Saturday, December 29, 2012

PAP Wins Punggol East But Without An Absolute Majority?

As you all would know, although a by-election has yet been officially announced for Punggol East (PE), five opposition parties or figures have already expressed interested in contesting if and when a by-election is announced. They are, listed in no particular order: Workers' Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), Reform Party (RP) and Benjamin Pwee (formerly from the Singapore People's Party). And evidently, if a by-election is announced, the People's Action Party (PAP) will definitely participate. Thus, ceteris paribus, the PE by-election will be a six-cornered contest.

The question is: who will win? Although I am no Nate Silver, my assessment is that the PAP will most likely retain the constituency but without an absolute majority or with only a simple majority. That is, the PAP will win the by-election but with less than 50% of the votes.

I say this because firstly, as it is, although the PAP managed to win the PE seat in the 2011 General Election (GE) with a 54.54% majority, it managed to garner, in absolute numbers, only 4,217 more votes than the second-placed WP. Thus, although the difference between the PAP and WP may look significant in percentage terms (PAP: 54.54% vs WP: 41.01% vs SDA: 4.45%), the absolute difference in the number of votes was perhaps actually not that large. The percentage difference (13.53%) looks large because the total absolute number of votes was only 33,281. Hence, it can be said that the PAP's majority in PE was already quite slim and this slim majority could easily be lost.

And this slim majority could indeed be lost. This is considering that in my opinion, although the PAP has made several attempts to address the grievances of Singaporeans since the 2011 GE, those who have cast their votes against the PAP are not likely to have changed their minds yet. Support for the PAP in PE is hence not likely to increase significantly.

It is more likely that support for the PAP in PE may be lower than in 2011. Mr. Michael Palmer, the former PE Member of Parliament, did not exactly vacate his seat in a highly glorious or dignified manner. And whoever the PAP sends to replace him in the by-election is not likely to be as familiar or popular with the ground as he was. And as pointed out above, because of the numerically smaller total voter size in PE, any slight drop in support for the PAP can mean a significant drop in percentage of votes won. To make this point clearer, while a decrease of ten votes from a constituency of ten thousand voters would result in only a drop of 0.001%, such a drop in votes would result in a much more significant drop of 10% for a constituency of hundred voters.

However, although the support for the PAP in PE may drop below 50%, it still probably will retain the constituency if it wins the most number of votes in the by-election because Singapore has what is commonly known as a "first past the post" electoral system. With such an electoral system, it is not necessary for a candidate to win an absolute majority (more than 50%) of votes to win an election, he or she will just need to win more votes than all other candidates involved in the election. Hence, a candidate may, for example, win an election with just 49% of the votes if and when no other candidates in the election win more than 49% of the votes. In the end, with a "first past the post" electoral system, it is just like the joke about two persons trying to escape a tiger - they do not need to run faster than the tiger, they just need to run faster than one another.

If there will indeed be five opposition parties or figures taking part in the PE by-election, the PAP will possibly win the by-election even though it may not win an absolute majority. Although the SDA's likely candidate for the by-election, Mr. Desmond Lim, managed to win a mere 4.45% of the votes during the contest for PE in the 2011 GE and is not likely to do much better during the by-election, he will still perhaps win a certain number of votes. Similarly, although Mr. Benjamin Pwee and the RP's candidate are not likely do very well for the PE by-election (because they most likely are not familiar or popular with the ground in PE as they have no history there), they will still win some votes, however little. And as explained earlier, a small number of votes can, in PE, translate into a larger than expected percentage because of the smaller total voter size in PE.

Meanwhile, although the SDP too has no history of contesting in PE and has likely not done much groundwork in the area previously, it is likely to win a sizable portion of votes in the by-election. This is considering that the SDP is one of the more established opposition parties locally and has recently launched an initiative to come up with alternative policy proposals, some of which have found support from Singaporeans deeming them credible proposals. Indeed, if I may sidetrack a little, my guess is that the SDP may have the intention to use the PE by-election as a test case to assess the popularity of their approach of providing alternative policy proposals (the messages released by the SDP on their website regarding their intention to contest the PE by-election do tend to put focus on their alternative policy proposals, rather on any groundwork, or lack thereof, it has committed in PE).

Bearing the above in mind, it may turn out that although the PAP's share of the votes in PE may drop somewhat, it may still win the largest share of the votes and thereby winning the by-election because the votes against it would be split, though not evenly, amongst the five opposition parties or figures. In other words, though the PAP may not get more than half the pie, it will still have largest cut because the rest of the pie will be shared by five others.

Hence, in conclusion, although I may be proven terribly wrong, my assessment is that, ceteris paribus, the PAP will retain PE but with perhaps less than 50% of the votes, WP would again be in second place while the SDP is likely to win enough votes to be placed third.

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