SDP’s medium-term prospects not much damaged by fiasco


I think almost all who were sympathetic to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) heaved a huge sigh of relief when party leader Chee Soon Juan announced on 15 January 2013 — just the day before Nomination Day — that the party will sit out the Punggol East by-election. As it has turned out, there are enough other candidates, from the Reform Party and the Singapore Democratic Alliance, to make this a four-cornered contest. The People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Workers’ Party (WP) had earlier announced their candidates and their intention to run.

But before I turn to the by-election campaigns by these four parties, I think it is important to assess how much repair work lies ahead for the SDP. In the short term, people aren’t going to forget this episode and it may hurt them, but its final decision, signifying flexibility and good sense, augurs well for its ability to learn and adjust. In my view, its medium-term prospects won’t be much damaged, and as I will argue in this article, it still has quite a credible route to parliament.

This, however, is not to deny that it has a lot of work cut out for it.

Even though the SDP’s statement to the media was that they “decided to withdraw from the race” because “Singaporeans have signaled clearly that they do not want to see a three-cornered contest in Punggol East which may dilute the vote and allow a PAP win,” adding that “We hear their voices and we have heeded them,” everybody can see that they must have taken a sober look at their chances and seen the prospect of humiliation staring back at them.

Section 28 of the Parliamentary Elections Act states that a candidate’s election deposit (now $14,500) shall be forfeited if he or she does not garner more than one-eighth (12.5 percent) of the total number of votes polled. In a crowded race, this is a pretty high hurdle.

To fight and lose so badly can damage a party’s reputation, casting it as a “no hoper” in future races.

Despite the embarrassment of withdrawal after two weeks of bravado, it is wiser to pull out now and wait to fight somewhere else another day.

The current reality

Across Singapore as a whole — it may vary a little depending on the constituency — about 35 percent of voters will consistently support the PAP. We discern this figure from the 2011 general election result in Hougang (where PAP has its worst showing) and from the presidential election the same year. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call this the “Pro-PAP” bloc.

About 20 – 30 percent of voters can be relied upon to vote for an opposition candidate, whichever party he may be from. This can be discerned from the constituencies where opposition candidates did worst in the 2006 and 2011 general elections:

  • In 2011, Sin Kek Tong (Singapore People’s Party) polled 29.4 percent in Hong Kah North;
  • In 2011, the Reform Party team polled 30.7 percent in Ang Mo Kio GRC;
  • In 2006, Ling How Doong (SDP) polled 22.8 percent in Bukit Panjang;
  • In 2006, the SDP team polled 23.3 percent in Sembawang GRC.

We’ll call this the “Anti-PAP” bloc.

In between are the swing voters, making up 35- 45 percent of the electorate. Not only are they able to switch their votes from the PAP to opposition, and vice versa, they will likely pick and choose which opposition party to support based on party platforms and candidates’ personalities.

It is important to understand that they are different from the “Anti-PAP” bloc. The latter is interested primarily in throwing the PAP out, and therefore they are far more likely to vote tactically. Their goal is best achieved by voting for whichever opposition party stands the best chance against the PAP. Obviously “best chance” is not an objective measure, but a subjective one, based on the voter’s reading of the voting intentions of his fellow citizens.

What the SDP probably saw in Punggol East

pic_201301_25_01So, even in the best case Punggol East scenario — only a three-way contest, with SDP enjoying relatively good branding and support — the SDP probably saw something like Figure 1. They would struggle to avoid losing their deposit.

But that’s the best case. Hopefully, they realised that the bungle they made over the weekend (see SDP trips itself up even before Punggol East starting gun) was likely to cause two adverse shifts,

  1. Any hope that even a handful of the Anti-PAP bloc believing they stood the better chance against PAP than WP, and would therefore vote tactically for the SDP, would have vanished;
  2. Their slice of the swing voters would have narrowed as voters previously positive about the SDP got totally confused about what the party was about.

… making their red slice in Figure 1 even smaller.

The bungle was a crazy attempt to outmanoeuvre WP. It was a gambit widely seen as foolish machination, raising questions about their grasp of political reality. It undermined their previous efforts at promoting alternative policy visions, because people were led to ask whether at the end of the day, the party was actually less interested in alternative policies despite everything they’ve said, and more enamoured of good ol’ dirty politicking. It also radiated the subliminal message that the party had no interest or confidence in its ability to run town councils.

The party needs a breather to regroup and make up for the ground they lost. They need to work at recovering their credibility.

Three-way contests the future norm

I foresee that gradually three-way contests will become common in Singapore, simply because it is pretty obvious that the WP has no interest in making concessions to other opposition parties. They may not yet have the capability to contest all seats throughout Singapore, but they are likely to expand their reach steadily. This will bring them into conflict with the SDP, National Solidarity Party (NSP) and other smaller parties. SDP, NSP and the other parties will probably be able to agree on constituency allocation among themselves, since they are each still small, and — notwithstanding the example of Punggol East by-election (with Reform Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance in the fray) — will want to avoid duplication of efforts.

So, more and more, we’re going to see electoral contests featuring the PAP, WP and one other party.

Is the third party always doomed? Is the Anti-PAP bloc always going to sense that WP has the best chance and thus vote tactically for it? Because if they do, then SDP (or for that matter, any other non-WP opposition party) can never sniff victory.

pic_201301_26But, before I discuss the ways SDP (or any other “third”, i.e. non-WP opposition party) can still find a way to parliamentary representation, let me also sketch out two significant trends:

  1. Firstly, both the Pro-PAP and Anti-PAP blocs are likely to shrink. Studies by the Institute of Policy Studies have shown these groups to be older than swing voters. Simple demographics will suggest that over time, the percentage who are swing voters will grow. This will give more room to third parties, especially those who are able to differentiate themselves and offer clear value propositions (see box at right).
  2. Secondly, as I predicted post-general election 2011, the WP will face increasing flak. As they gain prominence, they will come up against rising expectations and more ready criticism. There is already the undertow of comments that they are “PAP-lite”, and that they offer little by way of alternative policy and fail to make effective use of their parliamentary voice.

