The perfume of emollient moderation

Political parties must surely be trying to discern some pointers from the recent presidential election results to guide them as they prepare for the next general election. I wonder what conclusions they are drawing.

That said, the next general election is perhaps five years away. Would it not be premature to read too much from the presidential election? I think so. We shouldn’t do more than look at the basics.

The first thing that struck me is how the results of the the presidential election confirm one of the findings of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) from their Post-Election Survey 2011 conducted in May this year. They found that 23 percent of voters could be classed as “conservative” preferring the status quo, 45-46 percent were “swing” and 31 percent “pluralist”, preferring more openness and checks and balances.

I had mentioned this finding in an earlier article. When Tony Tan emerged as the People’s Action Party’s preferred candidate, many thought that he would have an easy ride to the presidency since 60 percent of voters had backed the PAP in the general election. I said then that “the solid vote-bank Tony Tan can rely on is only about 20 – 25 percent”, basing this on IPS’ study.

That Tony Tan eventually managed to win just 35 percent of valid votes cast appears to confirm this analysis.

The general consensus, by my observation, is that if we overlay the presidential candidates’ vote-shares onto the 60:40 split between the PAP and opposition parties in the general election of May 2011, it would look something like this:

By straddling the middle, it would suggest that Tan Cheng Bock was largely drawing support from swing voters, while Tan Jee Say and Tony Tan were appealing to those with more determined convictions. At the risk of oversimplifying:

One conclusion opposition parties may draw from Tan Cheng Bock’s near-success is that future electoral success for them can be had by replicating what he did.  That’s easy enough to say, but what exactly were the characteristics of his campaign that drew voters?

For the sake of discussion, let me name a few:

  1. A long PAP history
  2. Good record as a constituency member of the parliament
  3. During the campaign itself, speak in generalities
  4. Make no specific policy proposals, take as few firm stands as possible except in areas that are non-controversial (e.g. animal welfare, and “I will speak out if I see wrong-doing”)
  5. Articulate these generalities in emollient and mellifluous tones.

Items 1 and 2 may be hard to replicate, but surely 3 to 5 are do-able?

In short, the trick is to sound sufficiently different from the PAP without getting into specifics, but also to appear reassuringly moderate.

Actually the two are not contradictory, so I should rephrase the sentence: The trick is to sound sufficiently different from the PAP without getting into specifics and thereby appear reassuringly moderate. How so? Many Singaporeans see policy specifics as frightening, especially if they are far removed from their known world that is based on the PAP’s paradigm;  they think immediately of labels like “radical”, “confrontational” and “destabilising”. When speaking to the typical Singaporean, brought up to be afraid of being political, to be unspecific is reassuring.

Nor is this strategy altogether new. If you revisit the rally speeches by the Workers’ Party during the May general election, you’d find in some ways a similar method, which probably accounted for their relative success. At those speeches, speakers spoke about the things that had gone wrong under the PAP (to distinguish themselves from the PAP), and then used metaphors (e.g. co-driver)  to describe the role of the Workers’ Party and why voters should give them their votes. But the metaphors were often deployed in substitution to any in-depth discussion of policy alternatives. Nonetheless I would hasten to add that the Workers’ Party had a detailed manifesto, even if they didn’t much mention it at their rallies.

Is this now the proven formula for electoral success? Should all other opposition parties water down their convictions, park them aside in a manifesto and bring out honeyed words instead? Should they all move to the centre, stay resolutely uncontroversial and try to find language that every listener can interpret to mean whatever he wants it to mean?

Almost certainly, some parties would consider taking this route.

Even the PAP.

* * * * *

And therein lies a word of caution.  The middle ground is not only there for opposition parties’ taking, it is also there for the PAP’s taking. Everybody can play this game, because the nature of this strategy is that of not appealing to convictions. Whatever convictions a party starts with, playing them down gains it entry into the game.

Another cautionary note is that these are swing voters, which means their support is contingent and possibly as variable as the weather.

There is another strategy, though it’s one that needs extremely long-term thinking. Instead of adapting the party to suit the tastes of the middle electorate, how about convincing the electorate to share the party’s convictions? Instead of pandering, persuade.

It is not as crazy or as impossible as it may sound. Social movements do that all the time. They have no choice. They do not water down their ideals to suit the undecided, for that would defeat their raison d’être; but they go out to shake the undecided until they are won over, and their opponents until they question their antagonism — becoming the new undecided.

Take for example a typical gay-equality movement. At the start, it would have been faced with a society wherein very few people shared the movement’s ideals. The majority in the society might in fact be furiously antagonistic to them, believing that homosexuality is wrong and deserves to be punished. We might represent that spread of views diagrammatically like this:

The movement does not sacrifice its ideals for popularity. It simply works at convincing others, starting with the undecided. Eventually all movements will get to this point and beyond:

It’s hard work, and the timelines (decades) may seem impractical for political parties. But even if it is only partially achieved, the reward of having a block of loyal voters sharing the same convictions is a huge electoral asset. However, one thing needs to be stressed: to take this route, a party must have clear, coherent ideals in the first place.

