It’s a sign of how starved of political excitement we are that an announcement of a likely slate of People’s Action Party candidates for Sengkang GRC can set tongues wagging about an election in the offing.
For those who are wondering about a by-election in Sengkang, please remember that it can only be called if all the sitting MPs in GRC decide to step down. Do you think the Workers’ Party will do that simply because Ms Raeesah Khan is no longer an MP and there are still three others to hold the fort? Can they be compelled to? I don’t see how.
Then there are those who are wondering about a snap general election, which isn’t constitutionally due till November 2025. If it were me calling the shots for an election (and it’s not me) I would wait for a few things to happen.
I would wait to see the verdict of the appeal by the WP against the court judgment that they were responsible for town council lapses and might have to make good on the losses. If the court allows the appeal in its entirety, the suit against the WP leaders and other parties will be dismissed. If the appeal fails, a second tranche of the trial will commence at a later date to assess damages that the defendants will have to pay. The WP would really be in a pickle then. Individual town council members like Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim might well be made bankrupt, although we can’t quite tell in these crowd-funding days.
Then there is the question of whether police found evidence of a crime in the Raeesah Khan case. That is, whether they found that WP leaders had deliberately lied to the parliamentary select committee when they denied intentionally covering up her lie. If so, and the Attorney-General decides to prosecute, it would be another spanner in the WP machinery. If convicted, they could not only lose their seats but be denied the chance to stand for re-election for the next five years.
Presuming that all three WP leaders involved in the saga, including Mr Faisal Manap, were dealt with, there’s not even a need for a snap GE. A by-election might well have to be called, not in Sengkang, but in Aljunied GRC because the two remaining members of Aljunied GRC can’t possibly argue that they can cover the duties of the rest.
As a citizen who has no chance of influencing a GE date, I would think that the G would at least acknowledge the need to pronounce a successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before deciding to go to the polls. After all, we already had a false start in GE2020, thinking that Mr Heng Swee Keat would be the man. The path had looked paved for him with his ascension in the PAP ranks to first assistant secretary-general, and as Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet.
Now we should wait to see how the PAP leadership shuffles itself, after the bi-ennal election for members of the central executive committee. Or, the 4G leaders might decide to do things differently and announce who would be first among equals, and then get the decision endorsed at a PAP meeting of cadres. That party conference won’t happen till the end of this year. And there is still time for another, in 2024.
I doubt, however, that the PAP would wait so long after talking so much about the need for a “long runway’’ for the next PM-to-be. Also, the Covid-19 pandemic already seems endemic which means that PM Lee has done his job of supervising the country out of the woods. That is, after all, the reason he gave for staying on beyond age 70, which he surpassed in February. He evinced a lack of confidence in the 4G leadership, or rather, believed that the people had less confidence in them, than in him. This is summed up in the phrase ‘don’t change horses mid-stream’.
I believe that the last GE would have been called as a vote of confidence in Mr Heng and the 4G leadership – if the Covid-19 virus had not intervened. Instead, it became a question of who can lead Singapore out of the Covid-19 morass. The next GE would probably be more “normal’’ – a mandate for a new PM in charge of the 4G with plans for an inclusive Singapore.
But before that can happen, some other things would have to be in place, like a clear foreign workers’ policy that puts Singaporeans first to stymie opposition efforts to make discrimination a rallying cry. Some steps have already been made in changing requirements for Special and Employment passes. But we’re still waiting for the full works on discriminatory hiring to be firmed up and made law.
Because the G is obsessed with the idea of foreign agents manipulating Singaporean behaviour, including during election time, I would expect to see some action on the FICA front (Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act) as a warning sign not to interfere. Also, given that “race’’ has become a potent issue these days, hate speech laws can be expected to be in place to stop the issue from blowing up during the hustings.
And let’s not forget the rise in GST which starts next year and continues the year after. However the G frames the election, to the people, it might well be a bread-and-butter election, more than about any abstract issue of mandates. So a lot would depend on the mood of the population and the timing of offset packages to blunt the impact of price rises. Or the G might as well wait for the 2 full percentage points to sink in so that the population is inured to its effects. That would take us past 2024.
So it’s not going to be a “snap’’ poll methinks. More like a business-as-usual one.