So coming to the main question: What does it take to break the expectation that WP has the best chance, and thereby unlock their hold on the anti-PAP bloc in any three-way contest? There are two ways to do this, and each of them is a two-step process, i.e. involving two general election cycles:

Scenario A: Do well in a straight fight

pic_201301_25_02In a constituency in the first general election, SDP faces the PAP in a straight fight, and does surprisingly well. It does not need to win; it needs only to come close to winning, by over 45 percent, illustrated by Figure 2.

(You may also notice that Figure 2 has slightly smaller Pro-PAP and Anti-PAP blocs compared to 2013’s Figure 1, to represent evolution over time. And since it’s a straight fight, the tactically-voting Anti-PAP bloc will throw their weight behind the third party, in this scenario, SDP.)

Such a creditable performance enables the party to shake off its “sure lose” image, especially when people can see how many swing voters it captured.

Sceanrio B: Do well in a three-way contest with WP

Even if the SDP party finds itself facing the WP in the first general election, it can still put up a good show — provided it has good branding and has put in the groundwork. Victory or defeat in the polls is often a matter of surpassing or underperforming against expectations.

pic_201301_25_03So, for example, if the result comes out something like Figure 3, where it shows it can capture more swing voters than the WP, SDP will get a whole new lease of life, for thereafter, the Anti-PAP bloc will not take for granted that only the WP can prevail against the PAP.

Of course there will be the accusation that the three-way fight resulted in a win for the PAP despite the WP and SDP together getting more than 50 percent of the vote, but it will not be easy to say that SDP “deprived” WP its win. One may just as easily say WP “deprived” the SDP of a win.

At the subsequent general election

Then in a subsequent general election, whether following scenario A or scenario B,  the SDP should have a reasonable prospect of capturing a fair number of the Anti-PAP bloc, even in a three-way fight. This is because some people will believe that the SDP has as good a chance of beating the PAP as the WP.

pic_201301_25_04And as the number of swing voters increase further,  it can then exploit a feature of our first-past-the-post electoral system: it can win a parliamentary seat by a plurality — i.e. by having the largest number of votes, without winning a simple majority. See Figure 4.

And after that, we’re into a whole new world.

48 Responses to “SDP’s medium-term prospects not much damaged by fiasco”

  1. 1 random 16 January 2013 at 18:02

    SDP may have a good chance to capture a substantial swing votes in next GE but still don’t win. This is because of the fear that PAP may lose power and the swing votes are to balance WP votes.

  2. 2 yuen 16 January 2013 at 18:04

    a dispassionate analysis; unfortunately politics is not dispassionate; many SDP supporters would be disappointed that the party wimped out last minute after much bravado; some would be upset about the poor management process; yet others would object to the lack of consultation; after their faces had already been printed on campaign posters, the two prospective SDP candidates would have found the whole episode embarrassing; as 2016 comes near prospective candidates deciding which party to join might consider SDP a more risky choice than others; whether these would amount to “much damage” in total is of course hard to forecast

    it is likely that RP and SDA would both lose their deposits; the extent this would permanently damage their future prospects is also unknown; whether there will be more 3/4 cornered fights in 2016 will depend as much on the availability of campaign money as on party standings: after this by-election people might find that the embarrassment of losing one’s deposit is something one can live with, as long as one can afford it financially

  3. 3 Shirley Tan 16 January 2013 at 18:45

    Very well analyzed. One hope is for our civil servants to not have fear or favour in their voting patterns, then we will have less of an incumbent advantage and the country can progress further.

  4. 4 CSJ Has Destroyed SDP By His Antics 16 January 2013 at 19:27

    Only a die-hard SDP supporter could muster the arguments for the viability of the party after the recent stupendous fiasco of CSJ and his cronies. Sir, you seriously underestimate the faecal nonsense which CSJ is capable of. And your expectation that he would “repair” the damage betrays your lack of understanding of the psyche of a megalomaniac, who is totally out of touch with reality and cannot connect with voters on the ground.

    • 5 Anon Kr81 17 January 2013 at 08:45

      I agree.

      CSJ has this ability to self-destruct, not unlike how McCan did during the 2008 elections (“suspending” campaign temporarily). His daily antics will taint the entire party during GE2016, not just in the GRC or SMC he’s personally competing in, but all the other places where SDP is competing, 3-corner fights or not. “Sucking up all the oxygen in the room” is how I’d characterise it. SDP’s opponents don’t need to do much – just let CSJ saga play out day by day, press release by press release.

      As long as SDP is not bigger than CSJ, SDP will be relegated to a fringe party, notwithstanding a strong base of liberal supporters. PAP is smart to unleash CSJ for GE2016, someone with a pent-up vengence, fueled over 20 years.

      I think Alex implicitly gave a quiet nod to this point too – “no resorting to quick-fixes, quixotic schemes” — wonder who he’s referring to 🙂

      Also, don’t underestimate the proportion of people (I dare say, a comfortable majority) who’re not unhappy with a PAP-lite situation. Or more precisely, not ready to embrace SDP’s liberal policies of free healthcare, no-capital-appreciation housing etc. This is too much change, too fast. And these Singaporeans are realistic to know that there’s no free lunch. There’s also a “Bible belt” (conservative Christian churches) within the Holland-Bukit Timah area who are strongly opposed to some of SDP’s liberal social policies.

      Finally, the damage from “I do not know how to run a Town Council, I’m only good at making speeches in Parliament” – need to be repaired. For years, the difficulty any opposition has with winning a GRC is the perception that first and foremost, they will not know how to take care of the residents. Part of why WP won Aljunied was the thinking that since LTK proved that he can run Hougang estate well, Aljunied should not worry. Of course there are other factors too, but this has always been one of voters key careabout.

