Saturday, 26 January 2013

Postmortem of the PE by-election

26th January 2013

How not to run an election campaign?

Leong Sze Hian
Snap by-election?
The decision to hold a snap by-election, on hindsight may have backfired, The outcome has shown that almost all the pundits were wrong in thinking that it may be very hard for the incumbent to lose in a multi-cornered fight.

Multi-cornered fights?
Perhaps what this has shown is that history, as in the outcomes of past multi-cornered fights, need not necessary repeat  itself.
This may be a historical landmark, on greater democracy in Singapore, at least from the perspective of elections, and be more alike other countries. The mindset block that multi-cornered flights must be avoided at all costs may start to diminish. The high deposit and fear of losing one’s deposit which arguably may have worked in the past to discourage more candidates, may now be a double-edged sword because as demonstrated by this by-election – the two candidates who fought against all odds, may have contributed to the unexpected wide  winning margin of the new Member of Parliament for Punggol-East, Ms Lee Li Lian of the Workers’ Party.

“Underdog” effect?
Allow me to explain my reasoning for the above.  Some voters may have also felt along the same lines as most of the pundits that since it was perceived that the incumbent cannot lose in a multi-cornered fight, it wouldn’t make much of a difference if they voted for what I call “the underdog” effect.

So, we may have to thank all the opposition parties and independents who in a sense, contributed to the multi-cornered fight and the snap election.
This may have enhanced the so called “by-election” effect further.
Also, considering the unhappiness of the residents with various issues like transport and amenities, some may just have voted for the Workers’ Party, thinking that it may not make any difference to the incumbent anyway – and express one’s unhappiness by denying the incumbent from winning with “too many” votes.

Just joined party?
Why field a candidate who reported only joined the party about a month ago? This may give the perception to some voters – is this the best that you can come up with?

High calibre means less time?
Fielding a candidate who is so successful, hold so many appointments, etc, that may make some voters wonder as to how he can find the time to serve the residents?
In this connection, saying that the candidate has the potential to reach greater heights in political office, may mean that he may be even more busy, and thus may have even less time for the residents.

Having a more qualified and successful career-wise candidate may also reinforce the perception as to his time available to serve the residents, and to some extent the “David versus Goliath” and “underdog” effect too.
The 23 Jan 2013 Straits Times report “Koh said ‘no’ to PM at first”, probably didn’t help either.

Goodies galore?
The unprecedented announcements of so many “goodies” like MRT lines in 2030 (17 years from now!) may have been somewhat of an “overkill” that may give some voters the impression that “goodies” galore only come out before elections.

Population white paper?
The delay of the expected full release of the white paper on population was initially probably not very significant, but perhaps luck may have played a part with the analysis from a financial institution that if the population grows to seven million, it may be good for Singapore  - may also have contributed to some unhappiness amongst voters.

“AIM” issue?
Announcing the by-election just a day after the decision to hold a review on the “AIM” affair, may have given the perception to some voters that  we may be trying to get the by-election over with, before the review. Some may feel that the review’s findings may have an adverse effect if the by-election is held after the review.
Also, the almost immediate response from Coordinating Chairman of PAP Town Councils, Dr Teo Ho Pin, later in the night on the same day (22  Jan) to Ms Sylvia Lim’s remarks about the AIM issue in her rally speech, which was generally perceived as a rather weak response, probably didn’t help either.

article from Leong Sze Hian
Sze Hian is the Past President of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, an alumnus of Harvard University, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow and an author of 4 books. He is frequently quoted in the media. He has also been invited to speak more than 100 times in 25 countries on 5 continents. He has served as Honorary Consul of Jamaica, Chairman of the Institute of Administrative Management, and founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Brunei and Indonesia. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional qualifications. 

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