45 Responses to “The perfume of emollient moderation”

  1. 1 ricardo 31 August 2011 at 02:26

    Shame on you Mr. Au!

    While I have agreed with most of your diatribes against PAP, I find your view of Dr.Tan CB & the Workers Party, cynical in the extreme.

    However, as always, it is difficult to argue with your impeccable logic.

    It is very likely, PAP will try to occupy the middle ground come the GE using the tactics you suggest; a change from their usual fear mongering. In fact, it is vital for them if they are to retain credibility.

    Indeed, if change within PAP is real, one hopes at least some PAP MPs will speak out against evil policies, side with the poor & disadvantaged and in the process, find themselves labelled radical.

    There is some evidence of this already, in old & ex PAP, but unfortunately not in new PAP, eg Ms. Tin & Mr. Lim WK, who are in it for the Dignity.

    I was saddened by the original post, not because he supported TT, but because he equated the Democratic process with choosing an expensive present from his rich Dad. Does he represent 25-34% of Singaporeans who voted for TT?

    I sincerely hope not.

    As I sincerely hope, the Opposition and brave people like Tan Jee Say & Dr. Tan CB will express strong convictions on important issues and persuade all Singaporeans from the pursuit of Ministerial Dignity to a fairer and just society.

  2. 2 Han 31 August 2011 at 03:20

    When you speak of conviction and coherence, a recent popular candidate comes to mind:

    You see what I did there? She may be no more coherent or convincing to you or I, but she certainly is to some. And there is where the seams in your argument start to fray. Just as any party may opt to waffle along down the indeterminate middle, any other party may also attempt to project “coherence” and “conviction” in order to secure a base of voters within their side of the ideological spectrum.

    Is this a desirable state of affairs? I am not so sure that it is. In my humble opinion, the current PAP (regardless of what others may think) attempts to maintain power by securing the middle by trying to appeal to as broad a base as possible. This is the reason why they, as you pointed out in your previous post, disengage from adjudicating disputes and preferring to either let the parties sort it out themselves or to please the “more powerful party”.

    If a party attempts to stake out a position to the “left” of the PAP (I do hate this artificial left-right distinction, the 2-axis model is so much more nuanced), it can respond by either moving in the same direction or drift to the right so as to secure a “base” of voters. Either scenario would be a disaster.

    As it stands, the religious fundamentalists are kept at bay from the worst excesses they may want to inflict upon others because they have no leverage. There are a few sops thrown to them every now and then to keep them quiet (aka s377a) but I dare say this is considered benign relatively compared to what they really want. Whether the PAP goes left or right, the end result is that they suddenly have access to leverage. If it is not the PAP, it would be someone else to fill the vacuum.

    And I am sure you can tell, they are a natural constituency for appeals to conviction and principle (in their own minds). They would be a perfect base for any aspiring social conservative politician to start building support. If you think AWARE was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    PS: On the point of social movements changing minds, surely you jest? You picked the lowest hanging of fruit to illustrate your point. Gay equality is firmly grounded from both a deontological and consequentialist perpective. (1) It is none of other people’s business how two consenting adults wish to arrange their affairs. (2) Gay equality is a pareto-optimal improvement: no one loses when gays have equal rights. That gays have the right to marry in several jurisdictions (at least a decade in the Netherlands) have provided ample evidence for all that same sex marriage did not precipitate the apocalypse. The evidence is what did the convincing.

    However not all social movements or positions can avail themselves so easily to empirical evidence or moral reasoning. In 99.99% of instances where the state is asked to intervene, there will be a winner and a loser, and there will be unintended negative consequences which are unforeseen by those asking for immediate action from the government.

  3. 3 yuen 31 August 2011 at 06:11

    >a party must have clear, coherent ideals

    I am as in favour of clear coherent ideals as most people would be, but is that the reason why Workers Party was more successful than others? Does WP have clearer, more coherent ideals than say SDP? When a group of Reform Party dissidents joins NSP and basically took over, were they attracted by NSP having clearer, more coherent ideals than RP?

    the situation on the ground is that WP has become much stronger than the others, and will be able to muscle into neighbouring electorates from its current base, e.g., if it chooses to field a team in Marine Parade in 2016 and have a one on one contest with PAP, it could very well win; other opposition parties would therefore have to deal with the new situation, where tactical manouvres count as much as policies and ideals

  4. 4 Bruce 31 August 2011 at 08:16

    Conviction vs Opportunism!

