GRC effects: George Yeo out, Tin Pei Ling in

Chan Jia Hui

Singapore's outgoing Foreign Minister George Yeo speaking at the UN General Assembly

The verdict is finally out. The Worker’s Party has taken Hougang and Aljunied GRC. Oh, and I may add that PAP has won Marine Parade, which means we will see Miss Tin Pei Ling in Parliament.

Just a while ago, the unveiling of PAP candidate Miss Tin Pei Ling was met with a hostile reception. Old YouTube videos of her surfaced, and in subsequent performances in the full face of the media, replies to question such as her greatest regrets were met with derisions from some observers. Her remarks on the low costs of healthcare were also met with criticisms.

During her campaign trail, she lobbied the merchant’s association not to increase food prices, but that was seen to be inadequate. Rightly so as the opposition was quick, and correct to dismiss her move.

The opposition’s campaign focused on bread and butter issues, and they were quick to focus on the systemic problems leading to price increases. Stall rental prices increase is a systemic problem leading to price increases.

As such, Pei Ling’s lobbying of the Merchant’s Association betrayed a lack of understanding of the art of policy making. It is common error among folks who have yet to read Policy-making 101 to mistake symptoms of the problems for the problems themselves. The symptom was increases in food prices attributed to the increase in rental prices. With high overheads, hawkers will charge more for the food.

Returning to her remarks on low and manageable healthcare costs, it is a risky statement to make. This is because we only spend 1.4% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare, a fact pointed out by Ananth Tambyah in a lunch time rally speech done in his personal capacity on an invitation by the Singapore Democratic Party.

The other systemic problem is the limited coverage of medishield especially for mental illness. It does not take a genius to figure out that the less per capita GDP we spend on healthcare, the more likely the costs borne by the people. It is either that or people in Singapore don’t really consume healthcare, which is unlikely. I did not find it surprising that her comments on healthcare sparked yet another outcry.

Pei Ling’s campaign was set back to a large extent by her lack of media savvy-ness. Her replies to media on personal questions such as her greatest regrets were seen as gaffes. Even till the last day of her campaign, she was plagued by slip-ups, including by one of her staff members who wrote a reply in her Facebook page in her name, prompting allegations of contravention of the laws governing Cooling-off Day. Candidates are not allowed to campaign on cooling-off day.

Some may view lack of media savvy-ness as a sign of failing in one of the attributes of a politician which is the ability to relate to the media. The other attribute is the ability to present and discuss policies cogently. On both counts, Pei Ling doesn’t perform well.

However, let’s move away from Pei Ling and turn our attention to Mr George Yeo. A good man, as Pritam Singh, the winning member of the Worker’s Party Aljunied GRC team, testifies in his rallies, he is one member of the cabinet that the PAP can ill-afford to lose.

As foreign minister, he has the necessary contacts all over the world, which constitute our diplomatic channels. Diplomatic channels are important in facilitating trade links, transfer of knowledge and technology, conflict mediation and establishing bilateral or multi-lateral ties. All of which will be to our benefit. His portfolio may not directly impact Singaporeans as compared with his manpower or trade and industry ministry colleagues, but nonetheless are every bit as important.

One of our foreign ministry’s contributions under George Yeo’s watch was the improving of relationship with Malaysia. Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia has its lows in the past. However, current relations between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is at an all time high. According to George Yeo, such a strong relationship is “not just of friendship, but one based on the common view of how both countries should seize the future together”.

Returning to Tin Pei Ling, when she came out speaking of how she intends to engage netizens, George Yeo was already actively engaging them. Active on his facebook page, he actually replies to interesting queries and posts.

A netizen did a comparison for argument’s sake between Worker’s Party candidate Mr Chen Show Mao (who is part of the victorious Aljunied GRC team) and Tin Pei Ling. The comparison was meant to highlight the gulf in terms of qualifications and life experience between two first time candidates.

Hindsight is 20/20 and now let’s do a comparison between George Yeo and Pei Ling. Already in terms of achievements in helming the ministry and parliamentary experience, Yeo definitely thumps Pei Ling in this one, who is not even considered freshman until she got elected on the 7th of May. Now, let’s compare media savvy-ness. Even George Yeo is the runaway leader in this category through his active engagement of netizens via social media.

This is the implication of GRCs. Yeo, well-liked as he is, will unfortunately go down in history as the first casualty from PAP in the multiple seat GRC contest. No one from PAP has lost a GRC contest before. It is a difficult pill for supporters and those who liked the man to swallow, but fate has it that his Aljunied team faced a highly touted A-star team from Worker’s Party that fielded three heavyweights in the form of Chen Show Mao, Low Thia Khiang and Miss Sylvia Lim.

Pei Ling on the other hand was placed in Marine Parade GRC and her team was helmed by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who won 56.65% of the vote. This narrower margin of victory will lead some to speculate whether Pei Ling has negatively affected the performance of the Marine Parade GRC team. However, having a heavyweight like Goh around is going to swing votes into PAP’s favour.

The irony which does not escape all of us observers is now staring in the face of the ruling PAP. Why is it that a well-liked and talented man like George Yeo is out whilst a Tin Pei Ling, who is out of depth in terms of national issues and media relations is in parliament?

The GRC has come back to haunt the ruling party in this sense. If Pei Ling was in a single member ward up against Miss Nicole Seah for example from the National Solidarity Party, she would have lost. Granted if both George Yeo and Pei Ling faced strong opposition, both would have lost, which isn’t an ironical outcome.

The netizen, onesingaporean who previously compared Chen Show Mao to Pei Ling describes a ‘scary thought’ that someone who is well qualified like Chen may not even make it to the Parliament, whilst Pei Ling will make it on the basis of a GRC. There is now a facebook page dedicated to a petition to remove Pei Ling as a member of the parliament and with readers calling for the reinstatement of George Yeo in her position (edits). It has generated 17,800 likes so far.

For the PAP camp, a question looms at large. How about the CURRENT REALITY that a well qualified and popular man like George Yeo is not in parliament whilst Pei Ling is in parliament? GRC effects, no?

Edits: Facebook page called for the petition to remove Miss Tin Pei Ling from parliament whilst some readers of the Facebook page who posted called for the reinstatement of Mr George Yeo.

Photo courtesy of Fickr Commons.

The writer thanks Mr George Yeo for his service to Singapore’s foreign ministry and would like to wish him all the best for his future endeavours. The writer also wants to play tribute to Mr Yeo for his achievements during his term in government service