PAP’s candidate search for Punggol East may be harder than ever before


It’s almost unimaginable that there will be no by-election in Punggol East (above) until the term of the present parliament ends. It’s too many years away. Should Lee Hsien Loong delay it that long, he will only cement his reputation as the Great Ditherer.

Naturally he will want to choose a time that is most favourable to the People’s Action Party (PAP). He has already hoisted his reasons for not calling a by-election immediately, saying that there are many pressing national issues to deal with. I’m not sure how many people are as unconvinced as I am with such an excuse. It’s a by-election, for goodness’ sakes. If we can run a nation-wide presidential election on a fixed schedule, what’s the big deal about a single constituency poll?

Of course, “pressing national issues” makes for better news copy than “fixing the mess at the local shopping centre”, but the latter is probably nearer the mark. Rivervale Plaza, the local shopping centre, was undergoing renovation but the contractor reportedly went bankrupt. Work has stopped for months and residents and shop-owners are annoyed at the mess (below).


None other than Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has now taken an interest in tiling, plastering and plumbing works, in the hope of fixing up the local eyesore as quickly as possible.

However, I think the PAP’s biggest problem holding back a quick by-election is recruitment. They must be struggling to find a suitable candidate. If Ong Ye Kung, the unsuccessful candidate in Aljunied for the general election of 2011 had not resigned from NTUC recently, leaving politics, he might have been the favoured candidate. The PAP had signalled in 2011 that he was intended to be part of the next generation leadership. After failing to be elected in Aljunied, getting him into parliament via Punggol East would have been a possible option.

Ong didn’t give any reason why he wanted to leave politics; he may have calculated that waiting till 2016 for another shot at political office was too long. He may have judged it too dispiriting to be known as the failed candidate for five more years. Might the PAP be able to persuade him to change his mind and come back? Or would that look even more desperate?

Maybe Desmond Choo, PAP’s unsuccessful candidate in Hougang could be moved over. But he has not had any time to work the ground. Moreover, he too is tagged with the “failure” sticker, having been twice defeated by the Workers’ Party in Hougang.

Normally, having failed at the polls shouldn’t be such an impediment. Very few opposition party candidates, for example, get into parliament at first try. However, expectations skew perceptions. PAP candidates, backed as they are by the party’s huge machinery, are expected to steamroll over their opponents, while opposition party candidates are almost always Davids fighting Goliaths. So, for a PAP candidate to fail is a very big defeat. Ong Ye Kung must have felt it acutely.

Whoever the PAP is approaching now (or soon) to be their candidate for Punggol East will weigh the odds very carefully. Michael Palmer, the previous PAP member of parliament who resigned suddenly after his extra-marital affair was exposed, won only 54.5 percent of the vote in the 2011 general election. If just one in ten of those voters defect to the opposition (and if the opposition do not put up more than one candidate), the PAP will lose the seat.

The prospective candidate will ask himself or herself: All that loss of privacy, becoming the target of brickbats and maybe vitriol — and should it be a victory, all the forthcoming years of weekly meet-the-people sessions, cutting ribbons and party discipline — is it worth it?

Much harder to calculate, but an increasingly major consideration, will be whether one even wants to be associated with the PAP brand. Like a sandcastle, regimes decay when the flanks and edges erode and crumble away. We are beginning to witness this phenomenon. Ex-civil servants, such as Donald Low and Yeoh Lam Keong, have become highly critical of the government’s policies. Even current civil servants like Paul Ananth Tambyah. If this is a general feeling among the elite whom the PAP might otherwise have tapped to be their flag bearers, it must be getting hard for the party to find talent.

Particularly significant is that erstwhile enforcers for the regime may have glimpsed the post-regime future, and are positioning themselves as victims of the system, so as to gain a modicum of safety when the tide comes in and the sandcastle is washed away. Yes, I am referring to former Straits Times editor Cheong Yip Seng.

What is it that these insiders know that we should take heed of? Whatever it is, it doesn’t provide much ground for confidence.

So, would you want to pin your colours to the mast of a 50/50 sinking ship, and agree to be the PAP’s candidate in Punggol East?


40 Responses to “PAP’s candidate search for Punggol East may be harder than ever before”

  1. 1 Francis 27 December 2012 at 13:24

    The first order of the day is to rename punggol east to sengkang east.