  5. 5 Robox 31 August 2011 at 08:33

    PART 1

    My intention with the following posts is to complement what has been pointed out in this article because I believe that there are several other thought trends/tendencies existing within the opposition camp – by which I mean both supporters of opposition parties and likely, the opposition parties themselves – that would first have to be addressed before the information contained in the above article, very valid ones, becomes of any use.

    In this post, I will write about the “chope”-ing phenomenon never found in democracies but is prevalent in Singapore only due to the exceptional circumstances we are in. (This is a commentary confined only to opposition parties.)

    There appears to be several identiafiable trains of thought that exist among supporters of opposition parties, and I suspect the opposition parties themselves, that actually work to the disadvantage of many of those parties. Some of these include:

    1. If Party X already holds power in a particular ward, other parties are automatically barred from either working the ground in tha ward or ever contesting there.

    2. If Party X had previously contested in a particular ward, then only that party has priority to contest there in the next and all future elections.

    3. If Party X had been working the ground in a particular ward, then that party has priority over all other parties to contest there in the next and all future elections. (This wasn’t adhered to in Bishan-Toa Payoh at GE2011, which would suggest that the parties themselves practise a measure of give and take.)

    *. If Party X and Party Y are bidding to contest in a particular ward, usually just before elections, then the party perceived to be the one that has the lower chances of winning that seat should defer and give way to the other party. (Today, this would also mean that the all other parties defer and give way to the WP in such bids; the WP can muscle out all other opposition parties based on this argument.)

    5. We also have a recently-mooted rule – suggestion – for “chope”-ing rights, and unfortunately, I would have to say that you, Alex, are equally guilty of helping to perpetuate it even though I am very assured that you have good intentions for having done so. This is based on the article wriiten post-GE2011 in which you suggested that the various parties should “chope” wards corresponding to the various geographical zones in Singapore. That would also ensure that the saturation point for the growth and expansion of all opposition parties would be reached; the PAP government will remain the dominant party in perpetuity.

    The first conclusion I wish to draw from the above observations is that it might be more strategic that it is not the parties themselves that raise the awareness to the above but netizens, especially those with an activist bent, who should for reasons I that are too lengthy to go into at this point.

    I suggest that instead of the above rules that establish “chope”-rights, a better strategy for the opposition parties might be develop new rules based on the data that elicits demographic information that we can now better glean from both GE2011 as well as PE2011.

    (Continued shortly as PART 2.)

  6. 6 CL 31 August 2011 at 08:45

    A caveat for political parties trying to emulate TCB’s campaign strategy: voters like myself and quite a number of my friends accepted TCB’s reticence on political issues because we accepted his starting premise that the Presidential role in Singapore, based on its track record, is NOT an issue/policy-based one. Given that TCB’s agenda was to unify Singaporeans (however potentially hegemonic that aim might be/seem), his avoidance of concrete issue/policy stances was right in line with that agenda.

    Political parties, whose very bread-and-butter is to make decisions on issue/policy matters, would be foolish to take the same route to attract voters like us.

  7. 7 li345feng 31 August 2011 at 08:59

    The crux of the matters is that there are political parties has less patience / stamina / resilence than the other parties. I even suspect at least one party took part in GE2011 not expecting a win (even there’s a slim chance of winning by having good and strong candidates – ridiculous?!? They only eager to garner a certain percentage of vote but no really focusing on the most difficult range of 40%, i.e. swing voters?

  8. 8 pro-equality supporter 31 August 2011 at 10:08

    Not short on conviction but I didn’t vote Tan Jee Say because besides convictions, I was looking for good leadership qualities.

    i have worked in the system and now with the system as an activist. You are right to say that change comes from persuasion. Besides persuading the leaders, there is also that behemoth bureacracy they drag behind them. If we can see how even well-respected/feared leaders have to politically maneuver their civil service counterparts to get anything done, we would rightly have less confidence in anyone who has no skill with such maneuvering getting anything done.

    Noise anyone can generate.

    The candidate has to carry the cause, not the cause carry the candidate. The PR results confirms the cross-over appeal of ‘opposition’ candidates. If pro-equality movement as you coin it is to gain strength, we need the right leader to carry it.

    A lot can change in 5 years but based on what we can only know now, I would say, next better player.

  9. 9 David Loong 31 August 2011 at 10:39

    Isn’t the strategy of playing to the middle of the field what has been happening in other democracies around the world? Differences between Conservatives and Labour, Liberals and Labour, Republican and Democrat are becoming increasingly blurred as political parties concentrate their election battles on soundbites geared to winning the middle. As long they don’t upset their core constituencies, they’re prepared to compromise a great deal to get into government.

  10. 10 Ben 31 August 2011 at 10:41

    The second diagram should show 31% pluralist and 23% conservative if it is drawn according to the IPS survey. This means that some pluralists have voted for Mr Tan Kin Lian and some swing voters have voted for Dr Tony Tan.

