The party to watch in GE2020 is not the Workers’ Party (WP), but Tan Cheng Bock’s.
As Singaporeans were wading through a wet and cold morning today (June 24), a very famous man donned the red colours of the Progress Singapore Party and turned up at the Tiong Bahru hawker centre.
Those political pundits shaking their heads and complaining about a walk in the park for the ruling party must have started to re-look the jigsaw puzzle and ask themselves where to fit this man’s move.
Will a politics-shy Lee Hsien Yang, the Prime Minister’s brother, stand for election? He cannot not afford to because the time has come for him to show his hand. That means all the teasing photographs of him appearing with Tan in public over the last year must stop.
With Nomination Day just six days away, Tan and Lee must get serious and stop their mind games and tell voters if Lee is in or out.
Also, Lee’s pit stop at Tiong Bahru this morning cannot have been done just for optics. The area is part of Tanjong Pagar, which has been Lee’s father’s constituency from 1955 to 2015, and his coffeeshop tête-à-tête shows a determination to put the family fight over the former PM’s Oxley Road property smack in the centre of the election campaign.
One source described this morning’s show as a game changer. Game changer or not, Lee’s coffeeshop presence added a sense of excitement to an election that some felt was going to be a non-event as the People’s Action Party (PAP) pushes its Covid-19 agenda by crowing about its S$100 billion economic and social stimulus.
One cannot ignore what other tricks a battle-hardened and wily old fox like Tan will pull out from his bag. He is 80 and was a PAP MP from 1980 to 2006, scoring an enviable record of 70 per cent-plus votes in the elections he fought under the PAP banner.
And for Tan, this will be his last electoral contest and if he fights in West Coast GRC, the ward might just turn out to be a highlight of GE2020.
Where does all this leave WP, which has been the Opposition voters’ darling all this while?
It released a short and intriguing video yesterday with the faces of 12 possible candidates. The video had just two words, “GE 2020”, no sound and only images. Missing from the video were four people, Low Thia Khiang, Png Eng Huat, Chen Show Mao and Faisal Manap.
Chen’s absence was kind of expected because of his near silence in Parliament for a long time and his challenge of Low for the secretary-general’s post four years ago. But Low and Png’s no-show in the video was surprising. It is now a foregone conclusion that the two won’t stand for election.
In another video released today, the 12 who were featured talked about their ideals and their experiences with the WP. Again, the four men were missing.
Two implications are staring at our faces. With the Aljunied GRC team looking weak and Hougang without MP Png, the WP is headed for a difficult ride. Both are ripe for PAP’s picking. One possibility is for the party to send heavyweight Sylvia Lim to Hougang and be prepared to sacrifice Aljunied GRC.
As the PAP tries to use the pandemic as the central issue in this election, Lee Hsien Yang’s move and WP’s polls future may just become the defining features of GE2020.
PN Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who was formerly chief editor of Today and The New Paper. He is the author of the book Reluctant Editor and is currently a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.