      Put these all together and I’m not as optimistic as Alex about SDP’s medium term prospects. I think GE2016 will be another dose of reality to SDP and like all parties in such situation, it will have to do some internal soul searching, maybe even house cleaning – who does SDP want to be the face of SDP? Which (policy, not constituency) battle does SDP want to fight, which to put aside? How does SDP broaden its support beyond the far left — or does it even want to?

  5. 6 George Lam 16 January 2013 at 19:42

    If this is indeed the threat posed by the SDP to both the PAP and WP, how should the latter two parties mount a defensive or offensive focused on simultaneously countering the SDP and WP and the SDP and PAP, respectively?

  6. 7 Lye Khuen Way 16 January 2013 at 20:21

    By then, the PAP would re-write the rules, to make the “first-past-the-post-the-winner history, if they are lucky and we unlucky enough to have them controlling 2 thirds of Parliament.

  7. 8 Pak Geok Choo 16 January 2013 at 22:04

    I beg to differ.
    In fact, I think the sudden pull-out by SDP has managed to turn what seemed like a disaster into a win situation for itself, on 2 counts.
    1) Win approval from staunch WP voters with some voters declaring their appreciation that the next time round, they would encourage people to vote SDP in Sembawang, Yuhua or Bukit these are SDP’s turfs.
    2) Bring reality on notion of opposition unity to the forefront for public discussion as many Singaporeans are not aware of problems or past efforts and attempts in bringing the oppositions together. Often SDP would be fingered at when the public perceived ‘opposition disunity’ as if there is a phantom rule that all must give way to WP wherever there is a 3 corner fight. This time round, SDP has not only ‘redeemed’ itself as being the spoiler, as witnessed by all, it has managed to convince some of its accusers that their previous blames may be unfairly accorded. Singaporeans are grateful people and they certainly know how to give and take. Now, they have witnessed the ‘give’ gesture from SDP, in turn they will expect the ‘return’ from WP in the next GE, as pledged by many in cyberspace discussion. Hence, I would say that SDP has indeed secured and anchored itself in those areas they last ran for in 2011 GE from this ‘fiasco’.

    • 9 Duh 17 January 2013 at 10:54

      I agree – I think alot of people over-analysed SDP’s motivation to be convoluted and complex when a simpler explanation suffices – they make a tactical error, admitted it and withdrew. Occam’s razor – There is no need to postulate sinister motivations of the SDP in intentionally creating drama. Well, you know what they say – haters will be haters.

      Also, I disagree a little with some parts of Alex’s analysis though I think it is thoughtful and an excellent read (as usual) –

      (i) Your first trend is based on a survey, I wholly distrust surveys on the basis of the climate of fear created by the PAP that resulted in heavy self-censorship. Hence, we see greater openness in political discussion online. I do not think going around in public asking people what their voting intentions are is going to get an accurate picture of how people are really going to vote. In this respect, I agree with analysing GE voting patterns itself.

      (ii) WP getting more flak is not IMO due to people criticising them just bcos they rise into prominence. SDP is not as prominent as WP in electoral success, and yet the recent fiasco also drew alot of response from people. To me, it is a sign of people having the chance to think more critically about political CHOICES. With the emergence of more viable opposition candidates, people now are somewhat forced to think more carefully about their choices and this thinking will trickle down to their assessment of any party. This is a good development for a true democracy in Singapore. For a long time, people didn’t really have a choice, didn’t really have a voice to influence PAP’s decision, so didn’t need to exercise their thinking faculty much on political discourse.

      WP, or any political party, on the other hand, will have to be more careful what they promise their electorates during rallies because people will remember and hold them accountable – just like they did for the PAP.

    • 10 ForAlternativeParties 18 January 2013 at 07:36

      You are wrong. I am in Sembawang GRC and I do not want SDP to contest in this ward again. I was sorely disappointed in GE2006 when I learnt that WP stepped aside to let SDP contest in Sembawang GRC instead.

      I welcome the other parties: NSP, WP, RP in Sembawang GRC. I am one of those who opt for the more the merrier alternative parties except for SDP. In fact, it would only make strategic sense for SDP to concentrate all their firepower in Holland BT GRC given their limited resources & low membership & small number of volunteers. Last GE2011 vote count is the strongest indication.

      How much damage SDP has done to itself will be seen in Holland BT GRC if they choose to contest this ward again. But now that SDP has shown its farcical & illogical side, will the constituents of Holland BT GRC forgive & forget & still give them their blessings of almost 40% vote in last GE2011?

      I think not. Holland BT GRC will wake up & come to their senses & turn towards PAP or a better alternative party like WP or NSP or RP.

      There is too much vendetta going on with SDP brought on by CSJ. Note CSJ’s determination to contest Tanjong Pagar GRC for the very obvious reason that his old arch enemy is the anchor man there. He is that old man who put him in jail & who also made him a bankrupt.

      Too bad, SDP was a whole lot better in GE2011 when CSJ was quiet.

  8. 11 Kevin L. 17 January 2013 at 00:19

    I think it will be hard for SDP to recover if CSJ continues to be the leader of SDP. SDP’s image has improved over the years because CSJ was seen to have toned down his antics and confrontational style. But this episode has brought back memories of all his erratic behaviour again. There is no way the general public will see SDP as a viable option if CSJ continues at the helm.

    Another point for discussion is the image of Worker’s Party being so-called ‘PAP-lite’. I believe it is this moderation that will make WP the most viable party in the future of the Singapore opposition.

    Elections are won by catering to the center. I feel that WP are conservative when it comes to social policies and slightly left leaning in economic policies. PAP in recent times has become too extreme in their economic policies, and are paying the price. SDP is the voice of the liberals – too far left to be accepted as mainstream.