  2. 2 kampong boy 27 December 2012 at 13:25

    I think it’s not a problem, it’s just the expectation that has to be considered. if pap expect to lose, then they can put Desmond Choo, or someone like Ms Tin. they are not hard to find. same as what they did to sitoh for many year at potong pasir.

  3. 3 Duh 27 December 2012 at 14:40

    One factor that might work in PAP’s favour would be the split in opposition votes when there is a 3 or more cornered fight in this SMC. I guess the wait is for LHL to hope that more opposition parties might join in to dilute opposition votes and enable PAP to win with the ‘majority’ like their 35.2% president.

    • 4 Duh 28 December 2012 at 00:35

      Bingo – SDP has released a press statement that they will be joining the Punggol BE if there is one. So this makes it at least a 3 cornered fight – PAP, WP, and SDP.

      Given the bad press the PAP had lately, I am wondering if in this BE, we will see deflectors from PAP hardcore voters who start voting for the opposition. Hmmm…. This will spell double trouble for PAP – they now have to worry about the ‘undecided’ voters (like in the last GE) and now, the deflectors from PAP camp.

  4. 5 SingaporeWTF (@singaporewtf) 27 December 2012 at 15:40

    I tend to believe that just as there are pro-opposition voters that will vote a anyone who is ‘Not PAP’, there is a core group of voters who vote ‘PAP’.

    My point is, even if PAP puts a dog on the ballot, there will still be a core group voting for them.

    So finding the candidate should not be a problem with PAP, if the fear is that the candidate will reduce the core PAP voters group.

    PAP’s problem is getting the fence-sitters convinced, and due to recent news, I don’t think its going to be easy for PAP.

  5. 6 sporescores 27 December 2012 at 16:22

    Alex, I’m sure PAP has many more Gan Thiam Pohs, Desmond Choos, Tin Pei Lings etc in their ranks who will jump at the chance to become a PAP MP. PAP just has to make sure the candidate does not talk too much and instead let their seniors like GCT, TCH, KBW etc focus the election around attacking the opposition candidate. Definitely no mention of teochew wives please. PAP can also inject celebrity factor by getting people like Tay Ping Hui to run. Or whoever is the most popular Mediacorp personnel these days. SPH is another often used source of candidates. I think it’s only slightly harder for PAP to get candidates nowadays, but still not that hard actually. There are still loads of people who are proud to be associated with PAP.

    • 7 sgcynic 28 December 2012 at 12:18

      Quantity is always easy to fill, sycophants, opportunists; quality, that’s what matters.

    • 9 CRICKET 28 December 2012 at 17:01

      Maybe Sharon Aw, the former TV host who spoke at Tony Tan’s rally during the Presidential election? 🙂

    • 10 SS 3 January 2013 at 12:22

      If pap fields a relatively unknown and weak candidate, the chance of losing is higher given the scandal and problems at the mall. Note that Palmer was fairly prominent due to his good looks, well spoken and nice guy image, yet he only garnered 54% of vote against a low profile WP candidate in 2011.

      PM probably wants more confirmation of three corner fight before announcing the by election, because he will not, and cannot sacrifice another ong ye kun. This is really create major recruitment problem at next GE.

  6. 11 yuen 27 December 2012 at 17:26

    I believe they are more interested in seeing whether there will be a 3-corner fight again; if so, they would be much more willing to risk a by-election

    • 12 jay Sim 28 December 2012 at 05:42

      Well perhaps that’s the strategy; give the impression of a three- or even four- cornered fight, the by-election is announced and then the nonWP candidates withdraw. Just a fanciful thought for i doubt the opposition is that united!

      • 13 yuen 9 January 2013 at 18:33

        there is now speculation about a 6-corner fight: 5 parties People’s Action Party (PAP), Workers’ Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Reform Party (RP) and Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) plus former Singapore Peoples’ Party (SPP) member Benjamin Pwee; how many will actually be putting in forms and putting down $14K+ deposits will only be known on 16 Jan nomination day

  7. 14 iqbaldinho 27 December 2012 at 17:46

    You are right we are witnessing the turning of the tide – the MIW are becoming too debauched and greedy – it may just spell an end to their dominance – but I don’t think they will leave without exacting their punishments on us – AHTC-AIM saga is one example

  8. 15 Anon du7W 27 December 2012 at 18:54

    why is leaving NTUC = quitting politics for OYK? Anyway, looks like PAP will win: SDP has expressed desire to contest in the by-elections.

