In a speech to a Hougang rally crowd during the run up to its recent by-election, Png Eng Huat remarked “this election, [PAP] had sent a big gun too, but it did not bring any big carrot”.
The carrot refers to upgrading. The upgrading carrot has always been a contentious issue, in which many argue, tilts the playing field towards the PAP side.
Even debates in online forums on the opposition’s and PAP’s chances in wards that are upgraded where residents enjoy the benefits of good amenities and facilities, the sentiment is that the advantage will be on the PAP’s side. However, that is not necessarily true.
Actually, the fact that such wards, with the exception of Hougang and Potong Pasir, have been upgraded with lifts stopping at every floor, recreational facilities and other amenities, means that voters are less likely to be threatened by any threat of upgrading withdrawal (since their place has been upgraded) as they are already beneficiaries of it.
In other words, where such wards have already enjoyed upgrading benefits, the use of upgrading as a weapon is akin to using an expended round, which is no longer useful at all.
From the psyche of voters who reside in such wards, upgrading concerns will not feature as top priorities. Other issues that possibly extend to the national level will take higher priority.
This is why the use of upgrading carrot is a time-limited weapon in the context of wards that have already enjoyed such benefits. It is useful initially when such wards lack amenities and other facilities, but when the upgrading works have been done, its usefulness has expired.
There are observers who dismiss the chances of opposition in well-upgraded wards with good facilities and amenities. The truth is that having enjoyed upgrades, it is less likely voters can be held hostage to it ever again. This means the PAP possesses less advantage than it should have if used in a ward that lacks a lift upgrading programme and other amenities.
Thus, the alternative view is that wards which have been upgraded are “ripe chikus” for picking as far as the opposition is concerned, to borrow the term from a former PAP candidate, Eric Low, who previously contested Hougang, ironically.
The PAP has to look for other means to win over such voters, and the opposition has less to fear about the upgrading issue swaying voters, which has been used only to become an expended round. Ironically, that line by Png is better suited to voters residing in wards who have enjoyed upgrading benefits as opposed to Hougang. It is true that in such cases, the PAP cannot bring along any carrot, because they have been distributed and there is no more of it in the bag.
Ultimately, when residential areas in most of Singapore is upgraded, the realisation will dawn on the PAP that the usefulness of upgrading as an election tactic has long expired, and it will have one less advantage.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Wong, Flickr Commons