  11. 11 Robox 31 August 2011 at 10:46

    PART 2

    In PART 1, I concluded that opposition parties (especially the non-WP opposition parties) would be ill-advised to succumb to the pressures imposed on them by opposition supporters regarding “chope”-ing rights to wards that they may – or may not – be declared to be considered to have a legitimate claim to contest in; they should instead pay heed to the demographic information now available – the best that we have to date after the most widely contested GE and the PE this year – to make decisions on where it might be best to contest in future GEs.

    The demographic information gleaned from both GE2011 and PE2011 of voting trends reveals the following so far: we can actually divide Singapore into 4 somewhat distinct regions in descending order of their advantageousness for the opposition parties to contest in any GE:

    1. The Band 1 region – the region that is most advantageous for opposition parties – is the East Coast GRCs/SMCs, and which is actually quite distinct from GRCs/SMCs from the rest of the Eastern half of the island. (Based on previous GE results, the Aljunied GRC area has been known to be the GRC that had always been been readiest to fall to the opposition, which is my explanation – in part – for the WP having won there.)

    2. The Band 2 region is the rest of the Eastern half of the Island.

    3. Next, in the ease/difficulty for opposition parties to contes and win in is Band 3, the Central Corridor, where both of the SDP’s GRC teams contested in.

    4. The nightmare for all opposition parties? The Band 4 region in the Western Half of the island, where the SDP, the RP, the NSP and and one SPP candidate in an SMC were forced out into in the pre-GE2011 ‘horsetradings’.

  12. 12 Robox 31 August 2011 at 11:16

    PART 3

    In the interests of fairness, and equality – the equalities of opportunity, access, and [hoped for] outcome in particular for all opposition parties, particularly the non-WP ones – I propose the following solutions:

    (All of these solutions assume circumstances under which the best chances for opposition candidates comes from avoiding multi-cornered contests; this might not describe future scenarios.)

    1. For all opposition parties to negotiate for a fairer, more equitable distribution of seats that they can legitimately claim to contest in. This would have to mean that the Band 1 GRCs/SMCs are more evenly distributed among the various opposition parties, particularly those that have the best chances of getting elected. It should be followed by even distributions in Bands 2, 3 and 4 as well. Such negotiations are best started NOW and not just on the eve of elections. (Additionally, now that we know of that the best chances of an opposition party GRC team getting elected are by concentrating their best talent into one team, the “A” teams of the opposition parties contesting in the East Coast should be fielded here.

    2. For netizens to exert pressure on the opposition parties to achieve the above results.

    3. For netizens to be educated for the need for this approach to minimize the interminable in-fighting that plagues the opposition camp. (This is best done online activists and not by the praties’ representatives themselves.)

    I believe that it is only by first achieving all I have expounded in my posts above that we can begin to work on strategies based on the information that Alex has provided in the article above. It involves strategies that include alligning the three major demographics described by Alex above to the parties that best meets need their needs. (I know that this was not the thrust of his article but we really don’t know how Singapore is going to develop politically and it might be best to prepare for all evetualities.)

    But the above might have to involve:

    1. working towards a system of proportional representation – why is that some sections of Singapore are permanently UNREPRESENTED in Parliament when the purpose of Parliament is to provide representation to all of Singapore society; and,

    2. opening up the channels of communication between the people and opposition parties deprived to them so far so that the allignment between party and voter may take place.

    The above two startegies might in fact be the first challenges opposition parties face before even taking on the other ones I have described.

    • 13 yawningbread 31 August 2011 at 12:18

      I’m a little confused here. You first begin by dissing the chope-ing behaviour, but if I understand you correctly, you end by saying let’s do the chope-ing via another method?

      • 14 Robox 31 August 2011 at 13:02

        Hi Alex, you’re right. I was not coherent enough.

        I should have started by stating that my arguments are based on the assumption that the chope-ing strategies of wards seemingly being pursued by opposition parties are based on assumptions that all GE contests are two-cornered ones.

        My assertion is that the driving force behind the final decisions of who gets to chope which ward are based on flawed arguments – it’s why I might have sounded as if I was dissing chope-ing behaviour. But I wasn’t because of my starting assumptions; it was actually the rationale curently advanced for chope-ing that I was crtiquing. What I am proposing instead is that we should base chope-ing rights based on the demographic information that has become clearer to us now,

        So yes, we continue to chope and by another method, But it would be one based based on the principles of fairness and equality to all political parties.

        Finally, I re-iterate that the above argument assumes only two-cornered fights, and perhaps even that the current political circumstances remain.

        This might not remain the case in the unforeseeable future.

    • 15 ThePasserby 31 August 2011 at 13:20

      You seem to have assumed that most opposition supporters have similar political views, when you categorized Singapore along 4 bands of varying susceptibility to voting opposition. I’d say that WP supporters are very different from SDP supporters. The former are mostly conservative while the latter more liberal. I highly doubt putting SDP candidates in a constituency comprising mostly conservative opposition supporters will gain much traction. The voters there will more likely run back into the arms of the PAP.

