Punggol East SMC By-Election
Michael Palmer resigned and left the gate open for a by-election in Punggol East SMC. This is the only issue we should focus on. The periphery talks about leaks, conspiracy theories and whether his private life should be brought into public light are interesting, but should take secondary importance in a few days time when the scandal loses its novelty.
Punggol-East SMC was the only 3-corner tussle in GE 2011 – where PAP (54.54%), WP (41.01%) and SDA (4.45%) rolled their dice and hoped for the best. Michael Palmer, one of the few PAP MPs who stood alone on his own feet in a SMC, won by a relatively comfortable margin. But if all the SDA votes went to WP then, Lee Li Lian would have been MP not Palmer. Many opposition supporters blamed SDA. In perspective, the undertones were that the 4.45% voted for SDA and not WP for a reason and they rightly exercised their choice whatever our misgivings.
So in the coming by-election in Punngol East SMC, which would happen although the time-frame is undetermined, it should not be natural that only WP can contest there. When that by-election comes after Budget, perhaps in May again so that the opposition cannot complain of a snap election, we might expect to see a free-for-all in that SMC. SDP’s Dr Chee can contest now as he is not a bankrupt anymore or the new face of SDP, Vincent, might be candidates. Reform Party already hinted that they are up to it.
This by-election is different from the earlier Hougang one as it is not “stealing” from WP. Voters in Punggol East SMC should have a buffet of parties to pick from and the voting results would be a better barometer of how the various parties stand in Singapore. Naysayers about multi-corner fights and the need for keeping it a 2-party contest are those from the PAP and its competition staking its claim on that GRC or SMC. They stand to lose if a 3rd or 4th party complicates the picture and thus want to keep the simple status quo.
Furthermore, unlike in the GE, a by-election is not part of a necessary grand divide-and-rule political geography negotiated by the opposition. Parties, without the consideration of opportunity cost in fielding candidates in one GRC or SMC over another in a GE, should suspend any fragile truce of this is yours and this is mine. They should go for it, taking full advantage of the contained by-election effect encouraged by Chiam See Tong years ago.