Why Did PM Lee Announce the By-Elections for Punggol East SMC on 26 January 2013?

PM Lee had announced the date for the by-elections for the Punggol East constituency. “Nomination Day will be 16 January, and Polling Day 26 January.”

Additionally, PM Lee said that, “We have a busy national agenda this year. Immediate issues are the Population White Paper, Budget 2013, and Our Singapore Conversation. A continuing priority is economic growth and workers’ incomes, especially in a weak global economy. I have decided to hold a by-election in Punggol East to give the residents their own MP in Parliament, before we focus back on these national issues.”

The real reason? If PAP decides to hold the by-elections any later, they will lose even more votes. Already, the ground sentiment is shifting. 

Why do I say that? Over the past 2 months, there were already 2 major incidents that have awakened the Singapore consciousness – the SMRT bus ‘strikes’ and the PAP-Aim-AHTC episode.

During the SMRT bus ‘strikes’:

  1. We found out that the living conditions of the bus drivers were unsatisfactory, then we found out that the drivers had raised their concerns on their low wages and bad living conditions to their management, SMRT, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and unions (NTUC) for 2 years, but with very little to no assistance was rendered, or attention paid, to them, and thus they had decided to conduct a peaceful demonstration.
  2. What shocked us was when the Acting Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin decided to label their actions as a ‘strike’ and charged some of them. Interestingly, we read news of how the other local bus drivers were also raising funds to help these Chinese bus drivers, which begs the question – why are the local bus drivers also sympathetic to the causes of the Chinese bus drivers? Do they feel that disservice was also enacted upon them?
  3. What was even more preposterous, Singaporeans thought, was when the Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew suggested that he might want to raise OUR bus fares in order to increase the wages of the bus drivers. This got Singaporeans up in arms – already SMRT has been making billions in revenue and profits. At the same time, they pay their CEO a few million dollars in annual salary, while Singaporeans had to put up with sub-par transportation services, where the trains were frequently delayed and over-crowded. This was the last thing Singaporeans were willing to hear of – the quality of transportation that we are facing has been severely compromised, yet SMRT and the transport minister would want Singaporeans to compensate from our own pockets for the unacceptable quality standards, which SMRT and the transport ministry should take responsibility for.
  4. We were made to be even more shocked when the CEO of SMRT announced that he would want to bring onboard 4 SAF officers to manage SMRT. This didn’t bode well for Singaporeans. What does this mean if personnel in the civil service, which is a public entity, can be easily shifted into the corporate sector, which should rightfully be privatised, and not associated with the government? Clearly, Singaporeans think, this doesn’t seem to be the right – are the so-called privatised corporations in Singapore actually controlled by the government anyway? Then, what does this mean for the profits that they are making from us, citizens?
  5. This is not forgetting the $1.1 billion that the transport ministry had also given to SMRT to subsidise their purchase for a new fleet of buses. Why did Singaporeans have to pay SMRT to buy new buses, when SMRT has been earning billions in profits over the years? Why couldn’t SMRT take the money out from the profits that they earn for reinvestment? And why can’t this $1.1 billion be channelled to Singaporeans, for their more pertinent needs? Has the government misplaced their priorities?

For the PAP-Aim-AHTC episode, this is still fresh in our minds, so I will do a quick re-cap:

  1. Why did the town councils (TCs) sell away an IT software managed by NCS to another holding company, Aim, which then engaged NCS (again) to manage the software anyway? Was NCS that incapable, even as NCS has many international contracts, which should suggest that they would have the capability to manage the system still? 
  2. If a holding company was required to manage the software, and if the TCs are under the portfolio of the Ministry of National Development (MND), why didn’t take over the management of the software instead? But, MND has tried to relinquish their responsibility by claiming that their responsibility is towards only ‘administering’ the act the the TCs are governed by.
  3. When Singaporeans found out that Aim is owned by the PAP, it got us even more anxious – did Aim profit during this transaction, when the town councils had to pay Aim for the management of the software? Where are the full financial statements, which as yet, Singaporeans are not shown? If Aim is owned by the PAP, does that mean PAP was able to also profit off Singaporeans? What is there to govern PAP, and indeed, the political parties, to prevent them from profiteering over Singaporeans?
  4. Of course, until now, we still do not have clarity as to whether there was any profiteering and why the TCs had to go through such a convoluted process to sell a system which was initially managed by NCS away, so that it eventually became managed by NCS again anyway. To date, there have been no answers because PAP has refused to directly answer the questions. There will be no investigation as PAP will only review the “fundamental nature of TCs”.

With this in mind, clearly, PAP has been messing up. Singaporeans are beginning to gain clarity on how it seems that their money are being used – where is the accountability, when the PAP government makes all the decision as to how Singaporeans’ money should be used, at their whims and fancies. Where do our rights to speak out, and demand information go, if Singaporeans are not involved at any stage of the decision making and are slighted so easily?

This is not forgetting that there are other issues which did not feature as prominently but will put into question further how Singaporeans’ money is being used:

  1. Why do the government bonds (that our CPF is invested in) earns only 1.55%, when it’s invested in Temasek Holdings and GIC, which earns 17% and 6.8% respectively?
  2. Why are we made to pay an increase of an average of more than 20% every year for the Medisave Required Amount when our real wages are decreasing by more than 2% every year since 2008, and the proportion of government spending on our healthcare bills has fallen every year since 1965?
  3. Why is it that even though the monies that we put into CPF has increased by 34% since 2001 but the monies we withdraw have actually dropped by a glaring 45%, even though there is an increase of Singaporeans who are able to withdraw their CPF?