      • 16 Robox 31 August 2011 at 22:34

        @The Passerby:

        The 4 bands are based on two sets of complete or near complete data – from PE 2011 and GE2011 respectively – which are currently available. I’m also sure that the same patterns can be discerned based on previous GE contests. It’s been known for many years now that the western half of the island is not as easy for the opposition parties as the eastern half is; I’m just refining that information by identifying the 4 bands of constituency clusters in terms of the ease for opposition parties.

        But if you say that if the SDP contested even in one GRC (or SMC) in a Band 1 constituency, ‘voters there will more likely run back into the arms of the PAP’ – a fate which i think that will result if any party but the WP contests there – then the only logical conclusion to draw is for all non-WP opposition parties to wind up, leaving the WP and the PAP as the only political parties in Singapore. I certainly will not waste my precious time and energy on ungrateful Singaporeans by working for their benefit if I belonged to one of those parties.

        Additionally, Singaporeans who feel that this means that they are condemned to a permanent state of frustration because they are permanently unrepresented in Parliament would do well to migrate.

  13. 17 Anonymous 31 August 2011 at 11:55

    I think there is a different way of winning the middle ground, where you are not being deliberately obtuse / unclear. If a candidate can take a considered approach to each issue, he may arrive at the middle ground in the end based on his own set of principles.

    For instance, a candidate supports gay rights and abolishment of the death penalty on grounds of human rights. On the other hand, he supports immigration (in some moderation) as a legitimate approach to countering low birth rates. Voters may choose him if the alternatives are too extreme.

    What I’m saying is that the world is many shades of gray and you can have a coherent platform in the middle as long as you follow a considered, consistent set of principles.

  14. 18 teo soh lung 31 August 2011 at 12:05

    I agree. If everyone takes the middle ground, there may not be a middle ground. People who stick to their ideals will take a very long time to reap their gains. But without the effort of these “idealists”, those taking the middle ground will not gain any ground. In the Singapore context, the middle ground tends to blame the idealists for creating a bad name for them. Weird.

    • 19 Han 31 August 2011 at 12:50

      You seem to assume that “idealists” come only in one colour: yours. Social conservatives can be “idealists” too. It is faulty reasoning to think that there are only one type of “idealist” and that they will inevitably win hearts and minds over time as long as hard work is put in. The type of subject matter and the kind of evidence required to change minds is somehow forgotten. If the culture wars in the US are any guide, pushback is an inevitable bitch.

      If you think that the big bad monster is the PAP, then you probably have not noticed the Lovecraftian horrors lurking beyond the white.

      • 20 Poker Player 31 August 2011 at 17:26

        Maybe wrong word to use. He/she wants a word that describes people who want more inclusiveness – first people of a different religious denomination, people who immigrated, people of a different race, women, homosexuals…

        Put that way, there is an inevitability based on the history of societies higher up the evolutionary ladder.

  15. 21 Carly 31 August 2011 at 12:10

    Mr Alex Au, you are obviously biased. Your preferred candidate lost to Dr Tan Cheng Bock by a wide margin despite making all kinds of populist statements proclaiming himself as the hero of social justice while blatantly disregarding the constitutional realities of the limits of the EP. Dr Tan won the votes of many because he showed by his actions that he is the most non-partisan of the four who is best able to unite both sides of the camp. Whilst your preferred candidate conducted his PE Rally like a GE Opposition Rally (almost all of his speakers were affiliated to the SDP, plus Nicole Seah and Jeannette-Chong from the NSP, and one other), Dr Tan chose to only have ordinary Singaporeans speak at his Rally (despite support from various opposition parties’ candidates and his PAP former colleagues). While I am saddened by Dr Tan’s narrow loss, I am heartened that we would at least not have a President who would seek to play the role of Opposition PM from the Istana office.

  16. 22 suggestion 31 August 2011 at 12:19

    A significant porton of the moderate middle did not vote for Tony Tan because it did not involve “a change of government”.

    Therefore, it is unwise to draw too much conclusions from the results of the PE and apply onto the next GE.

  17. 24 Reservist_Cpl 31 August 2011 at 14:05

    You seem to think that this (i.e. persuading) isn’t what the Workers’ Party is doing, whereas this is probably what the WP is indeed doing in some policy areas (not all though), and these are not inconsequential areas. You probably can’t fit the WP into an existing ideological box (though perhaps you might consider that it has a coincidentally similar ideology, in a general sense, to the Workers’ Party of Brazil?), but its policies are a coherent whole.

    For example, why do you think the WP recommended the proposal it did for transport (National Transport Corp), rather than the NSP’s one? Or its proposal for housing, rather than the SDP’s one (effectively, pricing HDB flats at cost-minus, if I remember what Dr Chee said at Face to Face)? These were not just hidden away in the manifesto but were aired in the media.

