A complicated three-horse presidential race?

Chan Jia Hui

The entrance of the Istana

The gates of the Presidential Palace are open.

So the verdict is out. Dr Tony Tan will be contesting the 2011 Presidential elections. Tony arrived yesterday together with his wife at the Elections Department to pick up the forms for the Certificate of Eligibility to contest the upcoming Presidential Elections.

He has since resigned from the People’s Action Party (PAP), and will also resign from the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and the Singapore Press Holdings with effect from 1st July.

Dr Tan was a former deputy prime minister, and stepped down from political office in 2006. Insisting that the decision to contest the elections was purely his own and he was not approached by anyone to run, Dr Tan will join Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian in what is looking to be like the battle of the Tans. Yes, one quirky aspect of this election assuming the trio receive their certificates of eligibility to contest is that it will be an unprecedented battle of candidates with the same surname.

There are sentiments out there indicating that this Presidential Election may possibly be the proxy of battle between PAP and the opposition. And this notion has not escaped the presidential candidate hopefuls. Kin Lian is the one who was closely associated with the opposition. The latter was a guest speaker at two opposition party rallies – the National Solidarity Party and Singapore Democratic Party.

Cheng Bock was also quick to assert his independence despite his history as a PAP candidate and back-bencher. The latter was quick to downplay his links with the PAP, indicating his past association with the PAP does not give him any advantage. He pointed out instances of his independence, speaking at length on his debate with the late Dr Goh Keng Swee in which he voiced his opposition over streaming in our schools.

He also highlighted an instance in which he voted against his own party over the nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) issue as he felt strongly that an MP should be elected by the people and be answerable for their actions.

Despite Cheng Bock’s assertions of independence and not toeing the PAP line, others may still view him as a PAP man on the basis of his party membership and candidacy, and furthermore, he is less of an opposition mould relatively speaking in comparison with Kin Lian. The latter maintained a close proximity to opposition parties, unlike Cheng Bock.

If the contest was originally a two-horse race between Kin Lian and Cheng Bock, the latter will edge it, at 60 to 40%, the margin of PAP to opposition support during the 2011 General Elections and the approximate margin of victory when the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong took on Mr Chua Kim Yeow.

Ong won 58.7% of the valid votes to Chua’s 41.3%. Both Ong and Cheng Bock share a similarity in the sense that both possess an independent streak, the former sanctioning a strike in 1986, the first in a decade.

The strike took place within the shipping industry when the management was taking advantage of the workers. Ong didn’t inform the cabinet about his sanctioning of the strikes which angered his colleagues. The strike lasted two days, and the matter was resolved, with the shipping management being at fault. Ong reasoned that if he told his colleagues about his sanctioning of the strike, they would have stopped him. He asserted that he did the right thing.

Now, with Tony in the picture, it has gotten a lot more complicated. If the ‘PAP’-supporting votes were split 50-50, Kin Lian will be the winner of the three-horse race. He will get his 40%, with Cheng Bock and Tony getting 30% each.

Strategy-wise, assuming we get a three-horse race, it is likely that Kin Lian will continue travelling with the opposition bandwagon. The split in PAP candidates supporting vote is good for him, and there is no reason why he should change his tack. Assuming a half split in PAP supporting votes, all Kin Lian has to do is to maintain the 40% margin.

How about the situation for Cheng Bock? He may be a popular man even among PAP supporters despite his independent streak, but he has to take a gamble if a half split in PAP votes is anticipated. He has to venture and win over opposition supporters, and that means portraying himself as an ‘opposition’ even within the PAP ranks.

However, that in itself is risky, as he could lose votes from PAP supporters. To a certain extent, it is a catch 22 situation. In fact, for former PAP candidates Cheng Bock and Tony, their chance of a victory at the Presidential elections depends on whether their level of support among PAP supporters is overwhelming as compared to the other.

A more than two-third majority among PAP support for either Tony or Cheng Bock will account for more than 40% of the overall votes (more than two-thirds of 60% will equate to more than 40%) . Victory could well depend on which of the two is more overwhelmingly popular amongst PAP supporters.

Tony is a newcomer to the presidential contest, and we have yet to see the cards he will be playing. However, let’s hope that all three Tans will get their certificates of eligibility. It will be a complicated presidential race, but not without its excitement.

Photo courtesy of JohnMuzi