Achilles' Heel: Can PAP Snatch Aljunied GRC, Hougang SMC from WP in Singapore GE2020?

Despite dominating all over Singapore, PAP has failed to win Aljunied GRC since 2006 and Hougang SMC since 1991

The general perception of Singapore's election is that it is a one-party show. Although that's not correct, the observation is not wrong either. Since the city-state's independence in 1965, the People's Action Party (PAP) has won every single General or Parliamentary elections with massive majority.

Although the republic has tried to increase oppositions' presence in parliament, the number is still minute. In the last GE in 2015, PAP won 83 out of 89 electoral seats while the Workers' Party managed six. The total number of MPs is 105 including 12 nominated. In the recently dissolved parliament, nine MPs were nominated by the President while three were Non-Constituency MPs (best losing candidates).

PAP and WP logo
It's PAP vs WP in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC

PAP's Domination Ends Here

However, even with such domination, PAP's Achilles' heel has been Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC. In Hougang, PAP last managed to win in 1988 while in Aljunied, they have failed in the last three GEs. Aljunied, a five-MP GRC, has gone to Workers' Party since 2006 while the single-seat Hougang has been their stronghold for almost three decades.

This time, a rushed election due to the Coronavirus pandemic with no physical rallies and only online campaigns, could go either way. Despite the advantage of an election amid COVID-19 when movement is restricted, it seems unlikely for PAP as WP Secretary-General Pritam Singh is the only notable presence among the opposition and Aljunied and Hougang voters prefer to maintain the status quo.

WP, on the other hand, expected a stronger show from PAP and replaced two of its candidates — Chen Show Mao and Low Thia Khiang — with former NCMP Gerald Giam and current NCMP Leon Perera. They retained the three winning candidates — Sylvia Lim, Faisal Manap besides Singh.

WP candidates from Aljunied GRC
L-R: WP's Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap, Sylvia Lim, Gerald Giam and Leon Perera will contest from Aljunied GRC Workers' Party

PAP's Suicide Squad?

However, PAP seems to have already conceded the five seats with no ministers in the line-up but consists of two new faces. PAP has made three changes to the five-member line-up that lost by two percent in 2015. Newcomers Alex Yeo and Chan Hui have been added to the existing team of Victor Lye, Chua Eng Long and Shamsul Kamar. However, terming the team 'suicide squad', Singaporeans are wondering why PAP hasn't fielded a minister to have a chance to win the seat back.

"PAP has sent another suicide squad to Aljunied GRC. Have they resigned to not regaining the ward ever? Or will the brouhaha of the lawsuit of WP's GRC mismanagement be enough to regain the ward?" a Twitter user posted.

But PAP believes its agenda on the economic recovery of the republic will be enough to guarantee a win. PAP's Lye says that their plan is to bring Aljunied to the national table and serve the residents better during the uncertain times.

"This is a crisis and we need to chart a very special way for Singapore to go forward. We can see the cries for help that come through the internet. We see a younger generation that needs jobs. Let's care about that first. And the people of Aljunied need representatives to do that for them," he added.

PAP candidates in Aljunied GRC
L-R: PAP's Victor Lye, Chan hui Yuh, Alex Yeo, Chua Eng Leong and Shamsul Kamar will contest from Aljunied GRC People's Action Party

Although WP has a strong chance of retaining the seats, Singh is humble in assessing the odds. He believes that it will be a difficult election and a clean sweep by PAP isn't an unexpected scenario.

"The WP is always up against an opponent who is much more well-resourced, and which always fights hard in every election. So, obviously I want our candidates to do well. And to fight equally hard, and make sure that their efforts through these nine days inspire their best efforts," he told media after filing nomination on June 30.

WP's Fortress

For Hougang constituency, PAP has retained its candidate in Lee Hong Chuang who lost to WP's Png Eng Huat with 42.3 percent of votes. This time, Huat isn't contesting the election and he has been replaced by NCMP Dennis Tan, who lost to PAP's Cheryl Chan in the now-dissolved Fengshan SMC.

However, it is one constituency, WP has been confident of winning. First gained in 1991 by Low Thia Khiang, whose legacy has been such that the SMC remained WP's fortress. WP has managed 60 percent of mandates on average since then. In the 2015GE, WP's Huat won with 57.69 percent of votes.

Hougang candidates
In Hougang SMC, PAP's Lee Hong Chuang (left) will contest against WP's Dennis Tan PAP and WP

Political analysts believe this is due to the "Low effect" that has won WP the seat and a change in party is unlikely. Low, 63, although, moved to Aljunied in 2011 before winning in Hougang four times, this time he is contesting due to ill health.

"I would think the 'Low Thia Khiang effect' is even stronger than in the last two general elections in 2015 and even 2011, when he moved to Aljunied and got Yaw Shin Leong to replace him in Hougang," Eugene Tan, an associate professor at Singapore Management University (SMU), told The Business Times. "WP has also fielded their rising star Dennis Tan in Hougang. So, I don't see WP being in any grave danger of losing Hougang to the PAP."

That fact, however, doesn't bother PAP's candidate. Lee feels serving the community has been his most important agenda. "For me, the most important thing is to build friendships and be able to serve the community with my best ability," he said.

"Unknowingly I have served Hougang for 6 years since 2014, holding 3 volunteer portfolios. Time flies when you enjoy what you do and this is only possible working together with Hougang residents, volunteers, grassroots leaders and friends," he said in a post on Facebook.