  18. 25 cindy tan 31 August 2011 at 15:03

    The GE and the PE is different. In the PE, the President-hopefully can only talk in general terms because after all, his powers are limited. Most voters are skeptical of people who over-promise and simply cut and paste SDP’s GE template into the PE, knowing well they are different roles. It says a lot about the integrity of the candidate who promises the sky, lazily copy an opposition party’s campaign ideas and have absolutely no idea how to execute. It’s like someone coming for a job interview n has absolutely no idea his job scope and wants to expand his power to be CEO when it’s a mere custodian role.

  19. 26 recruit ong 31 August 2011 at 15:15

    mr bread, i am glad i’m not the only one to share similar sentiments on TCB.

    other than pronouncing his independence with words and not deeds, both TCB and TT have not demonstrated their independence… the TOC forum left me with the clear impression that he would be more than happy to play the ‘nathan role’ if he wins.

    but this is the state of the Spore electorate today… they are so easily fooled.

    • 27 Vane 31 August 2011 at 17:57

      I didn’t want to vote for a president anyway – but if I had to pick one I sure as heck won’t pick another Nathan-esque president. Which was the reason why I didn’t pick TCB. His manifesto just didn’t appealed to me.

      I’m a firm believer that change does not come easy and it certainly won’t be gentle. If the conservative approach cannot bring about change then it will only be a matter of time before frustration sets in and things really starts to change.

  20. 28 Samantha 31 August 2011 at 17:59

    Hi YB,

    I’m not sure if this is off topic but what is your take on the 30,000 over spoilt votes in the recent PE? Would you say that these are people who are making a statement that this year’s PE is a farce or that they truly believe none of the candidates are President material?

    • 29 yawningbread 31 August 2011 at 18:42

      The percentage (1.76 percent of total votes cast) does not look unusual to me. I think in every election one gets 1 – 2 percent of rejected votes. I can’t immediately find the number of spoilt votes in the 1993 presidential election but what I could find was the percentage of valid votes compared to total number of voters. In 1993, there were 1,622,871 valid votes from 1,756,517 voters, or 92.39 percent. So about 7.8 percent either spoilt their vote or didn’t vote. In 2011, there were 2,115,188 valid votes from 2,274,773 registered voters, or 92.98 percent. That meant 7.0 percent either didn’t vote or spoilt their vote. Can’t see anything striking in that.

      • 30 Samantha 31 August 2011 at 22:55

        Thanks for the quick reply! Yes, it does put things into perspective…but still 7%…*wistful*

  21. 31 31 August 2011 at 19:36

    Alex, I beg to differ. Dr Tan CB is not centre right, I think his stand belongs more toward the “conservative right” with his stand on death penalty, homosexuality, ISA etc. No matter how loud the liberals are, we must not forget that a large portion of the world is still conservative. (Look at Fox News in the USA).

  22. 32 Ribena 31 August 2011 at 21:46

    Hello Mr. Au, I am a regular reader and usually I agree passionately the ideas expounded here on your blog.
    However, this time, I feel that you have missed out an important factor in analyzing the PE.
    I consider myself and my convictions very near to the liberal left. In fact, during the GE the ideals of the SDP appealed to me the most.
    However, in this PE I voted for Dr. Tan Cheng Bock.
    1. I felt he did not over-promise what he could do as a President, given the custodial & therefore limited powers of the office
    2. I attended his rally and was struck by how he deliberately chose ordinary Singaporeans to speak, and those who spoke were remarkable in their conviction about TCB bring the right man for the job
    3. I felt that he was the one with the best chance of beating TT, and that I felt was the main objective
    4. Quite simply, he was authentic.

    Voters do not simply vote from their mind, they vote with their hearts. TCB was effective in touching hearts. His sincerity and authenticity came through in the way he spoke, the way he considered the needs of his supporters.
    In the PE, the personality and the charisma of the candidates were far more important than perhaps in the GE.
    People rarely make completely rational decisions re. politics.
    I think it would be prudent for both the PAP and the opposition to bear this in mind- we will vote for whoever that resonates with us, our values and our ideals. and most of all, we vote for the authenticity of self above the specifics of policies.

    • 33 Robox 1 September 2011 at 02:13


      One reason that I would have attributed to TCB’s relative success at this election is that he is one of the very rare PAP MP who defies Catherine Lim’s portrayal of the PAP government as having a Great Affective Divide between itself – and hence, its individual members – and the people. Indeed, I cannot think of a single other PAP member who could come close to TCB on that count.

      Had it been another PAP MP (not an ex-minister) and not TCB who had contested in his place, TT would have won more decisively because, in my opinion, the unfair institutionalized advantages – institutionalized cheating – that TT enjoyed at this PE would have been the major factor at play.