  9. 16 Paper General 27 December 2012 at 21:59

    They could always find a paper general from SAF to make up the numbers.. No worries 🙂

    • 17 sporescores 27 December 2012 at 23:36

      No, not so easy for SMC. The military or civil service personnel has to resign first and he/she may not be willing to take that risk to run in the case of an SMC where it is harder to guarantee a win. But no matter, like I said, PAP can get from existing party ranks, Mediacorp, SPH, or NTUC. But unlikely from SAF, unless the general is about to go to a GLC anyway.

      • 18 peeps 30 December 2012 at 14:52

        There is some resigned general who was expected to but dint stand in the last by-e. There is a Ke Xin, a woman. Also a lively young doctor who’s a YP leader.

  10. 19 Recruit Ong 27 December 2012 at 22:58

    It is quite clear they cannot find a candidate. And the proven poor leadership of LHL is plain for all to see yet again.

  11. 20 Png Kiok Khng 28 December 2012 at 00:11

    It is hard to find candidates probably also due to the fact that Singapore politics are less about idealogy. It is difficult to differentiate between parties base on their political leaning.

    PAP candidates seem in recent years to be joining the party for career expediency and patronage system. Opposition candidates seem to be joining whichever party offers the chance to run for election.

    PAP’s appeal is that people like winners. Opposition parties are more like NGO or social forum.

  12. 21 John John 28 December 2012 at 01:23

    yes, it would be harder with the reputation the PAP has – one has just to look at the last GE and PE results to justify this.

    Capable true leaders will find it difficult to play ‘yes-man/women’ to the way PAP runs the govt; and how many will agree will the major policies that PAP has brought about in the last 10 years.

    I find it most amazing that for a party that has ruled for 50 years, the party members are opaque – I only know of 1 person in my social circle who has admitted to be a party member. How many do you know for sure?
    Why are their members playing a clendestine game?
    So does that mean they are not proud to be members of this party?

  13. 22 Cin 28 December 2012 at 10:46

    It seems PAP has been able to attract only mediocre people, looking at GE 2011.

    If you’re doing moderately well in the private sector, I don’t suppose you’ll attracted to join. Would you?

    So my hunch is only two groups of people will be keen: those in the civil service nearing retiring age whose careers have become stagnant or those struggling in private sectors. I think.

    • 23 henry 29 December 2012 at 10:53

      Yes, indeed.

      Why in the world would anyone give up a well paying salary for one that attracts public attention and having to pretend to live a life that has to be played down? No yacht, no jet.

      Singapore is a place for wheeling, dealing and earning money. Not one to gain fame in politics! Leave that to someone else who’s been there & done that.

      Solve parking ticket issues? Noisy cats? listen to family squabbles?
      Propose bills to address littering? Evoke industries to improve productivity? Contend with opposing political views? and keep a monastic

      Only a foreign talent might be interested. Singaporeans rather spend their time on gastronomic pursuits or watching the comedy being played out by the PA and the P. ( including myself )

  14. 24 Rajiv Chaudhry 28 December 2012 at 13:20

    Teo Ser Luck has been covering for Michael Palmer in Punggol East, since the latter’s resignation. Is there anything in the rules to prevent LHL from pulling Ser Luck out of Pasir Ris – Punggol and putting him up as a candidate in PE?

    I suspect, though, that the voters would punish him for pulling a sitting MP out of another constituency to play politics in a new one.

  15. 26 Perry 28 December 2012 at 13:54

    The PAP is the party with the most resources. This is an obvious source of strength. I wonder though, man for man, how they stand. The opposition party can only offer “blood, sweat and tears”, yet they can attract passionate and talented people to join them. Anyone standing for the MIW is going to wonder how much he or she stands to lose. Even office holders are calculating how much they have had to give up. And this is the party with all the nukes in its arsenal. I am not sure if I should be sad or alarmed. Maybe both.

  16. 27 Chanel 28 December 2012 at 15:59


    A distinction has to be made between finding a PAP candidate and finding a GOOD PAP candidate. There is a long queue of self-serving people longing to become admitted to the world’s most organized and largest millionaire club (i.e. the PAP), so finding the former is a walk in the park.

