There had been much speculation that the Worker’s Party could be fielding Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Gerald Giam for the Punggol East by-election instead of the party’s deputy webmaster and previous candidate for the ward, Lee Li Lian.
So when both Giam and Lee entered the party’s headquarters together for the scheduled press conference on Monday morning, the media was left playing the guessing game till the last minute.
In the end, Lee was officially introduced as the selected candidate by party chairperson Sylvia Lim.
Political observers are not surprised at the decision and believe the party has selected the right person to be its candidate.
Former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong said, “I always thought that the Workers' Party should go with Li Lian, to maintain continuity with their choice for GE2011 and demonstrate their faith in and commitment to her as a candidate.”
When asked if Giam may have been a better choice considering his experience in Parliament and higher media profile as an NCMP, Siew said Giam may have better exposure in a short-term tactical sense but noted that “his Parliamentary record also opens him up to potential attack, for instance in relation to his performance during the Ministerial salaries debate.”
“From a longer-term macro perspective, I think Li Lian was the better choice, because it gives better positioning to the Workers’ Party as a party,” said Siew, who also noted Lee’s experience in contesting the Punggol East ward in 2011.
Calling the decision to field Lee an “honourable decision,” veteran newsman and media consultant PN Balji told Yahoo! Singapore that “Lee is familiar to Punggol East residents and did quite well there in the last polls.”
Lee managed to garner 41 per cent of the votes at her last outing at the ward during the 2011 general election, though she lost out to the People’s Action Party’s then candidate, Michael Palmer, who won 54.5 per cent of the votes.
Her surprisingly good performance was also cited by former Nominated MP and sociologist associate professor Paulin Tay-Straughan from the National University of Singapore.
“You could argue that the Workers’ Party is leveraging on her past experience at Punggol East. Forty-one per cent of the votes is significant for a relatively unknown candidate and she was up against a much more experienced People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate, Michael Palmer,” Tay-Straughan said.
Both Siew and Balji expect Lee will likely campaign on the need for more opposition voices in Parliament.
Lee will be up against the PAP’s Dr Koh Poh Koon who has been already been busy pounding the ground at Punggol East ward since he was announced as the ruling party’s candidate last week.
But she might have more opponents to face, if candidates from parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Reform Party and others join in the battle for the single-seat ward come Nomination Day on 16 January.
Political analyst Eugene Tan said that the Workers’ Party will try to show how different Lee’s contribution would be if she is elected.
“Others might say, ‘do you want the same voice?’ since the Workers’ Party already has eight voices in Parliament. If it’s a three-cornered or multi-cornered fight, the party may want to show how Lee has a different voice perhaps,” said Tan, who is also a law lecturer at Singapore Management University.
Tan believes the fight at Punggol East will be a two-horse race between the Workers’ Party and the PAP, even if others join in the battle.
“The others run the danger of faring very badly or even losing their deposits,” he warned. “Even if SDP sends their candidate, the opposition supporters are likely to stand behind just one candidate and that’s likely to be Lee.”