Sunday, September 4, 2011

Embassy Wikileaks: US assessment of GE 2006


created 2006-5-8

C) Summary:

 In the May 6 general election for parliament,
the ruling People's Action Party won another landslide
victory with 82 out of 84 seats.  The election is another
mandate for the PAP to continue its successful economic and
security policies.  It is not a mandate for Prime Minister
Lee Hsien Loong, who frequently failed to take center stage
in the campaign and did relatively poorly in his own
district.  The PAP continued to rely on old style tactics,
from threats of defamation suits to ad hominem attacks, to
defeat opposition politicians.  Despite winning only two
seats, the opposition parties performed credibly, improved
their tattered reputations, and laid the groundwork for the
future.  PM Lee lost a golden opportunity to put his own mark
on the PAP and change its style -- and get out from the
shadow of his father, Lee Kuan Yew.  End Summary.

Final Tally

3. (U) In the May 6 general election for parliament, the
ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won another landslide with
66.6 percent of the vote and 82 seats.  This gives the PAP
the same 82-2 majority it had in the last parliament.  The
Workers' Party won one seat and 16.3 percent of the vote.
The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) also won one seat and
13 percent of the vote.  The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)
failed to win any seats and received 4.1 percent of the vote.

Is it a Mandate?

4. (C) Is this election a mandate for the PAP?  In a word,
yes.  The PAP won roughly as many seats and votes as it
usually has over the last two decades.  With its strong team
of technocratic ministers, the PAP has continued to deliver
robust economic growth and job creation and to steer the
economy through external shocks such as SARS.  The PAP also
showed its pragmatic side in ending its ban on casinos in
2005 in order to stimulate growth in the tourism sector.
While the bottom 20 percent of wage earners have seen their
incomes stagnate over the last five years, the government
targeted many of the handouts in its pre-election "Progress
Package" budget this year to low-income households.  In
addition, SingTel (which has more than a million Singaporean
stockholders according to press reports) announced a special
USD 2.4 billion dividend just two days before polling day.
The CEO of SingTel is Lee Hsien Yang, brother of Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

5. (C) Since he became Prime Minister in August 2004, PM Lee
and the local media have characterized this election as his
opportunity to secure a personal mandate from the people.
Did he get it?  In a word, no.  One would have expected PM
Lee to be the focal point of the PAP campaign to show that he
was his own man and to highlight a softer, more "modern"
political style.  But, in the run up to the campaign and
during it, however, PM Lee frequently ceded center stage to
his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and Senior Minister
Goh Chok Tong.  MM Lee and SM Goh made the strong statements
and dominated the attacks on the opposition.  The PM did not
project a strong leadership image when he did talk tough.  It
made even PAP supporters uncomfortable when, in one rally, he
claimed that he wouldn't be able to run the government
effectively if there were ten opposition MPs -- he would have
to "fix" the opposition.  PM Lee did relatively poorly in his
own electoral district.  Facing his first opponents in 18
years -- a group of twenty- and thirty-something nobodies in
the WP's weakest slate -- PM Lee failed to win as high a
percentage of the vote (66.1 percent) as his party did
overall (66.6 percent.)

6. (C) SM Goh also emerges from the election diminished.  PM
Lee gave him the high-profile task of helping the PAP win
back the two opposition-controlled districts.  The evening
news dutifully showed SM Goh working the two wards with the
PAP candidates in tow.  He warned residents in one
neighborhood that it might turn into a "slum" if it stayed
with the opposition and offered USD 100 million (over USD
2500 per eligible voter) in public works projects to both
districts if they would vote for the PAP.  Despite SM Goh's
threats and blandishments, the opposition won both seats with
significantly higher margins of victory than in past races.

Politics of Personal Destruction: Old Business
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (C) In previous elections, the PAP has singled out one
opposition politician and attacked his integrity
relentlessly, commented Institute of Policy Studies
Researcher Gillian Koh.  In 2001, for example, the PAP
targeted Dr. Chee Soon Juan of the SDP and hit him with a
defamation suit during the election campaign.  This year, as
soon as the campaign started, the PAP threatened defamation
suits to demolish the SDP (Ref B).  All of the SDP's Central
Executive Committee members except Dr. Chee and his sister
Chee Siok Chin publicly apologized to PM Lee and MM Lee.
Himself already bankrupted from an earlier defamation suit,
Dr. Chee told us that he completely understood why his fellow
party members apologized, since they had to protect their
livelihoods in the face of a potential financially-ruinous
defamation suit.

