Tag Archives: election

Kevin Rudd’s Leadership Challenge

Watching Australian politics from afar has provided some light entertainment of a real democracy at work, together with some of the short comings of the system. When compared to the stability offered by the “Singapore model” it can look a bit dysfunctional at times. Don’t get me wrong, I support the full democratic option over any other political system we have on offer. However, there are times when you just wonder if a benevolent dictatorship would get things moving along quite nicely; for a while at least.

The latest episode in the ongoing saga of “How to Make a Political Party Implode” is the challenge from Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. Julia Gillard, the incumbent prime minister, actual took the leadership from Mr. Rudd in a similar fight back in 2010.

Before the last election the mix of comments on an Australian news site that I frequent were fairly balanced between Labor and Liberal supporters. The election result confirmed that mix with no clear majority won by either main party. This forced Labor to form a minority government with the help of some independents and the Greens.

Over time, as each policy failure and broken promise piled up, the sentiment shifted to be strongly against the Labor government. I now frequently read comments that include “I used to always vote Labor, but I will not be voting for Labor at the next election.”

The opinion polls of various newspapers and the dedicated polling companies all reflect the pattern in the comment pages.

The first time the government was facing certain annihilation at the next election Ms Gillard challenged Mr. Rudd and won the caucus vote to take over as prime minister. This resulted in a brief surge of support for Labor with Australia’s first woman prime minister at the helm. It soon ended as people took stock of how the leadership challenge was executed (rather nastily) combined with continuing policy failures and broken promises.

With opinion polls again in the doldrums and Kevin Rudd itching for his old job back rumours of another leadership challenge was all over the Australian media again. This was doing nothing for consumer and business confidence, which has been on a steady downward trend since 2010.

Most people I know in Australia want an election to throw out the government and put in a new one. Unfortunately that’s not too likely just yet, so let’s look at some of the alternative outcomes for tomorrow’s leadership ballot.

If Gillard wins with a large majority then Rudd will be finished for the foreseeable future, if not terminating any prospect of ever leading the Labor Party again. I don’t think it will be quite the landslide victory that most people seem to predict though. This is because politicians never easily give up power and with Gillard as leader they are absolutely doomed to lose at the next election. Rudd gives them a far better chance of getting re-elected and staying on in power according to all the opinion polls. Therefore, if there is a resounding defeat of Rudd then it is a damning reflection on his apparent problems with his personality and management style.

If Gillard wins with a small majority it gives Rudd a chance of coming back for a second attack, although he has personally assured everyone that he would not challenge Jullia Gillard again. This of course leaves the door open to challenge someone else in the future! Gillard would be in a weak position, knowing that many MPs in her party no longer have confidence in her ability to lead and win the next election.

Rudd winning with either a small or large majority would probably have enough momentum to give him some time and space to repair the damage of his own and Gillard’s government’s poor performance since the last election. However, I feel the electorate has had enough of Labor, especially the two leadership challengers, and will throw the government out with a resounding defeat.

If Rudd loses he has a few options up his sleeve. He could quietly go to the back benches for the rest of Julia Gillard’s leadership. If the result is close he could try again, breaking his promise as most politicians are known to do. In utter frustration he may decide to support a vote of no confidence, or even quit the Labor party and become an independent, both forcing an election!

Whatever happens, it has certainly been entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. You just don’t expect elected members of a modern, open, democratic nation like Australia to act like school children. I do believe the result will be closer than many expect, just on the self-preservation mentality that is inherit in all humans, especially politicians.

In the mean time Singaporeans will probably be reminded of what a real democracy is like by their own leadership and told of how good the PAP is for them and their country.


Singapore General Election 2011 – Aftermath

I’m not Singaporean, but I felt I was more excited about the recent election than many of my Singaporean friends. The result was never in doubt in my mind, PAP would win, leaving it to be a question of whether the opposition parties managed to get more than the one GRC the Workers Party (WP) was targeting. After all the votes were counted only the Aljunied GRC was won by the opposition, resulting in six WP representatives entering the parliament.

While many enthusiastic supporters of the opposition were looking for a huge success against the incumbent PAP, the majority (~60%) of Singaporeans still feel the PAP is the party to lead them into the future. Although I’m sure that many Singaporeans who did vote for the PAP also hoped that the opposition would win the Aljunied GRC.

This strange reasoning of voting for the PAP, but hoping for the opposition to win some seats is because many Singaporeans will tell you that this election was about sending a message of dissatisfaction about current PAP policies, an increasing level of arrogance and a disconnection from the lives of average Singaporeans. They wanted opposition members to win some seats to make sure that their voice was heard at the ballot box and during the next 5 years in parliament.

However, from an outsider’s perspective I feel that this election was about far more than that. This was an election about the awakening of Singaporeans to decide what type of Singapore they want for themselves and more importantly their children or grandchildren. It was a vote for a more transparent and open government, one that listens to its citizens and cares more for them, an end to dirty political tricks and a more balanced media. Essentially a freer, more open and democratic society that is inclusive of all citizens rather than being dominated by the elite few.

