Singapore: Importance of the Hougang By-Election

After Singapore's Worker's Party expelled its member – and Member of Parliament for Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) – Yaw Shin Leong, earlier this year, the residents of Hougang have not been represented by an MP. Come 26 May, 2012, they will have the opportunity to elect another.

A writ of election has been issued, naming 16 May as Nomination Day, with Polling Day to follow ten days later. Both the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the Worker's Party quickly announced their nominated candidates: Desmond Choo for the former and Png Eng Huat for the latter. Although this can only be confirmed on Nomination Day, it is likely that there will not be a multi-cornered fight in the by-election.

Choo contested Hougang SMC in the 2011 General Election, losing to Yaw. Png stood as a candidate in Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) during the 2011 General Election.

Hougang By-Election. Photo from The Online Citizen

Hougang By-Election. Photo from The Online Citizen

WK writes in The Blue Sweater that the Hougang by-election could be used as a litmus test of Singaporean's support for the PAP – the party which won majority of the votes in 2011 General Election, as it has every elections since 1959:

One might question the fairness and objectivity of using an opposition stronghold as a litmus test, but the results will demonstrate whether the government's promises for change following the previous election has been acknowledged. If the WP wins by a wide (or even wider) margin, it demonstrates that there is a fundamental rejection of the PAP's governing philosophy. Not to mention that this is an election that the whole country is watching. The results matter as much to the residents of Hougang as it is to us.

In response to comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam – who said that the by-election would solely be on local issues rather than national policy – Jackson Tan points out that Singapore is too small for elections to only focus on local issues, and that Hougang voters are affected by the same policies as the rest of Singapore:

…given the fact that Singapore is really a ‘small red dot,’ even by-elections on a constituency level can be viewed as a national election. This is because elections don’t come often (in fact, it’s once every five years or so), thus the chance to vote may indicate voters even consider national issues such as public transport, education and costs of living. In addition, the extent to which policies by the ruling party affects people cuts across all constituencies, be it GRCs or SMCs. The ongoing train breakdowns, for example, also affect Hougang residents, thus it is definite that they take it into consideration when voting. Perhaps the term ‘local election’ is more appropriate in bigger countries such as the US where states are governed differently.

On Twitter, H.Y. agrees:

@tanhuiyi: I don't see the logic of #HougangByelection focusing solely on local issues. Local issues are related to national issues. No?

A editorial predicts that the Worker's Party will be able to hold on to Hougang, as it has done for over 20 years:

The PAP thus faces a daunting task of trying to reverse at least 15% of the vote in Hougang in order to wrestle it back from the WP. Even if the PAP sent out its big guns ministers to the ground to canvass for its likely candidate, Mr Desmond Choo, they would not carry much weight, especially in the prevailing political climate. In fact, the ministers themselves are seen as the causes of the ills which Singaporeans perceive in matters such as housing, jobs, wages, and the frequent breakdowns of the transport system.

The PAP’s battle encompasses a wider national sentiment of unhappiness with these bread and butter issues. One would think that it is no different in Hougang, and the WP can be expected to play these up to deflect attention from the Yaw saga.

It would thus seem that the WP will have a relatively comfortable victory in Hougang, its integrity intact.

Some Singaporeans are distrustful of the state-owned mainstream media's coverage of the by-election:

@sochris: and so the propaganda starts #HougangByElection

A photo posted by Channel NewsAsia, a mainstream media network has gone viral, shared by Singaporeans who found it hilariously ironic:

@mrbrown: PAP's tagline for #hougangbyelection is “Always Here for You”. This CNA photo captures it.


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