Politics of Personal Destruction: New Business
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (C) Turning to a new target, the PAP spent the first week
of the nine-day campaign launching vitriolic attacks against
WP MP candidate James Gomez over, bizarrely, an election form
he didn't submit and didn't need to submit.  Gomez claimed to
have submitted a registration form to be a minority
candidate, but security tapes showed he failed to do so.  MM
Lee called Gomez a "liar" over the non-submission of the
form; Deputy Prime Minister Wang Kan Seng said Gomez had
shown "blatant dishonesty"; and PM Lee accused Gomez of
perpetrating a "dastardly trick."  The local media also
played up the "story" -- on one day, the Straits Times
newspaper ran more than a dozen stories that discussed Gomez.
Eventually, some PAP officials realized that the personal
attacks on Gomez were creating a backlash, as PAP
Headquarters Executive Director Lau Ping Sum told us on May
2.  It took several more days, however, for it to stop.
After the election, the GOS continued to harass Gomez.  On
May 7, immigration authorities seized his passport when he
tried to return to his job in Sweden and police questioned
him for eight hours, according to press reports.

A New Hope and a Lost Opportunity

9. (C) Comment: By performing credibly in this election and
avoiding the buffoonery that damaged its chances in the past,
the opposition laid the groundwork for future electoral
gains.  In particular, the WP fielded a better qualified
slate than it has in the past and ran a capable issues-based
campaign.  It refused to rise to the bait of the PAP's ad
hominem attacks on James Gomez.  The task for the opposition
now is to sustain its energy and commitment over the years
until the next election.

10. (C) For PM Lee, the election was an opportunity missed.
The PAP could have run on its superior policies, experience,
and candidates and eschewed the old-school
hit-them-when-they-are-down tactics.  Its candidates could
have asked voters if they wanted to be governed by someone
(James Gomez) who didn't even live in Singapore instead of
launching a phony attack that extended to opening a
"criminal" investigation as the defeated candidate was trying
to return home to Sweden.  Instead, the PAP's hardball
tactics -- vintage Lee Kuan Yew -- cost them some votes and
contradicted the PM's stated interest in a more open society.

11. (C) While the MM's abrasive style may appeal to older
"heartland" Singaporeans, it does not work well with younger,
better-educated voters.  He appeared a cranky and sour old
man and was only a liability to the PAP's campaign.  The
extensive reporting in the government-controlled press may
have backfired for the PAP as voters found the vindictiveness
against Chee and his party distasteful and tired of the
overwrought Gomez affaire.  The MM's role in the 2006
election may have accelerated Singaporeans' reaching an
emotional turning point.  Many of the younger voters do not
recall Singapore's early, precarious days.  They are less
willing to accept the PAP's fundamental premise that
opposition and choice lead inexorably to disunity and chaos.

Suggested Press Guidance

12. (U) Below is suggested press guidance for the
Department's use on the election campaign:

Q. What is your reaction to the May 6 general election in

A. The People's Action Party (PAP) was returned to power with
82 of 84 seats in parliament.

We will continue to work with the Government of Singapore to
promote United States interests in free trade, security ties,
law enforcement cooperation, and efforts to combat terrorism
and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Q. Were the elections free and fair?

A. The election took place in accordance with the relevant
legal and constitutional mandates.  Voting and ballot
counting took place without any incidents.

The Government used its powers to limit freedom of assembly
and speech to handicap the political opposition:

-- The government restricted political rallies to times and
locations of its designation.
-- Government regulations curtailed dissemination of
political speech, including via the internet.
-- Government leaders used the threat of defamation suits
against opposition politicians to chill political speech and
-- Local media coverage closely reflected the views of the
ruling party.

Q. Do you have any comment on the "criminal" investigation of
Workers' Party candidate James Gomez?

A. As this is an on-going investigation, it would be
inappropriate to comment at this time.  We will follow the
case closely.

Background: In the May 6 general election for parliament, the
ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won another overwhelming
victory, as it has in every election since independence in
1965.  It won 82 seats and 66.6 percent of the vote while
opposition parties won 2 seats and 33.4 percent of the vote.

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