      I would have added this one observation to Alex’ list of 5 reasons for TCB’s good showing.

      And speaking of the same list by Alex, those who voted for TCB – and I would include those who voted the WP at GE 2011 but would have voted the PAP in a contest not involving the WP – would do well to be introspective and ask themselves what this list says about them as voters.

      To me, it SCREAMS that this group is:

      1. reverential towards the PAP for its own sake because a ‘long PAP history’ is more important than the actual qualifications for a position.

      The above point also applies if having a good track record as an MP – PAP MPs are being almost exclusive the only MPs that exists – was an important deciding factor for them.

      Both the above are likely factors that play on their sunconcious more than their concious mind

      2. can be taken in by a candidate if s/he speaks only ‘in generalities’ and takes ‘as few firm stands as possible except in areas that are non-controversial’ and then articulate ‘these generalities in emollient and mellifluous tones’ motherhood.

      My conclusion is that those for whom the above two are true are easily taken in by fluff.

      • 34 Chin 2 September 2011 at 03:00

        1) Magnetic mattresses, magnetic bracelets / earrings / necklaces have a large enough following in Singapore to be legitimized as mall shops. An entire shop in the basement of Parkway Parade is dedicated to living a healthy life according to your blood group, and it hasn’t folded after over a year.

        2) Tens of thousands of Singaporeans forgo evidence-based treatment of hypertension and diabetes, having being diagnosed by registered medical practitioners, and explained the comprehensive ill effects of leaving them uncontrolled, leaving their fate in the hands of unproven traditional practitioners and remedies such as special teas, herbal preparations and gajillion-times diluted toxins pricier than the pills the polyclinic prescribes.

        3) Uncountable numbers of Singaporeans dedicate large portions of their (sometimes very) hard-earned money to investment products (investment-linked insurance and life policies included) and speculation on the stock market without knowing whether the financial adviser speaking to them is getting them enough insurance for their rainy days and without realising the risk of not seeing their money again.

        Psychiatrists will have you, me, and everyone in this country believe that mental illness is an underdiagnosed scourge in our (and any) society and 10-20% of people are afflicted with some form of mental illness or another.

        “Easily taken in by fluff” is either the tip of the iceberg or a just another predictable piece in the jigsaw of the Singaporean voter, depending on how you look at it.

  23. 35 David 31 August 2011 at 22:18

    Good topic for discussion! What is the reason for WP success as opposed to other parties? I think a lot of it is down to positioning themselves closest to the PAP ideologically, and not officially trying to replace the PAP. For whatever reason Singaporeans in large part are quite apolitical and while they may reject the PAP on some levels, they are not comfortable with an overhaul of the government. For this reason I think the WP were very clever at the election with their “co-driver” angle, and this type of positioning is as much as most Singaporeans are ready for, and thus the cause of WP’s success.

    Recalling the election itself, I am not convinced that it was fought hugely on policy, and I don’t really agree that the PAP occupy the middle ground. What policies did the PAP come up with before or during the election that would convince the swing voters? I remember a rejection of a minimum wage and a one Billion dollar fake river in Bishan park. I think a lot of the PAP’s success comes from the historical achievements they have won for Singapore, combined with a lack of alternatives that voters would accept. As for why there is a lack of alternatives that is a completely different story, but I think Singaporeans reject a lot of the very … I will say idealistic candidates, and respond to those that would not look to bring about sweeping changes … hence the WP success.

  24. 36 Felix. 31 August 2011 at 23:49

    Tan Jee Say attracts the votes of the liberal left? Think Again. That’s not oversimplifying, I suspect it’s almost wrong.

  25. 38 Tan Tai Wei 1 September 2011 at 09:02

    How “moderate” is TCB? He said that whilst attending opposition rallies at the GE, he saw (with obvious approval) that when people perceived unfairness, they shouted out. So, he agreed with “extemists” that governance had been unfair. Examples? He had opposed the NMP scheme. Agreed also to claims by “extremists” that, say, it was schemed to unfairly eliminate the felt need for opposition voices in parliament? He emphatically agreed that the elections commission should be independent of the PMO. Agreed with “extremists” about their purported unfairness, such as gerrymandering, etc? And if so, then, also their call for independence of the judiciary, to eliminate like unfairness? Indeed, he wanted PMO out of the Istana. To eliminate the sort of possible unfairness of LKY’s still playing golf with the then CJ whilst the latter was hearing LKY’s case in court against JBJ (LKY said they never discussed the case whilst playing together. Would they need to? “Body language”, etc!)? And on the issue of ISA detentions of the 80s, he said he was open to seeing “new evidence” that showed detainees were innocent. So, he wasn’t sure of the government’s case, and if so, then so also about previous detentions? He agreed too about “Singaporeans first”, and the need for more “transparency” of info of the “reserves”.