    Going forward, if the political landscape changes to be fair to all parties, I would say that WP and PAP would be competing to be the majority party, while SDP will remain relevant, but never a majority.

    • 12 boman 17 January 2013 at 16:59

      Globally, politics have moved to the centre. Look at the Europe and US electorate. WP found out years ago, they need to appeal to the centre.

      • 13 yawningbread 17 January 2013 at 23:31

        Huh? “Moved” within what time frame? I’m pretty sure lots of people can argue that in certain countries, it’s moved to the right, or to the left. . .

  9. 14 skponggol 17 January 2013 at 07:03

    The success of Radical Democrats in last year Hong Kong’s LegCo election can provide a valuable lesson and some comfort for SDP.

    People Power and Neo Democrat radicals punish Democrats

    The Radical Democrats were able to shatter the duopoly political system dominated by the pro-Beijing bloc and the moderate Democratic Party.

    With lack of party resources/machines, any grassroot support, any local groundwork and any media coverage (the HK main newspapers is dominated by the pro-Beijing Oriental Daily and the pro-Democratic Apple Daily), the Radical Democrat appealed directly to the people on just 1 national issues: China interference in HK affair. They avoided the local agenda which is more favourable to both pro-Beijing bloc and its Vichy partner as they have larger party administrative resources at their disposal.

    The reasons for the defeat of Hong Kong Democratic Party:

    The reasons for the success of the Radical Democrats:

    • 15 yawningbread 17 January 2013 at 11:22

      I normally disallow any comments in languages other than English, because I think such comments (almost always in Chinese) are thoughtless towards our ethnic/linguistic minorities. I had to think hard about whether to disallow skponggol’s comment above because it contains these 2 videos (in Mandarin and Cantonese). But I’ve decided to make an exception in the hope that someone can at least provide an overall/summary translation. I am sure skponggol is submitting these videos with apologies to minorities.

      • 16 Say no to skponggol 17 January 2013 at 12:07

        I have noticed skponggol on sammyboy forum though I have never participated in any of its discussions or interact with him. From the vast number of threads he created there, it is clear that he is a prolific spammer probably from PAP IB, trying to attack WP but pretending to be from SDP. Due to his presence and as well as others, it degrades the forum with superficial comments to such an extend that I never consider signing up. I hope Alex Au will seriously consider banning such persons, although I am very much for freedom of speech. It is sickening to read, like poison to the mind. 🙂

      • 17 yawningbread 17 January 2013 at 12:34

        I don’t see how your characterisation of skponggol ties in with what he actually wrote a few hours ago. We can let readers be the judge.

        I would also remind comment-makers that I will bar comments that take the form of bashing other comment-makers, so let’s avoid taking this turn please.

      • 18 skponggol 17 January 2013 at 17:04

        I apologise for causing any misunderstanding. But I can hardly find any English video commentaries that can analyse the recent Hong Kong Legislative election which witness the historic breakthrough of a Third-Force Opposition in HK politics against a mighty ruling pro-Beijing bloc and a well-established opposition, the Hong Kong Democratic Party.

        A translated summary for the first clip:

        In the 2012 Legislative election, Hong Kong Democratic Party suffered its heaviest defeat in history. Its share of directly elected Geographical Constituencies had dropped from 7 to 4. Some of its heavyweight veterans were also defeated and its chairman subsequently resigned.

        The first clip attributes the failure of HK Democratic Party for the following reasons:

        1. The party had compromised with the Beijing authority and negotiated directly with them, eg the electoral reform package in 2010. This provides Beijing some legitimacy to directly interfere and impose their rule over HK which is against the wishes of most HK people.

        Similarly, WP has also compromise with the PAP on most national issues, eg the issue on Minister Million Dollar Salary. By proposing a scheme that is similar and elitist to that of PAP and thus ALSO rewarding Million Dollar to Ministers, WP, like HK Democrat, has also helped PAP to legitimise their Ministers’ Salary and neutralize that issue. Now, Minister Pay is no longer a hot potato for the PAP even though they are still the highest paid in the world and many people still remain resentful.

        2. The party directly discussed with Beijing to reform the HK political system with the exclusion of other Opposition parties who had objected and boycotted. They had broken rank with other Opposition parties and voted with the pro-Beijing bloc. This severely damaged the Opposition Unity against Beijing. Even now, they refused to admit or clarify their mistake and apologise to the Opposition supporters, which infuriated the latter even further.

        Similarly, WP openly discusses about forming a coalition government with the PAP and to exclude other Opposition parties from their negotiation and dealings. They have also voted with PAP very often in parliament. While they are only too happy to sit down and discuss with PAP on any issue, they refuse to meet up or even reply to other Opposition parties to discuss any issue. This makes an Opposition Unity against the PAP impossible. Likewise, WP also refuses to clarify or admit their mistake and apologises to the Opposition supporters.

        3. The party has failed to speak up against the Chicom on major issues.

        Similarly, WP has not been speaking up against the PAP on almost every national issues, eg $5b loan to IMF, breakdown in labour talk between SINGAPOREAN (not only foreigners) bus drivers with SMRT management, etc.

        4. The party has softened its stance against the Chicom so as not to offend them. They worried that the Chicom may not want to talk to them anymore if they were offended. They feared that they may lose whatever influence they may have over Beijing and legislations.

        Similarly, WP has also softened its stance against PAP, never able to ask any hard-hitting questions to embarrass them. They worried that the offended PAP may retaliate and sue them. They also fear that they may lose whatever goodwill they may have among the moderate voters as well as whatever influence they may have over legislations.

        For these reasons, the people rejected the HK Democratic Party and gave their support to other Opposition parties who are more outspoken and fearless.

        For the very first time in HK history, the Opposition (including the Democratic Party which finally wakes up after being slapped by the people in this election) has united to table a motion to impeach the Beijing-anointed Chief Executive.

