trying to chase away the videographer. Just like in China. Very dangerous to have this man in parliament. Will he play by civilian rules? He also looked a buffoon.

  6. 8 Ice 1 May 2011 at 10:38

    I will vote any opposition. Reasons are simple:

    1. PAP MP will not speak or vote against the party line.
    2. I lost my job to an Indian, only a lower paying job was available. As such I have to work overseas.
    3. Despite working overseas, I still could not afford my dream home, thanks to foreigners chasing up home prices.

    How can government understand?

  7. 9 Fullofnonsence 1 May 2011 at 15:07

    The Singapore flag in the backdrop is a nice subtle touch which non of the other parties have even the incumbents

  8. 10 Anon 2 May 2011 at 01:18

    Do you also noticed the difference in the staging (platform) between the 2006 n the 2011 pictures?

    I think it is an excellent decision by the SDP CEC to only have the crowd focus only on the speaker at any one time. Uniquely SDP! All the rest of the political parties have all their candidates sitting on the stage while there is a speaker at the rostrum. Which can be distracting and counter-productive.

    SDP has the right idea. The speaker and his/her message is the salient focus and the crowd somehow must have their eyes focus on the only human on stage. Great move! Great idea! Yes SDP has changed!

    • 11 yawningbread 2 May 2011 at 02:25

      Not only were the SDP candidates not on stage, some of them were mingling with the crowd when they were not speaking. I wonder how many people got a chance to speak to them directly and thus get a better measure of the party and its candidates.

  9. 12 Rabbit 2 May 2011 at 01:39

    I have not seen Dr Chee Soon Juan and his sister. I hope they are doing fine out there with so many die-hard volunteers. It is a good thing that he has allowed their candidates to fight in the name of SDP and he stood back co-ordinating logistics work. Otherwise LKY & Son will come out and mount personal attack on him in the hope to make SDP look bad in main stream media. Dr Chee maintaining low profiles is a clever move for now so that PAP can’t fault him. I am looking forward to attend 1 SDP rally nearing the polling day. I am sure the fast ticking clock will draw more crowds next week.

  10. 13 witness 2 May 2011 at 09:24

    It is not by choice that Chee is not one of the candidates. Being bankrupt, he cannot run.

    Still, he deserves the credit of fighting a principled fight all this while. His strategies are paying dividends now in that his party is now able to attract good people to join him.

    If any party deserves its place in Parliament after May 7th, it is the SDP.

    I am rooting for the Workers Party and the SDP to win at least some seats this time round. Of course if other parties win as well, it would be even better.

    IF NOT NOW, WHEN!

  11. 14 elaine_g 3 May 2011 at 08:00

    I attended SDP’s rally at Yishun stadium. I liked what I observed:

    1. souvenir booths were set up neatly and systematically (other opposition parties’ were less well organized or haphazard at times).

    2. volunteers/helpers actively going around distributing party materials throughout the 3-hr event. this, I think, is important as a way to further engage audiences by drawing their attention to information and messages written in them (this is sorely lacking in WP, NSP, RP rallies which I attended. no offence meant, just constructive feedback).

    3. helpers distributing party leaflets on the route leading to the stadium and also giving direction at the same time (see, they already started “engaging” you even before you stepped into the stadium).

    4. each speaker was given roughly equal amount of time to make their speech, be it “star speaker” or not.

    5. after rally ended, speakers mingle with people, expressing their thanks and interacting with audiences. personal touch can mean a lot of difference.

    6. most important of all, their speeches were engaging and serious stuff: excellent! not half-truths or threats or airy promises which one certain party excelled in. even preschool kids can do better story telling than the adults in whites.

  12. 15 prettyplace 5 May 2011 at 02:59

    Hi Alex,

    How do you see the policies they are implementing or rather suggesting? It would be nice if you mentioned your perspective.

    The crowds are coming perhaps of the recent heavyweights who joined in.


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