Multi-cornered by-election battle favours PAP: analysts

Fann Sim
The single-seat constituency is expected to be hotly contested with as many as five parties -- including the Workers' Party, Singapore Democratic Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance and even the Reform Party. (AFP file photo)

Political analysts say the upcoming by-election in Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC) will favour the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), especially if it ends up being a multi-party contest.
Political analyst and political science professor Bridget Welsh said, "the more the opposition is divided, the greater the chances the PAP retains the seat."
"This by-election favours the PAP as the incumbent and given the multi-corner contest. But the issues continue to favour the opposition as a whole," she added.
A writ of election was issued by the President on Wednesday, calling for Nomination Day to be held next Wednesday, 16 Jan. If more than one candidate contests the seat, Polling Day will be held 10 days later on 26 Jan.
On what is expected of the fielded candidates, Welsh said party representatives will be heavily scrutinized and it is likely that personal attacks will continue to feature throughout the campaign period.
"What is important, however, is the broader issues. For the last three elections, the PAP has been on the defensive," she said.
For the PAP, the key will be whether they can dominate the campaign, tapping into the Singapore Conversation, or continue to face criticism from a variety of issues raised by the opposition, Welsh said.
For the opposition parties, the key will be how they message the campaign and whether they will focus on the PAP or at one another, she added.
Political observer and veteran journalist P N Balji said that strategy-wise, the opposition will highlight national issues like the ongoing Town Council computer systems controversy.

In contrast, the PAP would localise the election, focusing on their track record and local issues such as the kind of services they can bring to Punggol East residents.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Siew Kum Hong said that if the by-election is at least a three-corner fight, that will favour the PAP.
"PAP scored around 55 per cent in last year's General Election; if there is a significant swing against the PAP and their vote share drops below 50 per cent, a multi-corner fight will make it easier for the PAP to win," he said.
On calling the by-election on such short notice, Siew also agreed that the timing favours the PAP.
"It seems that PM Lee decided to do it the other way [round], to get this by-election out of the way before we get into those very serious discussions," said Siew, referring to the upcoming population white paper later this month and Singapore Budget in February.
"The timing also favours the PAP, because the opposition has not yet had enough time, ramp-up and work the ground," Siew said.
Political commentator and co-founder of OnlinelOffline, a socio-political discussion platform, Ravi Philemon said “the PM probably called for an early election because he did not want immigration to be an election issue” given that the white paper on population could prove to be a hot-button issue.
As there are a number of new families with young children residing in Punggol East, candidates who reflect the sentiments of the voters' profile would do well in this by-election, he said.
“But whether we want it or not, multi-cornered electoral battles will become a reality in the foreseeable future,” Ravi said.
“If it's a straight fight opposition sympathisers want, then we're only going to get that when we have something like Malaysia's Pakatan Rakyat here. And the likelihood of that happening in Singapore, appears to be very slim,” he added.

Related links

President issues Writ of Election for Punggol East, Nomination Day 16th of Jan