Firstly, I am not a Punggol East resident.  But, the dynamics of this by-election is quite different from the Hougang by-election and I was wondering how I would vote if I were a Punggol East resident. 

I have voted in three general elections so far and each time my vote was an anti-PAP vote rather than a genuine vote for the opposition party itself.  It is probably true to say that most Singaporean voters that vote for the opposition do so as a direct result of the need to keep the PAP’s unbridled power under check. 

Judging from the online discussions, it is clear that this by-election is turning out to be as much about a vote in favour of an opposition party as it is about a vote against the PAP.  A developing issue of WP’s performance in Parliament since the 2011 GE is capable of turning out to be the decider for some voters.  The issues as raised during the hustings have focused on PAP’s policies, WP’s performance in Parliament and the question of what SDA and RP might bring to the table if elected. 

PAP has clearly benefitted from this four-cornered fight as there has been (arguably) more discussion (amongst opposition supporters) about which opposition candidate to vote for rather than about the PAP’s policies.  There is a possibility that enough disarray has been created within the opposition ranks to secure a PAP win even if the PAP polls less than 50% of the votes. 

If I were a Punggol East resident, I’d be worried about how my vote might affect the outcome.  All Singaporeans have experienced the effect of vote splitting in the First Past the Post system.  The Presidential Election in 2011 was a painful lesson for many of us.  Clearly, in a two-horse race, the non-PAP endorsed candidate would have won.  A resident in Punggol East voting for the opposition would be very wary about voting for either SDA or RP.  In the 2011 GE, WP had already picked up a sizeable chunk of the opposition vote in that ward with SDA’s candidate losing his deposit. 

The only reason why a voter that voted for WP might vote otherwise in this by-election is because of the repeated noise in the mainstream media as well as online about the poor performance of WP in Parliament.  Much has been made about how they backed away from issues and failed to be combative or to provide ideas and about the fact that they have not tabled any motions for debate and have been satisfied with tabling Parliamentary questions.  (I have my reservations about some of the anti-WP rhetoric that is floating around on the net and although WP’s performance can be improved, it is not as bad as it is made out to be.)

Some postings online (especially by individuals claiming to be Punggol East residents) seem to indicate that there’s a possibility that SDA or RP would pick up some votes at the expense of the WP and also that there may be an increase in spoilt votes.  An increase in spoilt votes is a distinct possibility.  I was talking to a taxi driver yesterday and he was complaining about WP’s performance and said that if he could vote, he would spoil his vote as a protest.  I chided him for his attitude and gave him a lecture about the importance of the vote.  We complain so much about the PAP.  But, when it comes to exercising the right to vote, we cop out.  That might have been just one taxi driver.  But, I think that it is indicative of a certain disenchantment that some voters are feeling about the WP. 

So, how would I vote?  Gaining opposition seats in Parliament as quickly as possible is of paramount importance if we are to claw back the PAP’s total grip on power.  The magic number is 30 opposition seats to deprive PAP of its 2/3 majority.  Realistically, this should be the short-term goal (to be achieved by next GE or the one after that).  Every seat that is capable of turning opposition must be made to count.  Punggol East was close in the last GE.  PAP received 16,994.  The combined opposition vote was 14,164.  In terms of absolute numbers, that is a small difference to make up.  If every opposition vote goes to the WP, there is a realistic chance of displacing the PAP. 

Amongst the candidates fielded, I have to admit that Kenneth Jeyaratnam from the RP would be a very useful addition to Parliament.  (I was initially upset to see a multi-cornered fight developing and like many Singaporeans I considered RP, SDA and SDP as spoilers before changing my view on that   Given his background and with the budget debates coming up, one can expect some serious questions to be asked about our Executive’s spending.  Personally, I’d like to have someone with finance background from the opposition to be in Parliament.  But, clearly, it is unlikely that RP would garner sufficient votes.  (Sometimes I feel that KJ needs some PR guidance.)  WP and PAP would be the frontrunners.  So, as a natural progression in the first past the post system, there will be a tendency to vote tactically.  That, in fact, is what I will do.

I’d go for WP, not because I am thoroughly convinced that their candidate is the best, but because they have the most realistic chance of winning the seat.  Tactical voting.  (In any event, they do have a down-to-earth, likeable candidate.)

In the end, if Punggol East were to turn against White, it would be because of a significant amount of tactical voting that turned the vote blue. 

What do I expect to see on Saturday?  There will be a swing against the PAP.  The question is as to how much of a swing it would be.  There might be an increase in the number of spoilt votes.  Who’s going to win?  That is anybody’s guess.  But, I’d be rooting for the Hammer.