Proponents of an early GE point to global, regional and local factors to support their prediction.
The global scene, particularly, economic and financial trends (depending on how one argues for one or the other, actually) are cited to show that the trends, anywhere from USA to India, from the EU to China or Japan, indicate ‘uncertain’ times or the risks of pullbacks.
On the regional front, the ASEAN Common Market starting in 2015 is predicted to be especially toxic for Singapore’s employment as jobs will be lost, it is implied. But as soon as the floodgates are opened?
The local scene is fraught with tea leaves for reading by fertile minds. The Pioneer Generation Package, the PM directing revising the Registers of Electors (a requirement under Section 14 of the Parliamentary Elections Act… the Registers shall be revised not later than 3 years after every GE), Lim Swee Say saying he’ll contest or the latest movement of a fresh PAP face to a GRC – everything is interpreted to fit the prediction.
I am not denying that global and regional issues do not play a role in the decision to call an election. But usually, they are a minor consideration. In Singapore’s context, the only international issue that was reported to have triggered a GE was in 2001 (“After Sep 11, I decided to bring forward the general election, because I want to deal with the big problems.” PM Goh Chok Tong http://hindu.com/2001/10/27/stories/0327000b.htm). And it wasn’t economics but a political one that tilted the decision.
Therefore, that leaves us with local factors as major drivers to when an incumbent party will call for a GE earlier than stipulated.
At the risk of being judged as over-simplification, one can summarily dismiss most of the reported ‘local events’ (aforesaid) as mere noises. Noises which the PAP is all too happy to leave be as signals of an early GE. If nothing else, it can only work to PAP’s advantage if and when opposition parties, with their relatively lesser and limited resources, expend incorrectly anticipating a GE. What’s more, it may also serve to allow the PAP to gauge what the opposition reveal in their hands. After all, deception is key to victory.
Regardless, before my 2cents worth on predicting the next GE, let us be informed by the history of S’pore GE since independence. With 11 GEs since Aug 1968, the average time between GEs is 4 years 3.6 months. Only in 1988 and 1991 were GEs called after less than 4 years.
1988 was perhaps motivated by its own party renewal; LKY was the only one from the original PAP founding group, and his weight was needed to push the introduction of GRC, leaving him and his younger cabinet colleagues a longer time to manage the anticipated changes needed to continue PAP’s dominance with less chance of a hitch.
1991 was when Goh Chok Tong ostentatiously wanted a new mandate for his succession as the new PM. He had also confidently declared that ‘the ground is sweet’…only to lose 4 instead of 1 seat plus a 2% drop in the popular vote.
Hence, what should we be focusing on for clues in predicting a GE?
Well, short of another catastrophic global economic, financial or political event, there is little reason for not just the PAP but any incumbent party to bring forward a GE. Except when the threats are clearly external and existential, voters are always a fickle lot. To LKY’s mind, one can count only on 30% or about one-third of die-hard supporters either way in any election. If his belief still holds sway in the PAP leadership, as it surely must, then the last 2 BE defeats, coming so soon after the lowest popular win by PAP ever, must surely serve to inform PAP on any decision about the next GE.
So, we are better off looking at the key considerations that must be in place for Lee Hsien Loong to announce the next GE. Amongst others, I suggest two indispensible ones.
One, ‘the ground must be sweet’. If the ground is not sweet, why risk a GE? Why, especially when PAP continues to hold the balance mandate years to govern, to influence or actually sweeten the ground with all the resources at its legal disposal? Rather a no-brainer, no?
If “the ground is not so sweet” (https://www.facebook.com/pap.sg/posts/196651707039358?stream_ref=5), ”, as it was admitted in GE 2011, then there is no legal way to avoid any GE.
Two, the PAP must have enough candidates. Without the requisite numbers, not just to win the GE but to remain ‘dominant’ (PM Lee confirmed that non-negotiable goal in his recent FT interview clarification) i.e. with an overwhelming majority or at least 2/3 of total seats, however sweet the ground may be is of no use.
An analysis of the 81 PAP MPs suggests that at least 4 to 6 old horses are clear liabilities (Mah BT, Raymond Lim, Wong KS, Gan KY). Another 18 to 22 have grown long in the tooth or are looking to retire instead of being retired by an increasingly unfriendly electorate (mainly MPs since 2001 or earlier). Finally, we can point to 3 or more duds from 2011 GE (readers can guess who these may be).
Hence, in total, PAP will need to find at least another 24 new faces like they did 2006, 2011. Perhaps, even more – because with such pressures mounting, Ministers like Khaw and Yaacob will only be too happy to feast on their salary windfalls than suffer the indignity of defeat or the ridicule of lampooners. Heck, I wager that even Goh Chok Tong would like to do a Mahathir, pretending to or resigning ostentatiously to make way for others – but hopefully be persuaded or called back to fight another battle, only this time with a greater say in policies. Who knows? This is a game of chess when it’s about power.
The PAP have already conceded that they could not field their preferred A-list candidates in GE 2011. Can they do better now than then? In the current restless climate – mostly brought about by their own pride, snafus and doctrinal blindness – what makes anyone think that it would be easier to recruit not just proven but willing potential candidates? Who, in his/her right mind would want to throw in his/her lot with a party clearly on the decline? PAP is caught, nay, have self-trapped themselves between a rock and a hard place. Deservedly so!
It is not my purpose to prove anyone wrong. Just offering a different perspective. If it helps the opposition cause, given their limited resources, that’s good enough for me.
* The author blogs at 2econdsight