Why the PAP got Hammered in Punggol East

The news is out – Workers’ Party won over 54% of the votes in Punggol East while the PAP only garnered about 43%. It was not unexpected though, because some key trends were glaringly clear throughout the short hustings period. You’ll read plenty of analyses in the media this coming week, but I thought I’d get ahead of the pack first.

(I won’t even bother to write about Reform Party or Singapore Democratic Alliance because all they did was to waste their own elections deposits and everyone’s time with their poorly thought-out campaigns and rhetoric.)

In highly connected Singapore, elections are now run on social media. The rallies’ real impact was created when shared virally. And Dr Koh’s “Everyone has a car” quote may have been out of context but damaged his campaign more than anything else IMO.

The influence of traditional media was minimal unless they are fully online like Today, which did an excellent job of tweeting updates and doing follow up reports.

What the PAP needs is a truly strong communications expert who is able to strategize every bit of their PR. It can’t be an old media “expert” but someone who knows how to wield and shape online sentiment. Right now, it’s pretty obvious that person has not been hired yet. I remember before GE2011, the PAP brushed off online comments as “Internet chatter” and I wrote that they’ll regret that.

PAP folks post a lot on Facebook but never respond to any comments. So they shouldn’t even bother because they’re treating FB like it’s a print newspaper.

The big guns no longer have any major impact on the vote. Everyone from the PM to Kee Chiew came down to Punggol, and the more they said, the angrier the people got (at least online). The population of Punggol is younger than most mature estates, and the young people are fed up with all the wrong policies of the past 15 years. The residents are also immune to all the Gahmen announcements on transport, Baby Bonus and housing fixes being trotted out in the space of one week. Too much and too late.

The PAP has long prided itself on incorruptibility and integrity. Then their rising star Michael Palmer messed himself and his party in the worst possible way. You can wear white clothes, but you need to practice what you preach. That is why the PAP’s old mantra of being clean has lost much of its power over the people.

Li Lian represented the common Singaporean facing all the daily bread and butter issues. Dr Koh represented yet another rich guy the PAP wanted to parachute into the Cabinet. Seriously, who do you think the people want to vote for? Sob stories of a poor childhood do nothing if you have two cars.

There is still much resentment on the ground after GE2011 – a general sense that nothing has really improved today. Wages have lagged behind costs. Frequent breakdowns of the MRT remind people of forced overcrowding and poor transport management. Sky high COEs remind people of inflation. The education system reminds parents that children are unnecessarily stressed. Is this the country that the PAP has built where only the rich can be happy?

In the space of a by-election, it was impossible to deal with all those major issues, though some attempts were made. Even with the pay cut, our PAP ministers are still earning a lot (and we don’t know the extent of their performance bonuses). The issues we face are not the same issues they face.

That’s why whether it is a by-election or general election, it’s about connecting with the voter lah. So simple, yet so difficult when you don’t have to take the train to work.

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Ian Tan

Ian worked in the media industry for a decade, focusing on communications, photography and technology. He now works in the IT industry, permanently plugged into his PC and Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Why the PAP got Hammered in Punggol East”

  1. Good summary. Just to add that more people trust WP now as WP has shown itself capable of managing a GRC estate even as it substantially lowers the conservancy charges while PAP increases theirs. As to whether elected MPs should be managing estate matters like sweeping leaves, mopping lifts, clearing garbage etc, that is a separate issue that unfortunately is not ever going to be discussed nationally for the forseeable future.

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