        Compared with the pro-Beijing bloc which is homogeneous and mostly speak in one voice, Hong Kong Opposition is disunited and diversified. This allows different views of the people to be expressed thru different political parties. The different opposition parties have to compete against each other to see who can slap the government faster and harder so as to retain the support of the people.

      • 19 skponggol 17 January 2013 at 19:25

        The second clip explores the success of People Power, which together with other Radical Democrats had won over 30% of popular votes. For the first time in HK history, political parties openly used Anti-Beijing as their main campaign slogan and called the current administration as a Communist regime.

        But the People Power faced the following difficulty:

        1. The party was barely one year old;
        2. It lacked the party machinery;
        3. It did not have established grassroot support;
        4. It did not campaign on local issues as party machinery and local support were weak;
        5. It lacked media support as HK mainstream media is dominated by both pro-Beijing bloc and the Democratic Party;
        6. It was labeled as a Beijing stooge and Communist B Team by the Democratic Party and its media ally because the party had pursued an aggressive confrontational campaign against the Democratic Party and splitting the Opposition vote.

        The success of the party:

        1. The party has forceful charismatic leaders;
        2. The party has been outspoken and fearless in LegCo. Some have mocked them because of their dramatic antics (like the filibuster tactics and throwing things at government officials) and aggressive speeches in LegCo. But they had energised and captivated an otherwise ignorant, apolitical and apathetic HK population;
        3. The party personality had achieved and maintained their political prominence mainly via radio talk show which are broadcasted via the airwave and cyberspace. Incidentally, Raymond Chan, HK first elected gay legislator who openly admits being gay (perhaps first for China, Taiwan, HK and Macau), was a radio talk show host before he co-founded People Power. He was a rookie in 2012 election but was elected and won more votes than the veteran Emily Lau, currently Democratic Party chairperson. During campaigning, he apologized to the people on behalf of Emily Lau for her betrayal of democratic principles.
        4. The party personality kept their radio show entertaining and dramatic so that they can capture more audience to their show and listen to their political views;
        5. The party campaigns only on one issue: Oppose China and oppose the HK government without any compromise.
        6. The party capitalise on widespread resentment against China and the HK government as well as their disappointment over the moderate Democratic Party.
        7. In addition to younger voters, the party focused on the intellectuals and middle-class to support them. They managed to persuade them that HK democratic movement need a new direction;
        8. The party distinguished itself from the pack by openly and aggressively attacked the moderate Democratic Party, and thus able to capture the voters who were disappointed with the latter. Other

        At the later stage of the campaign, the Democratic Party changed its strategy. It attacked People Power for splitting the Opposition votes. It also hardened its stance against Beijing and also called out Anti-Beijing slogan so as to retain Democratic supporters who were moving away from them.

        In the end, People Power won 3 seats out of its targeted 5 seats, one of which was lost by fewer than 2,000 votes.

        People Power were successful because of people’s growing resentment against Beijing interference in their affair and their disappointment over the moderate Democratic Party to resist Beijing both inside and outside LegCo.

      • 20 Norm 17 January 2013 at 23:23

        Essentially the first video says that the poorer than expected performance of the HK moderate democrats (centrist democratic parties) in their 2012 Legco elections was a result of them previously making what compromises with the central government in Beijing in relation to the timing of Hong Kong achieving universal suffrage. The HK radical democrats (more extreme democratic parties) did slightly better than forecast in those elections, and the second video explores the possibility that this is due to more HKers becoming anti-mainland China.

        With respect to skponggol, I do not think this is a particularly apt analogy for Singapore. HK operates a modified proportional representation electoral system for its Legco, enabling more parties to obtain seats. The Legco is however still dominated by 2 major camps, with the radical democrats very much in the minority. Hong Kong is also more permissive with regard to civil liberties than Singapore, enabling the radical democrats to gain some attention by way of protests and exposure in their mainstream media.

  10. 21 The 17 January 2013 at 09:29

    And I beg to differ too.

    First, an unnecessary self-inflicted fiasco of the first order.

    Let’s look at the chronology of what happened:
    CSJ and SDP were the first to declare that they will contest and started walking the ground. Pee on the ground first to mark territory.
    Then, they email WP for so-called “unity talks”.

    From this you can see their sincerity, or rather lack thereof.
    And they publish the emails – bad move.
    The whole thing is calculated to make WP to look bad and it back-fired badly.

    What redemption?

    You shot yourself in the foot, then hobbled out of the game and declare that you are so magnanimous as to pull out?

    Not only is SDP’s medium-term prospects dimmed, it has no long-term prospects to speak of.

    CSJ should seriously consider contesting as an independent in future – at least there is a ghost of chance.

  11. 22 Andy 17 January 2013 at 09:36

    Going forward, Dr Chee would have to step down. He bears too much emotional baggage and is unable to make rational decisions. It would be better for other people to lead. I am very sure the last minute pullout was forced upon him by the CEC. He is too rash and has no political astute to lead a party.

    • 23 Anon Kr81 17 January 2013 at 11:34

      And which serious party will now want to enter into dialogue / discussion with SDP, or exchange emails? Without you knowing it, every correspondence in private will suddenly be opened to the public. How to work, or cooperate, based on trust?

    • 24 Duh 17 January 2013 at 13:45

      In a way, I agree with your assessment of CSJ but my stand is more sympathetic. Afterall, we should not forget that CSJ is a human being like all of us. So he was passionate about his opinions and future for Singapore but even so, he should not be treated so heavily by the PAP. Any person treated like he was would feel resentful – he, like any other normal person, is a person not a saint. So I can understand his veiled and at times explicit hatred towards PAP that might overrule his judgement. So did other people like Francis Seow and Chia Thye Poh – how can we not understand their negative emotional responses towards the PAP for what it did to them?