Very simply, Singaporeans are not any wiser about how their money is being used. But the different episodes have started to expose many of the underlying mechanisms that Singaporeans have not been aware of, which as we are finding out, could mean that our money isn’t going where we think it should be – what’s worse, it’s not even coming back.

Over the past one year, the government has gotten worse at covering up and it has become easier for Singaporeans to find out the truth. This is a government which prides itself on its non-corruptibility, honesty and transparency butwe were beginning to have our doubts.

So, do you know why the elections were announced to be earlier than later? If this goes on, more and more dirt would be dug out by Singaporeans. Things might only go downhill for the PAP. They haven’t been able to influence public opinion as well as they thought that they could, and it is unlikely that they will be able to do some in the coming year.

More importantly, there were a group of Singaporeans who had previously aligned themselves with the PAP. After these incidents, they would have started questioning their trust and faith in PAP – does PAP still represent the principles that they propagate? This is why the by-elections need to be held earlier than later. PAP needs to secure these voters, while they are still on the fence and might still vote for PAP. If they wait any longer and this group of people have more time to think and consider the information that they have read, they might swing away from PAP towards the other parties. PAP would have decided that they need to act now – if the by-elections were conducted later, they would definitely lose more votes. 

Who Will Win?

Let’s have a recap, at the general elections of 2011, this was the vote count for the Punggol East constituency:

PAP: 54.54%

Worker’s Party (WP): 41.01%

Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA): 4.45%

The question then is – will there be enough swing votes to put WP into power in the Punggol East constituency? There would need to be a swing of about 5% to 10% of the votes for WP to become the local government of the constituency. Will this happen?

  1. In the general elections of 2011, WP had obtained 46.58% of the votes in the constituencies that they had contested in. This is a very good performance.
  2. In all the constituencies that WP had stood in, they won at least 40% of the votes in each of them. WP had stood mainly in the constituencies in the eastern side of Singapore. Punggol East is also in the eastern side of Singapore, where the influence of WP is traditionally stronger, so they stand a good chance.
  3. The population in Punggol East is relatively younger – they would be more likely to engage themselves on the Internet and would be able to receive more information online, to form an opinion that would be more complete.
  4. At the same time, during the PAP-Aim-AHTC episode, WP had conducted themselves above-board. They have also filed a motion to discuss this episode in parliament next Monday, which shows that they want to deal with this issue in as open and honest a manner as possible.

Will WP stand a good chance at winning? By all accounts, WP should stand a good chance at winning. The real question is what will those on the fence do? Are they convinced enough yet that their votes should not go to PAP? The residents at Punggol East need to consider carefully if they want to continue voting for PAP.

From the incidents that have occurred over the past 1 year, there is a need for more transparency and accountability in the Singapore government. Singaporeans simply do not have enough information as to how our money is being used and whether we are being short-changed. We simply do not. Decisions are made without consulting Singaporeans – the $1.1 billion subsidy to SMRT for the purchase of the buses, the year-on-year increase of an average of 20% to the Medisave Required Amount, among many discrepancies  On top of that, our real wages have dropped by more than 2% since 2008, and since 2001, the amount that we are withdrawing from our CPF has dropped constantly.

All this has happened because we do not have a government that is not willing to listen to us, and because we do not have enough representation in the government which are able to put our viewpoints and our voices across. Effectively, we have been silenced. We need to bring our voice back. And the only we can do so, for now, is to ensure that we have enough representation within government which can fight for our rights and who can make us heard. We shouldn’t have to, but we need to claw Singapore back for ourselves. 

Yes, there might Our National Conversation going on right now. But let’s get real – where do the actual decisions and policy discussions get made? They are made in parliament, not in the comfort of the discussion rooms or coffee shops where these discussions are held – not even on the Reach website or during the Meet-the-People’s sessions. We can raise our feedback on all the various platforms available in Singapore and our voice still won’t get hurt. Just take a look at the Facebook pages of our political leaders – you see many complaints and unhappiness written all over their walls, literally. And yet, what has happened? Very frankly, if we want change to happen, we need to put people into the government who will truly, really represent our voices, and who can truly make a difference with their vote and their power. This is the only true solution – the PAP government knows this, and it is time we know this. WP can continue to serve us on the side, even if they don’t win, but that’s all. When decisions get made without our feedback, we will just get bulldozed over and WP’s hands will be tied if they are not put into government.

You only have one choice if you want to get your voice back and you want to get it heard. You only have one choice if you want a government which will listen to you and who will learn the humility to treat you with respect. You only have one choice – use it wisely. 


  1. anthony sim

    I fully believe it is time for the citizens to think real hard on the forthcoming by election. Another opposition party in government will start the wheel rolling. This will equate to people power and their voices will not be heard by PAP as just nonsensical noise. Truly, this will put things in clear perspective where transparency is what the people want and not what the governing party thinks what the people should hear or more likely dusting any of their errors under the carpet, with no accountability whatsoever. Whichever representative is elected to represent the constituency, be it from PAP or WP, they must always remember as individual, their position is not invincible. The individual is the voice and is the voice of the people.

    True democracy, is not monopoly. After all politics are just games played by politicians by whom voted by the people and certainly are expandable when they have not represented the people well.

    Therefore, keep up the good work in providing our two cents worth. It will only make Singaporeans think and keep the politicians honest.

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