Election 2011 is a tough one to call for a number of reasons and the public mood is unpredictable and capable of swinging either way.
HUNDREDS of family members enjoying their breakfast looked up in surprise as a thunderous applause broke out and everyone rushed towards five approaching figures.
They were opposition candidates who were campaigning in Aljunied, mingling with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for photographs.
The suburban quiet was broken by spontaneous shouts of “Workers’ Party”.
This is Election 2011, Singapore. In the midst of electioneering, every party is campaigning with gusto.
The noisy Aljunied reception is an indication of the intense feelings of many of its residents, whose ward remains an opposition hot spot capable of returning giant killers.
The importance of the election is not lost on the 2.2 million voters. Tens of thousands flock to rallies every night.
Singaporeans, who love a good wager, are busy working out the odds.
Many are betting on a significant erosion of public support for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has governed their city for 50 years.
What is giving the PAP and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a headache is the rising public unhappiness emerging from the rallies and the Internet. If translated into votes, they’ll be in trouble.
The sentiment is obviously shared by the stock market. It nervously dropped 75 points in three days, fearing the PAP may fare worse than its representatives are prepared to reveal.
“If it loses two or three Group Representative Constituencies (each with four to six candidates) – say 15 seats – you can expect a knee-jerk fall of 100 to 200 points,” said a stockbroker.
Despite the 14.5% gross domestic product rise, this middle-class society is not feeling richer or happier individually.
Many are irked by the large foreign intake, which is depressing job opportunities and salary levels.
Twice in the same day, Lee apologised to the nation for mistakes made by his Government in past years.
“If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry. But we will try better the next time,” he said.
Hsien Loong acknowledged that the building of the two casinos had caused side effects, such as gambling problems among the locals.
He also apologised over four other issues – the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat, the Orchard Road flooding as well as high home prices and overcrowded MRT trains – the last two resulting from the large intake of foreigners.
His apology contrasted with his father Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s threatening approach.
The senior Lee warned Aljunied voters they would have five years “to repent” if they voted for the opposition.
But Hsien Loong said: “I think you’ve got used to our style. We don’t try to do it MM’s style.
“We do it our way, we spend some time to talk, to explain … to overcome some of these working problems so that we can go in the right strategic directions.”
The PAP leader’s apology and the significant pressure exerted on him by a new crop of opposition politicians have virtually ended the PAP’s stranglehold on this island.
It was immediately echoed by another PAP candidate, Grace Fu, who said at a rally: “We’re humans, we make mistakes.”
The PAP rarely mouths such words.
The election will fill 82 of Parliament’s 87 seats. One five-member PAP GRC was won when the opposition turned up 35 seconds late.
So who will win what?
The present election, unlike previous ones, is a tough one to call for a number of reasons.
For one thing, it is heavily contested and involves a rich choice for voters.
There are many quality opposition candidates who are as good if not better than the ruling party’s, so making a reasoned opinion is hard.
At the same time, many are voting for the first time, either because they have just reached 21 years old or because walkovers had deprived them the chance for years, even decades.
Evaluating how they will vote is no easy thing.
There are also too many issues affecting people’s lives, and some of these are tearing into the hearts of unhappy PAP die-hards.
Many would probably stay loyal and continue to give the ruling party another five years of overwhelming mandate. The number of PAP loyalists and fence-sitters who will throw their support behind the opposition will be decisive.
It is not possible to use past yardsticks to assess the outcome of this election. The public mood is unpredictable, and capable of swinging one way or the other by a few per cent.
A few believe the PAP will win all except one seat, while others predict the opposition will win as many as 17 or 18 seats.
Aljunied, apparently will almost certainly go down in history as the first GRC to be won by the opposition. One or two more GRCs lost could signify a major defeat for the PAP – by its own standards.
That will lay the ground for the emergence of a two-party political system by 2016, with an opposition capable of taking over from the PAP.
How will the PAP react to a negative result in preparation for the next election?
Brig-Gen (NS) Tan Chuan Jin’s warning that the PAP’s moral authority to lead would take a hit if it failed to address public frustration and angst says a lot.
The PAP candidate (considered a core leader) admitted that voters were “troubled, angry even” over issues such as the fairness of the GRC system and the attacks on the opposition.
“We need to be more compassionate and less calculative,” said Tan