    The quality of PAP candidates has obviously deteriorated markedly over the past few general elections. It is probably due to the fact that people PAP first approached don’t want to be associated with what the PAP represents (arrogance, materialistic, absolute power, etc).

    • 28 peeps 30 December 2012 at 15:00

      PAP can hold a BE and NOT STAND ITSELF. No face lost since so many Opp parties want to stand and we all believe PAP will then win. Let the Opp parties whack each other. Disunite them in preparation for 2016. Coming up with reasons for not standing shldn’t be as hard as explaining AIMgate. Hey, just baffle the pple with more bullshit.

  17. 29 samuel 28 December 2012 at 16:09

    i think you were referring to ong ye kung, not ong ke yung. but small issue. cogently argued article.

  18. 31 Kuok Minghui 28 December 2012 at 18:52

    The biggest question still hidden from plain sight: Apparently, a decent amount of coverage seemed to be focusing on social and policy issues at large within the state media with certain articles being surprisingly more critical than last time round.

    If we’re to try putting two and two together, it might shed some light on why PM decided to dither on the decision. He said that national issues are now more important and in the light of the timing, I think this could be what one will coin “a strategic step within the political chessboard”. If truly so, then I won’t hold my breath for a BE to be skipped. Because it’s very likely that the Opposition has already formed a coalition by now and that the PAP is now playing their own brand of mind games.

  19. 32 Alan 28 December 2012 at 20:50

    Unless they are putting up a female candidate, maybe the potential male candidate may be thinking what is the use of so much money when you are not allowed to anyhow fuck any girlfriend or mistress other than your lawfully wedded wife.

    For some men, not be able to fuck around is the last thing that they will ever agree to.

    • 33 yawningbread 28 December 2012 at 23:38

      In the interest of gender equality, we should also allow for the possibility that women candidates can also be turned off by new demands of marital fidelity.

    • 35 yuen 29 December 2012 at 05:45

      > some men, not be able to fuck around is the last thing that they will ever agree to.

      that might be the case for “some men”, but those who make the choice to get married do, at least on the surface, agree to stop, and “some” of them even manage to fulfil the pledge, perhaps just out of fear of various kind of trouble that affairs can get them into, whatever their inner desires might be

      I even believe Yaw Shing Leong and Michael Palmer did not “fuck around” before entering parliament; after their political success and visibility, a lot more opportunities came their way and their resistance crumbled;

      given the current social atmosphere, this will happen to others too – OK when selected by their parties to stand, but failing marital fidelity afterwards; that is, it is the candidates’ future behaviour that parties need to worry about, more than past behaviour

  20. 36 Chow 29 December 2012 at 02:09

    I’m of the mind that the PAP are just drawing it out to get people disinterested in the Palmer saga and then fix up whatever needs to be fixed in the constituency with a fresh coat of paint all round before calling for the BE. Oh, and it helps draw more parties into the fray.

  21. 37 Concerned singaporean 29 December 2012 at 16:23

    Ong YK resigned from NTUC deputy sec-general post probably related to the SMRT bus driver pay issue. Remember he was the one who proposed to increase the bus driver pay by $275 per month and took the credit for this. But he did not disclose that the bus drivers have to work 6 days’ week instead of 5 days. With 5 days’ week, the bus drivers could work one extra day as overtime and the driver actually earns more than 6 days’ week after the increase. The singaporeans bus drivers protested loudly to managment/NTUC for the shortchange and in the end the drivers are allowed back to work 5 days’ week but without the $275 increment. On the side note, this 6 days’ week still apply to PRC drivers and make them earn less than previous 5 days’ week and this caused them to go on strike. Obviously, Ong YK has made a mess of SMRT pay issue and so bye bye to politics(anyway Ong has a rich father in law(sim lian group) and his wife is a
    director of the company who earns millions)

  22. 38 Wait N See 30 December 2012 at 05:45

    Not That hard…you are forgetting there is always George Yeo.

  23. 40 Me 31 December 2012 at 10:58

    You know Alex, all that the opposition has to do, after PAP fixes up that shopping mall, is to take pictures of Teban Gardens and show it to the voters. From the days it was under Tan Cheng Bock, whose name is still fresh in voters’ minds, to now a GRC, Teban Gardens has taken a sad turn. The plaques bearing Tan Cheng Bock’s name are in sad conditions. This is what you expect from PAP comrades. Better to choose an opposition.

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