Apart from the obvious anger about the PAP’s performance this change was largely brought about with the engagement of the internet generation through the use of Youtube videos, Facebook, alternative news sites and personal blogs. This has turned many an apathetic Singaporean into a politically aware individual. I saw my Facebook news feed flooded with different points of view, mostly in favour of the opposition. There were also some amazing comments from people who were having a “hallelujah” moment as the censorship machine was thwarted by the internet and my friends finally saw the bias of the government controlled media. I personally can’t read the Straits Times because I find that I want to start yelling at the reporters for not doing their jobs!

The PAP now knows that Singaporeans will vote against them in large numbers, especially the internet generation, of which there will be many more at the next election. Whereas most SMCs and GRCs had a large majority in the past, requiring a massive swing to the opposition to ever be in doubt, quite a few seats would be in the opposition’s hands with less than a 10% swing in the next election.

What happens over the next 5 years will ultimately determine the pace of change in Singapore in the near future. I see a few scenarios:

  1. Lee Kuan Yew passes away and the PAP suffers a power struggle resulting in a split into two parties, creating the strongest opposition party in Singapore and possibly an immediate election.
  2. The PAP listens to the message that Singaporeans sent during the last general election and adopts appropriate policies to placate the anger. This will make it much harder for the opposition to make inroads in 2016, irrespective of their performance in Aljunied. Singaporeans do not like to rock the boat!
  3. The WP manages the Aljunied GRC effectively and gains respect of not only the local residents, but other Singaporeans who see that an opposition party can run a GRC well, giving them confidence to vote for the opposition. The opposition members of parliament perform well, attacking poor policies and providing the voice in parliament that Singaporeans want. The WP also manages to attract star talent and creates strong grassroots programs to build awareness and support across Singapore. Meanwhile the PAP does not address the concerns raised in 2011 and Singaporeans are even angrier in 2016. This results in a huge change in the parliament with a loss of the majority needed to pass legislation freely, or even a loss of power for the PAP.

Many people outside of Singapore would consider an election result that gave 81 of the 87 available seats to the incumbent party a huge defeat to the opposition. However, I believe that the 2011 general election will be remembered by many as the turning point in Singaporean politics, where the foundation of a strong opposition movement was laid. Thus defining a move towards a freer and more open society, together with the building of a modern Singaporean identity!

Singapore General Election 2011

Singaporean politics are definitely “Uniquely Singapore” with most elections a walk over for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), that has been in power since 1959, before Singapore’s independence. However, the 2011 election is starting to look very different with more opposition candidates than previous elections, contesting 82 out of the 87 seats. In fact, if it were not for some last minute delays from the opposition then all 87 seats would be contested. In the last election in 2006 only 47 out of 84 seats had opposition candidates. This means that many Singaporeans have never had their seat contested before and will now have to vote (it’s mandatory) for the first time in their life!

From a foreigner’s perspective this election is shaping up to be quite a bit more entertaining than the previous one. To be honest the last election was a forgone conclusion before voting even began. This time however, is different. Sure, the PAP will still win the election, but there could be a big shake up in the parliament with a number of opposition candidates likely to be voted in.

Singapore has an interesting concept of  Group Representation Constituencies (GRC), which groups a series of candidates together (up to 6), often with a very strong candidate that people respect together with weaker candidates that are new or have no track record. This allows people with practically no support to walk into parliament on the coat tails of the strong candidate. The voting is counted by party, not for an individual. It also makes it much more difficult for the opposition to contest a GRC as they have to put so many good candidates into one place. It seems the opposition is taking a gamble on Aljuneed GRC this time, even moving the leader of the Worker’s Party (WP) from his safe seat of Hougang to the Aljuneed GRC.

Based on what I’ve been reading online and from talking to Singaporean friends the general consensus is that they would like the opposition to win an GRC so that the government gets a strong message with the level of dissatisfaction of their recent performance, and that there are more opposition representatives in parliament to provide checks and balances to the ruling party.

If you were to take an opinion poll from the online community you would think that the opposition parties are about to sweep to power in Singapore and bring massive reforms. However, the reality is much more benign. There are still many PAP supporters, especially from the older generation, who believe in the party that has provided a solid set of policies to develop Singapore to the modern, safe, finance and manufacturing centre that it is today. Then there are the apathetic people who after so many walk over elections couldn’t care less about politics and will just vote the same party back into power so that they don’t have to worry about change.

What’s the difference this time that is making this election more interesting then you ask? It’s that the PAP seems to have lost its way. The politicians seem more arrogant than ever, appearing elite and out of touch with the average Singaporean. There is anger over the increasing cost of living in Singapore, the large number of “foreign talent” being brought into Singapore to help with the poor reproduction rate and to keep wages lower, and the lack of transparency of the government.

Another factor is the Internet and the government’s inability to control the dissemination of information as per with its total control of TV, newspapers, and radio. This means that the traditional media has had to open up its coverage of the opposition candidates and their policies to keep the public interested. Otherwise more and more Singaporeans will simply log on to the Internet and get uncensored information.

All in all I’m looking forward to this election and the slow, but sure change in Singapore’s political environment.