      I think it is important to have this more humane perspective. The moral of the story – don’t be so harsh on people providing alternative political views. Contrary to LKY’s ethos, it is not necessary to ruin their lives.

      • 25 The 18 January 2013 at 09:49

        I admire your sympathy. As a human being, I agree with you and agree that he’s been badly treated by the power that be. However, I would not give my sympathy to him as a politician. He knows what is coming and in so many ways, he actually courted those disasters and welcome them.

        He is on record as likening himself as Gandhi. I have the sneaky suspicion that he associates himself with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Aung Sang Su Chi. Except, unlike those 2 towering figures, he has not won any election.

        He has been wronged and demonized in the past. And he is stuck in the past. His antics is very personal and that clouded his judgement. For the sake of the survival of SDP, he should pass on the baton.

      • 26 Pak Geok Choo 18 January 2013 at 16:07

        He is on record as likening himself as Gandhi. I have the sneaky suspicion that he associates himself with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Aung Sang Su Chi. Except, unlike those 2 towering figures, he has not won any election.

        He has been wronged and demonized in the past. And he is stuck in the past. His antics is very personal and that clouded his judgement.

        What is wrong likening himself to those great people? Nothing to feel sneaky about. Isn’t it precisely because of our tendency to associate ourselves with people we like or admire that fashion, idol-fan relationship, concerts, books, photos, videos etc have a place in our society. Hence, not a point for debate or discussion here.

        Regarding the point about him being stuck in the past, I feel that we can’t comment unless we know him enough. (Do you?) I don’t even know if the decision to contest in this BE comes from him alone. I heard it is a group decision and that the majority of its members wanted to. If it is true, then it may be a little unfair to accord that to him. Right from the start, I, too, feel that contesting in Punggol was unstrategic and I certainly feel that it is an act of impatience, ignorant of ground feelings. Fortunately, like what Alex wrote, I, too, heaved a huge sigh of relief on learning that SDP decided to withdraw and I am glad to read the mostly positive remarks and cheers from netizens of social media. Judging from these positive comments, I get the feel that this turnaround event has upped the SDP’s standing to a notch higher.

    • 27 lensile 17 January 2013 at 16:23

      I support that Dr Chee should step down. Nothing personal to Dr Chee but his bitterness and eagerness to redeem himself seems to cloud his ability to rationalise and lead at the most crucial moment, result in negative impression of the party. He seems like a person that remember what done to him, and never forget and forgive, and will ask for repayment at the most opportunistic moment. That kind of blatant behaviour just turn people off. He seems like using the excuse of promoting democracy to vindicate himself. This type of behaviour is hard to conceal, and his emotion give his game away.

      I have thought he has changed for the better after all this while but it appears he did not change at but merely just tolerate and bear his suffering until the right moment to strike.

      Luckily, the party’s CEC able to persuade and convince him not to contest eventually and that help save a bit of grace, though not without mistrust consequences from netizens and citizens. Dr Chee is simply too destructive to his party. Until he can control and put down his own emotional baggage, he should make way to better and stable members of his party.

      • 28 yawningbread 17 January 2013 at 23:33

        No one has disclosed who took what position within SDP’s CEC, and so I don’t know where you think the basis for your last para comes from.

      • 29 lensile 18 January 2013 at 00:06

        “No one has disclosed who took what position within SDP’s CEC, and so I don’t know where you think the basis for your last para comes from.”

        Frankly, does it really matter of that disclosure ? I don’t even care what happened internally to the party. I more concern about his antics and behaviours publicly. Why does Dr Chee still don’t understand that perception is reality and that the ruling party has been leveraging on that perception to denigrate him and his party. For your info, I and my family have voted for his party in last election. But this saga prove that Dr Chee still is Dr Chee, nothing is changed of him. He should be intelligent to sense the ground sentiment and act prudently not to contest in by-election but didn’t and choose to perform comedian act in the end. Hope that he learn this lesson in by-election. He really look like a confused and lost chap , and don’t know what exactly he fight for ? Himself, his party or for country ? I really don’t know, and am I alone to think this way ? Until he sort out himself, he should tone down his presence in his party.

      • 30 Duh 18 January 2013 at 02:18

        I agree with Alex, I think one has to be careful not to assume that SDP is a 1 man show – it clearly is not. VW and PT (the two who were slated to be the SDP candidates in the BE) are highly educated and intelligent people and they agreed to run. These people have demonstrated that they are not people who will be lead by the nose to do something that they did not agree with. I mean, listen to their speeches. So, clearly there has been support within the SDP to engage in this BE and it is clearly not just the decision of CSJ.

        I think sometimes people buy into the MSM’s (or PAP’s) repeated demonizing of CSJ so much that they are quick to be judgmental even when there is insufficient evidence to do so.

        Just bcos CSJ was the person making the statements about the cooperation between SDP and WP, it shouldn’t be assumed that he was the sole person who thought of it and ‘forced’ it upon SDP. As they say – don’t kill the messenger. It is important to differentiate between the person making the statement and HOW and by WHOM the public statement was decided.

  12. 31 bee 17 January 2013 at 12:40

    the only person that pap is fearful of is chee, now that jbj had passed on. so for the almost the past 2 decades, the msm has been helping to paint this man as dangerous, irrational and more awful labels they can possibly pin on him. sadly, having a monopolised media, most singaporeans bought the whole story. ultimately, with the passing of lky, chee will prevail.

  13. 32 Lockeliberal 17 January 2013 at 12:50

    Dear Alex,

    I believe your analysis is fatally flawed and I hope to have a discussion with you on how and why. Firstly the PE and BE are close enough for them to be considered a fair market survey. There was no fundamental shift in the nature of the electorate over the course of both , they were essentially one and the same.

    So how did a hard 60% PAP vote in. GE become in the course of one year 35% in a PE and is Hougang BE and is this the new normal ?

