Writing about general elections can be a risky exercise. The main risks? Getting your predictions way off target and ending up with egg in your face and a massive dent in your professional credibility in a pre-election book. Or trying to over-analyse everything and garnering all sorts of unnecessary details after the election which totally misses the real story.
This was what an academic said about GE2020: “It is without a doubt that GE2020 will be a landslide victory for the PAP. In fact, the Opposition may be entirely annihilated this election. Singaporean voters will run back to papa.” Nothing of the sort took place. To be fair to him, many other so-called observers also got it wrong about other aspects of GE2020, not so much about annihilation but more on the margins of the results.
Apparently, there was talk about the Workers’ Party fighting for its dear life in Aljunied GRC. Why? Oh, the PAP grassroots team had been working very hard on the ground since 2015 (indeed since 2011!). The AHTC trial lah, you know. PAP said how to trust the WP to run the town council.
Above all, the incumbent usually held all the cards. What could the WP possibly offer? What could the party have that could rival the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations packages which were part of the PAP’s attempts to correct earlier policies that sidelined Singaporeans in the over-eager push for dazzlingly high economic growth.
And don’t forget the Covid-19 budgets totalling almost $100 billion.
A lot of the doomsday prediction about the fate of the Opposition for GE2020 sprang from their poor performance in GE2015. As it turned out, we now know that GE2015 simply postponed an inevitable political trend. The electorate put aside their desire for greater check and balance and paid their debt to Lee Kuan Yew who passed away that year. There were other factors, of course, including an overall change, for the better, in the PAP’s attitude towards the Opposition away from thetake-it-or-leave-it knuckle-duster years of the 1G leaders.
It was this change – and efforts to better engage voters on the ground in working out the details of policies and programmes – which blindsided many experts somewhat.
I now see the GE2020 results as a reflection of the extent of voters’ expectations of the type of political leaders that they really want or even the issues that they regard as crucial for THEIR future society, and not some destiny thrown at them by previous generations.
It is not just a matter of getting younger candidates to create an impression that you are in tune with, say, the Millennials or future generations. These young candidates must genuinely resonate with the younger voters.
Let me give an example. Take the WP’s Sengkang GRC team which for all purposes are now the “IT” team for many young Singaporeans, even more so than PritamSingh and his GRC mates in Aljunied GRC.
I was at a colleague’s wedding dinner held more than a week ago at Tanglin Mall. Attending any social function was already such a rare thing nowadays, what with all the Covid-19 restrictions. Making it even more memorable was the superb Indian cuisine and great company. But what stood out for me was just one question asked at the conversation at my table: “Does anyone know who the fourth GRC MP is in Sengkang, after He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim and Raeesah Khan?” Horror. No one could recall, including myself, to my embarrassment.
The MP is Louis Chua. With all due respect to him, I can recall his face but not his name, background or anything he has said in Parliament so far. Chua is an accountant/equity research analyst. He is at the moment overshadowed by his other three colleagues. He Ting Ruhas been around longer than the others and so the public is familiar with her. Raeesah Khan has been activelyspeaking out on social issues. Jamus “Cockles” Lim catapulted to fame in the GE2020 TV debate where he held his own against the PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan who was no lightweight debater. Together with, say, Nicole Seah, who was among the best losers as part of the narrowly beaten WP’s East Coast GRC team, He Ting Ru, Raeesah Khan and Jamus Lim seem to be what Millennials expect of MPs, those who can credibly and skilfully articulate their aspirations. They are now an integral part of the local psyche, with their every pronouncement followed with keen interest.
All MPs from now on – whether WP, other Opposition parties or the PAP – must have that extra “X’ factor of connectivity.
All your brilliants CVs, competences and proven problem-solving track record will count for little if you cannot carry the ground or speak effectively in the public. Singapore’s future generations of politicians can no longer ride in on the coat-tails of older colleagues alone. They have to bring in their own special visions. Or create their own paths. Or spell them out clearly and vividly. Or be in the Millennials’ conversations.
I will end this column with another simple question: Does anyone – especially any TikTok or Twitter Millennial – know who the MP for Kebun Baru is?
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.