I admire Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo’s thought-provoking speeches and articles. But he is up against good speakers.
George Yeo (seen here at Aljunied) faces a tough fight, says the media. Is it because he is up against the Workers’ Party’s “A-team”? Or does it go with the territory?
I have been looking at past election results. Clearly, the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) is not the most PAP-friendly constituency.
In the last general election, in 2006, it included Aljunied-Hougang, Bedok Reservoir-Punggol, Eunos, Paya Lebar and Serangoon. That was when the PAP, represented by George Yeo and his team, won it by the smallest of margins among all the GRCs.
The boundaries have been redrawn for the elections on May 7. Aljunied GRC (see Singapore Maps) now includes Kaki Bukit, a PAP stronghold that used to be part of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s Marine Parade GRC, while Aljunied-Hougang has been hived off to Ang Mo Kio GRC, another PAP bastion defended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Despite these changes, the fight is expected to be close. Aljunied continues to be, in the media’s words, a “hot seat”. Why?
Look at its wards again: Bedok Reservoir-Punggol, represented by George Yeo, Paya Lebar, led by Cynthia Phua, Eunos, served by Zainul Abidin Rasheed, and Serangoon, helmed by Lim Hwee Hua. Some of these wards have quite a history.
Eunos was the constituency which elected the PAP by the smallest of margins – by less than 2 per cent of the votes – in 1988 when it was a separate GRC. Francis Seow and his two running mates representing the Workers’ Party lost to Tay Eng Soon and his PAP team by less than 1,300 votes.
Aljunied then was a separate GRC, which voted for George Yeo, a 33-year-old newbie who was campaigning for the first time, and his PAP teammates. But look at the margin: The PAP won Aljunied in 1988 with 56.3 per cent of the votes to 43.7 per cent for the SDP. Now look at the results in 2006: PAP 56.1 per cent; Workers’ Party 43.9 per cent.
Isn’t that amazing?
The vote was almost identical after all those years, despite all the changes in the constituency.
In 1988, Aljunied was a three-member GRC composed of Aljunied, Kampong Kembangan and Kampong Ubi.
Paya Lebar was added in 1991. Earlier, it was a single-member constituency. In 1988, the PAP won 52.4 per cent of the votes there, compared to 47.6 per cent for the Workers’ Party.
Eunos was still a separate GRC in 1991, when the PAP won it with 52.4 per cent of the votes against 47.6 per cent for the Workers’ Party. (The PAP won a walkover in Aljunied in 1991 as there were no opposition candidates.)
When Eunos became part of Aljunied GRC in 1997, George Yeo and his team were re-elected with 67 per cent of the votes to 33 per cent for the SDP. That was the PAP’s biggest margin of victory in Aljunied.
The PAP won a walkover in Aljunied again in 2001 when they faced no opposition candidates.
When the Workers’ Party returned to the field in 2006, it was an uphill battle. The PAP won with just over half the votes.
A constituency with a history like that is clearly no PAP stronghold. But why does the opposition pick up more votes there? True, it’s right next-door to Hougang, which has voted for the Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang since 1991. But it’s also flanked by Marine Parade, Ang Mo Kio, Pasir Ris-Punggol and Tampines, which have all voted solidly for the PAP. What’s different about Aljunied?
(The figures here are from Singapore Elections.com)
George Yeo in 1988 (Campaign photo)
Singapore hasn’t forgotten the James Gomez (see Wikipedia) controversy in Aljunied in 2006.
In 1988, however, even George Yeo’s opponent had kind words for him and his teammates. This is from the Straits Times report headlined PAP sweeps all 10 GRCs at stake, which appeared on page 2 in the newspaper on September 4, 1988, the day after the elections.
All 10 Group Representation Constituencies at stake were swept by the People’s Action Party yesterday, in what one newly-elected MP described as a resounding victory for the concept of “super constituencies”.
Thirty-nine MPs in the new 81-seat Parliament will come from the 13 newly-created GRCs — and one member of every team will be a member of a minority race.
The closest fight, as expected, came in the Eunos GRC — the biggest ward, which saw a fiercely-fought electoral battle between the PAP and WP teams…
Minister of State (Education) Tay Eng Soon was switched at the last minute on Nomination Day, from Tanglin to Eunos, and led the PAP’s fight there alongside team-mates Mr Zulkifli Mohammed and Mr Chew Heng Ching (against the Workers’ Party candidates Francis Seow, Dr Lee Siew Choh and Mohamed Khalit Baboo.)
The result: The PAP team clinched victory by winning just 50 per cent of the vote.
The contest for over 75,000 votes proved to be the PAP’s narrowest win in a GRC, with the tiny margin of only 1.279…
Two other closely contested GRCs were in Bedok and Aljunied.
In Bedok, which saw the PAP’s second closest GRC fight, Home Affairs Minister S Jayakumar led team-mates Mr Ibrahim Othman and newcomer Dr Hong Hai, to a 5,063-vote margin over the WP team of Mr Seow Khee Leng and his partners — dubbed Charlie’s Angels — Madam Gertrude De Gracias and Mrs Saraswathy Murugason…
Although a closer contest was expected in the Aljunied GRC, the PAP’s team of Brigadier-General George Yeo, Mr Chin Harn Tong and Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri won fairly comfortably with a 7,645-margin. Their opponents were Mr Ashley Seow, Mr Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood and Mr Neo Choon Aik of the Singapore Democratic Party.
Commenting earlier as the votes were counted, Mr Ashley Seow said he thought the PAP team played fairly and “did not descend into gutter politics like some others”.
“I wish them well. They are a decent team. If they win, they will make a good team for Aljunied GRC. They behaved quite decently throughout the campaign. I have no complaints about those three candidates.”
Before the elections, the Straits Times reported on August 20, 1988 (My task ahead by BG Yeo, page 2):
In the eyes of George Yeo Yong Boon, one of the problems Singapore will face in the long term, and which he is keen to tackle, is how to develop a sense of nationalism that does not become narrow and small-minded.
On the one hand, Singapore is an open economy which must continue to be worldly and look outwards if it is to prosper.
On the other hand, exposure and travel to other countries sometimes brings dissatisfaction, and there will be Singaporeans who do not want to return home after going abroad.
“So we have to create a sense of belonging to Singapore. So we have to be nationalistic, we sing songs and celebrate together,” Brigadier-General (Res) Yeo said.
“But we must balance it against losing too much of our cosmopolitan outlook because, I think, a narrow nationalism is dangerous for Singapore,” he added.
“In the end, I think, what we want is for Singaporeans to be worldly, to travel, to be everywhere but to leave your hearts behind.
“To come back, come back to enjoy the food, come to make your contributions, come back occasionally to be an MP. Whatever. But though we may be small, our minds must not be confined.”
George Yeo was 33 then – a year younger than Pritam Singh now.
His plea hasn’t been ignored.
Now Singaporean Chen Show Mao has come back from abroad to challenge him for a place in parliament.