    I would argue that the difference between the 60 and 35 is the difference between the hard pap vote, and the pro pap vote, and that should not be discounted in a GE.


  14. 34 KMT 17 January 2013 at 13:38

    Unless Dr. Chee would to reflect on his “behavior” (I won’t want to even called it “antics”) and “straighten” himself out especially in front of the media. The party itself will be affected in one way or another we don’t want to put a MP (for that matter a secretary general of a party) into parliament who to me looks like a jester in a political court. Maybe someone should take over if he cannot straighten himself out. Is one thing to want to be noticed but at least show the positive side of yourself.

  15. 35 Norm 17 January 2013 at 14:05

    At this point in Singapore’s political development, there are two steps for many swing voters. They will first decide “PAP or not?”. Only if the answer is “not” do they start thinking seriously about which opposition party to vote for. In other words, the opposition IS effectively monolithic at the first step. It is a consequence of the PAP’s long dominance, the default position is to go with the devil you know.

    This results in a base case scenario whereby 50% of the swing vote goes to the PAP. Coupled with their core 35% support, it gets them over the winning line. Various things have to go right for an opposition party to overcome this – strong candidate(s), credible policies, effective local groundwork and… AVOIDING A MULTI-WAY FIGHT.

    That is the current political reality. Even in a two-way fight, an opposition party has to capture a significant majority of the swing vote to triumph. It is that much harder if credible opposition parties split their (base case 50%) share of the swing vote.

    No doubt this will evolve. I would guess that it doesn’t change much before 2021 though.

  16. 36 Bernard Tan Y.J 17 January 2013 at 14:41

    Mr Au, will there be a post PE-BE 2013 forum? I sure hope there is one and that u would speak about your analysis then. Hopefully,, the opposition parties benefit from these post-election forum.

  17. 37 locke 17 January 2013 at 17:58

    Dear Alex

    Your assumption is based across a three GE cycle that the 35% PAP base stays consistent at a local level at a targeted constituency base. The national average for the PAP was 60%. The difference between the PE and BE being one year and 25%. I hope you are not arguing for a national swing against the PAP from 60 to 35 because at any level a drop of the National Vote to 35% along would mean the end of the PAP as a ruling party.

    Hougang remains a special case, reducing the PAP vote in that area to a hard core PAP 35% means winning over many many PAP leaning voters who though undecided are favourable towards the ruling party. It also means winning that said seat first in order to entrench that position as no Opp GRC or SMC has gotten over 55% at its first win.

    That entrenchment is a result of hard worn love and loyalty on the ground and I believe it would be hard to replicate without winning the seat first whether its 50.1 or 55.

    I would put it to you another way, in a straight fight against the PAP, the WP needs the SDP vote just as much as the SDP needs the WP vote and both need some of the centre PAP leaning vote, I am assuming in the scenarios that the PAP popular vote hovers at around 60%.

    I would add that if the PE is the new norm by the next round the PAP would be out of power full stop. I can’t see any reason for any particular constituency for the PAP vote share to fall so low from 60 to 35. If it reflects the national average given a GE scenario, and PAP messages on voting wisely and an irresponsible opposition , I am sure the 35 will be 60 again.


    • 38 yawningbread 17 January 2013 at 23:30

      You seem to equate PAP support in GE2011 only with steadfast Pro-PAP voters. That’s not how any political analyst would see it. What I am saying is that about 35% of their 60% vote share came from Pro-PAP bloc, while about 25% came from swing voters.

      • 39 locke 18 January 2013 at 16:33

        Dear Yawning,

        The 25% we are disputing about, what you might consider swing, I would to put it in the swing category albeit with the “caveat” strongly pro PAP leaning. I would argue that historically these 25% have voted for stability as befit a centrist voter and they thus tend to vote PAP. .

        The difference between our two positions is the difference in political strategies over the long term. Firstly if as you claim the hard core PAP base can be reduced to 30% and they lose completely the swing vote we are already talking the region of a total loss of PAP dominance and in unchartered territory.

        I do not see that happening and the PE and the BE should be taken together and one should not flag the PE as the decider for all political change to come.

        A questions you have not answered. How should the SDP or WP win over the 25% whether we define it as a hard core PAP vote or Swing Vote with strong PAP leaning ?


  18. 40 Lau 17 January 2013 at 22:30

    I agree. CSJ should step down as SG of SDP and should move over to ceremonial post. He is definitely useful for SDP but SDP needs to move beyond CSJ. In any case he has been SG of SDP for almost 20 years now – it is time for SDP to move on.

    Punggol BE fiasco is too embarrassing and CSJ must step down.

  19. 41 Patrick 18 January 2013 at 03:12

    You need to recognize that if the WP continue on their current trajectory and assuming there is some essential vitality in being an opposition party in Singapore, there will necessarily only be 2 parties simply thanks to our electoral system, where regardless of whether it’s an SMC or a GRC Singapore uses a first past the post system.'s_law will hold – unless there’s a shift to prop. rep. (which isn’t going to happen) the SDP will dwindle away.

  20. 42 Tan Ah Kow 18 January 2013 at 06:41

    When I think of SDP, I think of a Party analogous to Apple Corporations in the days when Nokia rule the roost in the mobile phone spheres. Many companies, like Ericssion, Sony, etc basically copied Nokia. Workers Party is analogous to Ericsson, which ape Nokia, which is analogous to the PAP.

    Pre iPhone days, no one thought about Apple, which had just climbed out of potential bankruptcy and began to make a splashed with the Macs and eating into Microsoft PCs was going to make a dent in the mobile phone market. The SDP also had similar history in that it almost cave under the spectre of Bankruptcy but has now began to make head ways at least the realm of crafting alternative policy stakes kind of like eating into PAP in the ideas front.

