Losing a foreign minister doesn’t hurt – a voter’s view

Chan Jia Hui

Foreign Minister George Yeo meets shakes hand with Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva

Foreign Minister George Yeo shakes hand with Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva

To an average voter, electoral issues that feature high on his priority list are housing, healthcare, homeland security, education, jobs or more generally, bread and butter issues. Foreign policies debates aren’t given the light of the day by both ruling and opposition parties.

Housing, healthcare, education, jobs and other bread and butter issues are the main topics raised during electoral rallies. Not surprising because they strike at the chords of the hearts of average voters. Such cover the direct interests of voters.

But, not so for foreign policies. Before, one swiftly concludes on the basis of this essay’s introduction that foreign policies aren’t important, the main point of this piece is not to downgrade the importance of foreign policies. Foreign policies are every bit as important. The establishment of bilateral or/and multilateral ties especially of that concerning industrial exchange, trade and economics will benefit Singaporeans.

For instance, the role of Foreign Service in cementing trade links will allow Singaporean goods and services to be exported to partner countries.  Or an industrial exchange programme will benefit Singapore through transfer of technology from technologically-advanced countries.

It is just that foreign policies with their nuances are not easy topics to grapple with. Such are beyond the grasp of average voters. Hence, the topic is left out of electoral debates. Foreign policies debate hasn’t cropped up during debates leading up to previous elections. Neither has it been touched upon during the lead up to the current elections. And it is likely it will not feature during this current election.

From the average voter’s perception, the PAP candidates that play a role in their direct interests include those involved in manpower, trade and industrial, financial, homeland security, health, economics and housing policies. Therefore, the loss of manpower, trade and industry, finance, national development, health and home affairs ministers at the polls will be perceived as greater loss.

No intended disrespect to Mr George Yeo, I have heard of glowing opinions of him from my fellow writer at the New Asia Republic. But, he is the incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs and unfortunately, what he addresses in his ministerial capacity doesn’t coincide with the direct interests of voters. Therefore, just based on the voter perception, it is fair to say that his loss will not be keenly felt.

As such, it is not difficult to see why Aljunied GRC, in which he is the anchor for the ward was the site of intense contest. Has Worker’s Party ever thought that the loss of Mr Yeo will not be keenly felt by voters because he doesn’t address their interests directly at the policy level? We do not know for sure. But it seems the Worker’s Party is going for broke at Aljunied with Mr Low Thia Khiang leaving Hougang to contest there and the addition of star catch Mr Chen Show Mao to the mix. Now, the Worker’s Party team contesting the ward is touted as the “A star” team.

If Mr Yeo wins, good for him. I believe he is a good man and one of the enlightened ministers within the cabinet. But, conversely, if he loses, there will be inquests and post-mortems galore as to why a minister loses. A simple explanation is that Mr Yeo is in charge of a ministry that does not address the voters’ direct interests. As a result, voters perceive that losing Yeo isn’t that bad. Rather a case of unfortunate circumstances indeed.

Photo courtesy of Fickr Commons.