It has now emerged that the elections department has issued 4 political donation certificates to Desmond Choo, Png Eng Huat, Poh Lee Guan and Zeng Guoyuan. The fact that both Poh and Png were from the Workers’ Party (WP) raised eyebrows and fuelled speculations, leading interested observers to wonder what was going on. WP has also issued a statement confirming that the party has nominated Png to contest Hougang, and that Poh had not informed the party of any intention to contest. The statement further confirmed that Poh is still a member of the party.
WP should be well-aware of the adage called Murphy’s law which states “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. Ask Sylvia Lim, Chairwoman of WP, and she will be able to recount an event during the 2001 General Elections (GE) when the WP was disqualified for filing incomplete nomination papers.
When it was announced that Poh and Png were issued political donation certificates, the most ardent of WP supporters speculated that one of the two, possibly, Poh, was a back-up just in case something goes wrong, according to Murphy’s law. It is some of a back-up plan, and no one in WP wants a repeat of 2001.
However, at the other side of the spectrum, critics of WP speculated that Poh’s actions represented the breaking of WP’s ranks. The reasoning behind such a postulation was attributed to a recent development in which Sajeev Kamalasanan, a former contestant in Nee Soon GRC quitted WP. This further fuelled speculations of in-fighting and conflicts, and the latest development involving Poh possibly represented one of such.
Thus, the two most popular theories are having a back-up plan/springing a surprise or problems at the WP end with a minor one of a press relations-based nature to a major internal implosion fraught with breaking of party ranks.
Benefit of holding the cards close to the chest?
Many of us could remember WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang taking the bus to Aljunied GRC, instead of Hougang, where he was the incumbent until 2011. Some observers applaud that as a shrewd tactical move which caught George Yeo and his team unaware. The PAP probably thought that Low would adopt a more conservative approach and stick to Hougang. The rest, they say was history as WP recorded a first historic win in a GRC turf.
However, this is the by-election (BE) involving only one ward. There will be no surprises for Choo as he knows he will be up against an opponent from WP who will come from the ranks of current WP candidates who are currently not in parliament. If Zeng and Poh both throw theirs hats into the ring, it will be a bonus for him, as the non-PAP vote will be split, and this boosts his chance of winning.
However, that is not the point. The question rather is whether “playing the cards close to the chest” or being secretive about having a back-up has any strategic value, if we subscribe to the theory that Poh’s gaining of a political donation certificate is either to throw Choo off-guard or act as a back-up.
It has been elaborated earlier that this BE only involves one ward, and it will not create much of a surprise to Choo, even if he comes up against Poh as opposed to his anticipated rival, Png. There are currently three possible candidates that Choo knows whom he will face.
How about the situation where WP wants to be secretive about having a back-up plan? There is equally no value in keeping a secret of a reserve candidate waiting in the wings. First, the mainstream media has told the entire world that Poh also received a political donation certificate. Hence, Poh’s presence in the list of four, even if intended as a reserve isn’t that surprising by now.
Keeping mum and issuing a statement that Poh had not informed the party of any interest to contest, and further confirming that he is a party member may also not be the in the best interests of WP. Recall that Yaw Shin Leong was expelled for (in)actions that went contrary to WP’s stand on accountability and transparency. Sylvia emphasised in a statement that WP believes strongly in both values. There is nothing wrong for WP to state upfront that Poh was intended as a reserve, which appears so after the fanfare that surrounded the unveiling of Png as Hougang’s candidate. Being upfront about that isn’t going to make a strategic difference.
If WP wants to keep mum about its intentions for Poh, which really can be either of the two – being a reserve or a sensational last minute change as the one to stand against Choo – then it is going against its cherished values of accountability and transparency to its supporters and the people of Hougang. In doing so, it loses the moral high ground that it has taken in the Yaw Shin Leong saga that led to this by-election with the latter’s expulsion.
What is happening in WP?
The episode involving Poh may possibly be attributed to problems in WP – from minor, one-off types to major ones. A minor one-off problem for instance, can be a press relations one. It could be that Poh had no intentions to contest the BE, and thus, obviously never informed the party of any intention to contest the elections because he had none to begin with. And, he is rightly still a member of WP. However, his presence among those who had political donation certificates was to be a reserve. This kind of small problem can otherwise be explained away with Poh’s presence as a reserve.
A bigger problem though is that there are indeed problems of internal conflicts that lead to breaking of ranks. This is a scenario that sends shudders down the spine of the most ardent of WP supporters. Disunity within the party ranks is going to affect the outcome of Hougang BE.
Many will be eagerly watching this space, with some worried over what could be possibly happening at WP (problems at the WP end) and others eagerly waiting for the plot of an intriguing political drama to unfold later on today. At the end of today, we will have an inkling of what went on when the final line-up of candidates is unveiled after nominations.
Photo courtesy of the Workers’ Party.