    Now, those are the very issues opposition parties, including the “extremist” SDP, have been based.

  26. 39 Tan Tai Wei 1 September 2011 at 09:17

    And so, LHL was bluffing us and himself, “in the state of denial”, when he said he was reassured that 70% of voters (TT and TCB’s votes added together) voted conservatively for the establishment?

  27. 40 cactus 1 September 2011 at 17:35

    I enjoy reading the replies, but a lot of friends and myself voted for TCB, because he has the track record to back his bid. He was one of the most vocal backbenchers in parliment, considering LKY was at the helm with the old guards, that takes guts. It is easy to say he didn’t resign from PAP when he did not agree with their policies, but would it not have been better for him to battle from within? do not know his reason for staying within the party, but it would be too easy to just quit. So respect there to him.
    While he did not promise too much this PE, we are of the firm believe that he will do the right thing when (if) he is in office. You can say he has the political chips and track record of standing up for the underdogs in our view. I cannot claim to be very informed about our singapore parliment over the years, but TCB is someone that stood out. Maybe because I stayed in Lim Chu Kang when i was a kid, and hear lots of stories about him and his clinic from the older folks… But i doubt anyone else with no clear platform giving TT such a fright.

    • 41 Tan Tai Wei 2 September 2011 at 08:21

      “The most…” and yet never made it beyond MP! That’s Singapore culture and stage of moral development? Only LKY could be “most”, out-speaking and otherwise. It had been the same everywhere in the civil service and stats boards? “Play ball”, for they had this criterion listed as “collegiality” or “team-spiritedness” on which to eliminate you.

      Is this indicative of at least one de-attribute of tghose who made it, President Tony included?

  28. 42 fpc 3 September 2011 at 01:06

    honestly, I think attributing TCB’s share to support for the PAP is wrong.

    Because TKL is also a former member of the PAP.

    Then PAP share of PE votes would have been 75% not 70%.

    And in the next PE, PAP will see its votes increase some more because only ex PAP members qualify.

    100% support for the PAP. That is delusional.

    LHL is deluding himself.

  29. 43 YJ Chen 3 September 2011 at 21:35

    I’ve supported TCB, and so have many of my relatives, friends and colleagues. Most of us don’t see it the way you do. I’ll just talk about 2 aspects.

    First, we understand the limited powers of the President. Think what he is going to do everyday. How often will the nation dip into its reserves, or the President have to make decision on the other 4 custodial areas? Most of the time, he has to connect with people of all walks of life, champion charitable causes, and unify the nation.

    Second, actions speak louder than words. What has the candidate done in the past to demonstrate he can be a people-President? The human stories and anecdotes about TCB by those he has helped are powerful. You can read about them, or even hear from friends about them. TT’s track record is mostly about his cabinet and GIC work, and lacks the human aspect. TKL has at least helped the Lehman Brothers’ bond victims.

    We have many reservations about TJS. He has espoused issues he feels strongly about, like social inequity, but what has he done about it in his 57 years? Investment banking is a strange career choice for someone who is passionate about improving social inequity. Investment banking is the most overpaid job which contributes little to society. His campaign helpers are mostly new found friends from opposition parties, not old co-workers or pals who stand by him. New found friends have also spoken at his rally, and they have made positive but motherhood statements. We can’t vote for someone who has espoused values without knowing if he has lived them.

    The people I know who have voted for TJS did so because he represented the opposition, not because they like him. On the contrary, many (though not all) of those whom I know have voted for TCB did so because they like and respect him. And they feel happy casting that vote.

    • 44 Robox 4 September 2011 at 01:26

      @YJ Chen:

      “….what has [TJS] done about it in his 57 years?

      You are entitled to vote whom you want and for whatever reasons that you have. But I am genuinely sick and tired of statements like the one I quoted above. It’s one of those statements that I refer to as belonging to the category of leekuanyew idiotisms.

      We don’t vote for people based on what they have already done. We vote for people based on what we think they CAN do in the capacity they are aspiring to.

      What the heck did Tan Chuan-Jin do before he got elected?

      Or Chen Show Mao before he appeared out of nowhere to contest in the GE?

      • 45 yuen 4 September 2011 at 19:28

        tan jee say, tan chuan jin and chen show mao all have their lifelong achievements; tcj’s record shows he is a good boy, nothing to be sneezed at in the SG system as most people getting ahead are good boys; csm has impressive academic credentials and business successes, and his reception shows most Singaporeans, PAP included of course, admire these attributes, especially if you can do it “on your own”; cjs has a bit in common with both tcj and csm, but he in quick order stood as an opposition MP candidate and quit to be an independent presidential candidate; it is natural that some of the public are unsure what it’s all about

        none of them had a career record as politician, but in the SG system you dont need one before entering parliament/cabinet; it is like Singapore Inc staff being headhunted to join the executive

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