Sunday, September 4, 2011

Embassy Wikileaks: Pre GE 2006 assessment


Created 2006-4-27

1. (C) Summary: For the first time since 1988, the opposition
parties will contest more than half of the seats for
parliament in the May 6 general election, denying the ruling
People's Action Party (PAP) an automatic majority on
nomination day.  The economy and local issues will dominate
the nine-day election campaign and the PAP will benefit from
a booming economy and generous handouts in the recently
enacted budget.  Despite media hype about how "breathless"
one should be about the PAP's 24 new MP candidates, they are
a mixed lot.  Some are of ministerial caliber, but others
were drawn from the second or third tier, noted one PAP MP.
The opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party, have
put together a better set of candidates than in the past --
but can realistically hope only to begin the process of
improving their public image.  End Summary.

An Actual Contest

2. (SBU) For the first time since 1988, the opposition
parties will contest more than half of the seats for
parliament in the May 6 general election.  At the April 27
nomination deadline, the opposition put forward 47 candidates
for the 84 seats in parliament.  In the last three general
elections, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) was
automatically returned to power on nomination day as more
than half of its candidates won "walkovers" when the
opposition failed to field an opponent.  In addition, this
year, the Workers' Party (WP) decided to run a slate in Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong's electoral district -- giving the
PM his first electoral challenge in 18 years.  Institute of
Policy Studies Research Fellow Jeanne Conceicao characterized
it as a "suicide mission" for the WP slate, but should reduce
the time the PM can spend campaigning outside his district.

All Politics is Local

3. (SBU) The economy and local matters will be the central
issues in the nine-day election campaign.  The PAP will
benefit from the strong state of the economy, which has been
booming for the last few years.  Economic growth in 2005
exceeded 6 percent and should be 4-6 percent this year.
Furthermore, unemployment has fallen to a four-year low of
2.5 percent.  Nevertheless, Singapore faces growing income
inequality with the bottom 20 percent of households suffering
a real decline in income.  Opposition parties plan to focus
on this issue as well as on the rising cost of living in
general, Singapore People's Party (SPP) Chairman Sin Kek Tong
told us.  To deal with this, the PAP approved a government
budget for this year that included a S$2.6 billion giveaway
to voters -- dubbed the "Progress Package."  Singaporeans
will receive hundreds of dollars each and more money will be
targeted for the elderly and working poor.  The payouts are
timed for May 1, just five days before the election.

4. (U) The vast majority of Singaporeans live in
government-built apartments that they buy.  Over the last six
months, the PAP government has rolled out plans for housing
estate upgrades and new amenities in many key districts.  The
two opposition districts have generally been last in line for
any such upgrades.  For example, Foreign Minister Yeo's
electoral district received more than five times as much
grant money on a per-household basis than WP MP Low Thia
Khiang's, according to press reports.  The PAP has promised
to give the opposition wards far more assistance if they
elect PAP candidates this time.

5. (C) One concern for the PAP is a decline in the
maintenance standards in the housing estates, PAP MP Charles
Chong told us.  In order to create more jobs for
lower-skilled Singaporeans, the local town councils have had
to replace cheaper foreign labor with more expensive
Singaporeans to do the cleaning, painting, and repair work.

PAP "Self-Renewal"

6. (C) The new group of 24 PAP MP candidates has benefited
from extensive and glowing media coverage starting well
before the announcement of the election date, while
opposition candidates have been given cursory attention.
Despite the media hype and the fact that they still outshine
the opposition, the new PAP MP candidates are a mixed lot.  A
few of them look like they have ministerial potential,
notably former Chief of Navy Lui Tuck Yew and former
International Enterprises of Singapore CEO Lee Yi Shyan.
Some of the others we have met look quite weak, with limited
political skills or policy experience.  It looks as if the
PAP was trying to meet an overall profile -- so many
community activists, so many union officials, a few business
figures, commented Conceicao.

7. (C) PAP MP Chong admitted that the party had not succeeded
in recruiting a number of "high-flying" business leaders to
run.  In fact, the party had to reach down to some of its
second and third tier candidates to fill out its ticket.
Those new candidates will all run in the Group Representative
Constituencies (GRCs) helmed by higher profile ministers --
for example, four of them will run in Senior Minister Goh
Chok Tong's uncontested district.
  Overall, the opposition will compete in only 7 of the 14 GRCs.

Opposition Hopes

8. (SBU) The opposition parties, especially the Workers
Party, have put together a better set of candidates than in
the past -- with more education and professional
qualifications.  Running on their resumes has long been a
foundation of PAP campaigning, but it has acknowledged that
the WP has done a better recruiting job this time.  In what
will undoubtedly be one of the most watched districts, the WP
Chairman Sylvia Lim is leading a slate against Foreign
Minister George Yeo in the Aljunied GRC.  Although several
political observers say FM Yeo's frequent travels have
affected his support at the grassroots level, the WP slate
looks doomed.

9. (C) Most opposition leaders are not sanguine about their
chances this year.  Non-Constituency MP Steven Chia said he
will likely abandon politics if he loses again.  SPP Chairman
Sin told us he thinks the PAP might win a clean sweep of all
84 seats.  Dr. Chee Soon Juan's Singapore Democratic Party
(SDP) appears on the verge of collapse (Ref A.)  The
heavy-handed defamation suit brought by PM Lee and Minister
Mentor Lee Kuan Yew against the SDP and the printer of its
newspaper has fractured the party's leadership.  It is
unclear if the SDP will even be able to print campaign
posters and flyers for the election after its part-time
printer (and part-time taxi driver) promised to not do any
work for them when he settled with the PM and MM.

10. (C) The opposition should focus on changing the public's
impression of them, observed National University of Singapore
(NUS) Professor Kenneth Tan.  Opposition politicians have a
reputation for being "clowns" or pursuing "vendettas" against
the PAP.  By demonstrating their professionalism this time,
the opposition could lay the groundwork for electoral gains
down the road.

11. (C) Comment: The PAP enters the campaign period confident
of victory.  At the same time, it is eager to talk down
expectations for its final vote total -- to ensure that PM
Lee is seen as securing a mandate -- and continues to put
forth that 65 percent of the popular vote is a stirring
victory.  Winning a GRC would be a major breakthrough for the
opposition, but remains a long shot.  A more realistic goal
would be to win two or three seats and leave the voters with
a more positive impression.  End Comment.

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