Sunday, May 07, 2006

8.7% swing to the opposition in yesterday's election

Yesterday's Singapore General Election result is a big problem for the PAP – there was a swing of 8.7% to the opposition parties.

Our people are working extra hard to present the election as a success for us and to claim it as a mandate for our next term of govenment, but the fact is that it shows that we are losing support. In reality, it was a heavy blow both to the party and to the leadership of Lee Hsien Loong.

Our strategy for managing the situation is to keep people's attention focused on two statistics that make the election look like a good outcome for the PAP. They are:
1. The PAP won 82 out of 84 seats; and
2. The PAP won 66.6% of the votes cast.

If we look at these numbers alone, the election appears to be a success for us. When we look at the bigger picture however, the problem becomes obvious.

In the 2001 election, the PAP won 75.3% of the votes cast. In this election however, we won only 66.6% of the votes cast. That equals a swing away from the PAP of 8.7% between 2001 and 2006 and means that despite our control of the media and all the other advantages which we had during the campaign, this election saw us lose 8.7% of our voters to the opposition. That's almost one in ten people who voted PAP in 2001 going over to vote for the opposition in this election. Ouch.

The challenge for the PAP in the immediate post-election period is to keep this fact out of the public's view. If Singaporeans start to realise that there has been such a significant drop in support for the PAP, then they will see through our claim that this election gives us a mandate and reinforces PM Lee's leadership. Of course we will be able to keep this out of the newspapers and off the television, but we can't control discussion on the internet and in coffee shops in the same way, and that is our main concern.

What such a large swing away from the PAP means for us is that we will have to take a close look at both our strategy and our leadership if we are to halt this trend and avoid an even more embarrassing result at the next election. Of course with the way our parliament is made up, we could handle another swing of the same magnitude in the next election and barely lose any seats to the opposition, but that's not the problem - the problem is that it would make us look like our grip on power was loosening.

As to strategy, it seems that our traditional approach of porkbarrelling which this time included the pre-election "Progress Payment" and offers of estate upgrading is no longer working. Nor does it seem that our control of the television and print media is enough - in fact there is some evidence that it may work against us and make us seem authoritarian. One area of focus for the next election however will definately be the internet, which was used against us in this election with what seems to have been great effect.

On the topic of leadership, I wrote a few days ago about discontent within certain sections of the PAP about PM Lee's performance as leader, and especially his inability to score points on the opposition during the election campaign. If PM Lee was not the son of Lee Kuan Yew, there is no doubt in my mind that there would be calls for him to step down before the next election and be replaced with someone who could rebuild support for the PAP and perform better during an election. It is difficult to see him being replaced though, so my guess is that we will have to move some strong deputy leaders up beside him over the next few years to compensate.

For now though, those things can wait.

Over the coming days, we must focus on our key message of a mandate, and taking 82 of the 84 seats in the new parliament. If we can repeat this long enough and loud enough, hopefully we can drown out the voices of those who would ask us "How can you claim that his election was a success for the PAP and an endorsement of Lee Hsien Loong's leadership when there was an 8.7% swing to the opposition?"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fear – the PAP's most powerful weapon

The secret to the PAP's success is fear.

That's the simple truth, and although only a brave few will ever say so publicly, everyone knows it.

The PAP actively works to make Singaporeans fearful, and there are basically two types of fear that we use.

The first is fear of the PAP itself. This is the fear that anyone who stands up to the PAP or the government will be punished and be made to suffer. Standing up to the PAP might mean voting for or joining an opposition party, or speaking out about something that the PAP or government is doing. The ways that someone might suffer for that could include being sacked from their job, having family members lose their jobs, not being able to find another job, or being sued and bankrupted.

The second type of fear that we use is the fear of the alternatives to a PAP government. We create exaggerated scenarios for what might happen if Singapore had more opposition MPs, or a government formed by non-PAP parties. These scenarios are many and varied, but they all involve either the economy taking a turn for the worse, or political instability.

Fear is the cornerstone of the PAP's strategy in this election , just as it has been in past elections. It has served us well for 40 plus years, and is as effective today as it ever was.

Here are the first two examples which I found in the media today of PAP public figures playing the "fear card" in the election campaign.

Jalan Besar GRC candidate Denise Phua said on Tuesday that if more opposition members were elected to parliament "the analysts will rate our political risk very high, it'll be negative; the stock market will tumble; potential investors will hold back their investments; current business will seriously think about moving business out of Singapore."

On Monday, SM Goh said "Be careful of planting seeds of Opposition in the Parliament as a tree may grow out of it. What kind of tree? No one knows."

Of course we know that the real danger of strong opposition parties in Singapore is not to Singapore itself, but only to the PAP's chances of reelection. All democracies in the developed world have strong opposition parties and political and financial instability are no more likely to occur in those countries than they are in Singapore. Even though the dangers that we speak of for Singapore don't really exist, if we can keep Singaporeans believing that they do, we will remain in government.

It might seem strange to think about fear in Singapore, because the PAP spends a lot of time telling everyone what a safe country we live in. Does it ever occur to you that you are afraid? Maybe not. Singaporeans are so used to living in fear that that most of the time we don't even notice it. Others notice though. When foreigners come to Singapore, they comment that Singaporeans are a repressed people, tense and afraid to speak our minds. They can see what we cannot see because we are surrounded by it every day and for us it is "normal".

So as the election draws to a close, keep the fear tactic in mind and see how subtly and how often it is used, not just in the election but every day of the year.