Monday, May 09, 2011

I did my 1 share

Slip in vote share raises eyebrows. MAYBE it was the Nicole Seah factor, or the Tin Pei Ling effect. Or was it the power of the first-time voter at work? Or even a series of near 'own goals'?

By Sumiko Tan, News Editor

Whatever it was, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's Marine Parade GRC team managed just 56.6 per cent of the votes, a result that raised eyebrows.

No one would have expected such a result on Nomination Day.

On the People's Action Party's (PAP) side was Mr Goh, who had been prime minister - and a popular one at that - from 1990 to 2004. His team included incumbents Seah Kian Peng and Fatimah Lateef.

There was also former army general Tan Chuan-Jin, a new face touted to be part of the fourth-generation leadership, and business consultant Tin Pei Ling, who at 27 represented the young voter the PAP so wanted to court.

On the other side was a National Solidarity Party (NSP) team that comprised... well, who did it comprise?

There was a 24-year-old advertising executive named Nicole Seah, a former one-term MP named Cheo Chai Chen, and three other candidates whose faces and names hardly registered.

For the record, they were managing director Ivan Yeo, project director Spencer Ng and warehouse assistant Abdul Salim Harun.

But after just nine days of campaigning, the NSP team drew a whopping 59,833 votes versus the 78,182 that Mr Goh's team mustered. The PAP's 56.6 per cent was well below the ruling party's 60.1 per cent national average.

One reason for the outcome might have been Ms Seah, an election phenomenon of the sort not previously seen in elections here.

She first caught the public's attention when her publicity photograph was released to the media. Then, when she appeared at a press conference, she spoke sense and she spoke from the heart.

The public was won over and her Facebook followers - a modern-day indication of popularity - shot through the roof.

But would there have been a Nicole Seah if there had not been a Tin Pei Ling? For, some argue, a part of the interest in and liking for Ms Seah was simply because she was not Ms Tin.

The latter, unfortunately, started off on a wrong footing with the public. Soon after she was introduced, photos of her posing with a Kate Spade box went viral, as did a video of her stomping her foot.

Did voters sense in Ms Seah a freshness and sincerity that spoke to them? And did they use the ballot box to indicate the sort of qualities they wanted in a candidate?

In any case, one could also argue that Mr Goh's missteps during the run-up did not help his team's - or the PAP's - campaign either.

He made puzzling pronouncements on, among other things, how his former principal private secretary Tan Jee Say - who was an opposition candidate - did not make the cut to be a permanent secretary.

'If I were to go further, by elaborating, I'll probably hurt him further and damage him further. So I will not want to, unless I'm compelled to,' he said, leading some to wonder why he had even brought up the matter in the first place.

And in trying to persuade Aljunied GRC voters that Foreign Minister George Yeo was too valuable a minister to lose, his remarks came across as somewhat of a put-down of others among his Cabinet colleagues. He subsequently clarified matters.

But maybe the results in Marine Parade were not so much about the PAP slate - or the NSP's - but merely a reflection of sentiment on the ground.

The last time the GRC was contested was in a by-election in 1992, when Mr Goh's team secured 72.9 per cent of the votes. In the intervening years of walk- overs, local issues might well have been simmering to the point that the PAP now has the support of just 56.6 per cent of voters there.

The PAP team vowed to work to recapture the lost votes.

Said Mr Goh: 'My team and I have heard the voices of all voters clearly, and we will work with you on all the issues raised.'

He added: 'We will listen to the voters, listen to the residents and we will certainly deliver on all the promises we have made to turn Marine Parade GRC into an even better home.'