    Also, at least recently, I thought the SDP, like Apple, which is a trait I like was prepared to stick to its principles. Apple in many respect, never bothered about what the pandering to the market and their strategy was to make the market love and adore them. So Apple was never dictated by Nokia in the sense that Nokia defined what mobile phones should be like. When Apple unveiled the iPhone, the world embraced it.

    My view is that the SDP should not be too concerned about gaining seats in Parliament at this juncture or expand so much effort chasing swing votes. At the moment, the electorate’s view is still very much shaped by the PAP world view. Yes, they may not like aspects of the PAP but, as I see it, voters still want a PAP like party, which is the case with Workers Party. Also it would seemed the electorate does hold a somewhat, for want of a term, very simplistic view of politics. Take the case of SDP proposal of having one party run the council and another send an MP to parliament. The fact that the electorate find such notion ‘radical’ is laughable especially when you see lots of that happening in mature democracy. In many countries, you have local government run by one party and national represented by another. Obama for example, a democrat, chose a republicant to be his defence chief.

    As you have indicated in the long run, such arrangement will have to come, maybe not now. Frankly, I don’t think the Workers Party is equipped to do that. For example, look at Ericsson, potentially capable of taking over from Nokia but where is it now?

    Yes, the Workers Party may be on the up now but unless it is equipped to handle the world of tomorrow, it is going to burn especially if it tried to ape the PAP — I.e. Nokia.

    In the longer term, I believe the SDP is likely to succeed if it follow the Apple route. Stick to its principle, not worry too much about the Market share ensure it maintain its fan base and focus on working the ground where it is now, especially when Workers Party don’t have the capacity to reach yet. Wait for the PAP/Workers Party franchise to run its course. Make the electorate adore the SDP not pander to the electorate, whim, which frankly is very, to put it kindly, immature at this stage.

    Certainly, the latest action of the SDP is not the Apple way. It is without doubt a fiasco. It’s like Apple trying to release an iPhone with Keyboard. Fortunately, they have backed down. For their sake, and for people like me who has come to the conclusion that Workers Party is becoming pathetic, it would be sad not to have a ‘radical’ party ready to not just oust the PAP but able to bring fresh thinking.

  21. 43 Tan Ah Kow 18 January 2013 at 07:29

    Oh one more thing the SDP can learn from Apple is the way it deals with its mapping fiasco. In Apple’s case, it had to eat humble pie and acknowledge that it’s rival is good at mapping and turn to their expertise whilst at the same time build its own mapping. It also assured that its users are not left without a crucial app.

    As the SDP acknowledge the electorate likes so call opposition unity or at least the show of it. Well it could demonstrate to the electorate that it is prepare to cooperate. One area it could do so is to say established a working relationship with Workers Party to get its member involved in running town council.

    Like it or not, running Town Council is going to be a fact of life, when winning a seat. Certainly the SDP ain’t going to get any cooperation from the PAP, let alone not getting screwed. Obviously the Workers Party with such experience would be a useful base to draw lesson from and assure the constituencies where the SDP plans to stand that it could run town council too. Maybe a useful project that SDP and Workers Party could work on is developing an open source town council software. So at least if the SDP wins a constituency it would have a solution to run in day one.

    SDP should be seen to make the request so electorate would see the party as willing to learn from a fiasco of its own doing. And if Workers Party rebuff, the electorate can clearly see who is the ‘opposition unity’ spoiler.

    • 44 richard 9 February 2013 at 01:17


      Which electorate? There is a huge base of WP voters who would not want any collaboration with SDP. The only people who would deem it “opposition unity spoiler” would be SDP supporters. The middle ground swing voters who would chose between PAP and Opposition depending on the mood of the day would more likely choose WP.

  22. 45 Tocqueville 18 January 2013 at 08:01

    The two old foxes released Chee from bankruptcy for a purpose. It wasn’t out of the kindness of their hearts but a calculated Machiavellian move. They knew that Chee is a bull in a china shop and setting him free would be releasing a cat among the pigeons.

    • 46 Rogueeconomist 18 January 2013 at 13:32

      The way I see it is that when CSJ first came upon the political scene, it was expected at the time that such a highly qualified candidate would pose a serious political threat, given that the opposition candidates were largely less qualified and less articulate.

      However time and experience have now demonstrated that the greatest political threat comes from parties with strong grassroots connections and support. The ‘elite’ opposition candidates have actually done very poorly. This should not be surprising because the ‘elite’ PAP candidates would also do very badly without the benefit of the strong PAP grassroots network (which, one day, will start to question the PAP policy of favoring parachuting elites into a constituency to contest instead of picking say, the Branch Secretary or local community organizer – but that’s a story for another day).

      So I agree that releasing CSJ to contest makes all the sense in the world. He and his party are not quite unelectable, but without more focus on what matters for local elections (grassroots work, recruiting supporters) and less on international grandstanding, they don’t have a chance. Unfortunately for CSJ and KJ they seem to enjoy their international grandstanding a bit too much.

      • 47 yuen 19 January 2013 at 06:36

        > more focus on what matters for local elections (grassroots work, recruiting supporters) and less on international grandstanding, they don’t have a chance. Unfortunately for CSJ and KJ they seem to enjoy their international grandstanding a bit too much.

        to be fair to the two individuals you criticize, grassroots work is a lot more difficult than international grandstanding – you have to compete with the strong PAP and WP organizations already present, and there is a tendency for quarrels to start over small issues (like what caused Chiam See Tong to leave SDP and SDA, and Hazel Poa/Nocole Seah etc to leave RP), whereas websites and foreign reporters, even ST, readily report visits to Yale etc. I am not aware of NY Times or Wall Street Journal reporting CSJ’s visit to Puggol…

  23. 48 AT 23 January 2013 at 15:35

    Saw these two videos explaining about the problem with first past the post system and the alternative vote system. Sounds simple and concise!

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