SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) recent moves to replace the existing chairmen of their branches in Hougang and Sengkang East with new faces signal that the ruling party is preparing for the next General Election (GE), political analysts said.
With two years left of the current Parliament’s term, the moves give the new branch chairmen of Hougang and Sengkang East, Mr Jackson Lam, 38, and Mr Marcus Loh, 40, respectively, some time to walk the ground and build connections with residents, the analysts added.
On Oct 17, PAP appointed Mr Lam as branch chair of its Hougang division, taking over Mr Lee Hong Chuang, 53.
Then, on Oct 26, the party announced that Mr Loh will take over the Sengkang East division from Mr Ling Weihong, 42, from Nov 1 onwards.
Former PAP Member of Parliament (MP) Inderjit Singh said that while these changes indicate that the ruling party is preparing for the next GE by moving potential candidates to the appropriate constituencies, it is “hard to say” that the elections are around the corner.
“The key thing is that the potential candidates are given sufficient time to build their ground support,” said Mr Singh, who held the role of second adviser for Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency’s (GRC) Kebun Baru ward for two-and-a-half years before he was fielded as a candidate for the 1997 General Election.
Political analyst and Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said these recent moves are “part of the process of priming for the General Election”, which has to take place by 2025.
“Certainly, we can expect movements in the PAP’s West Coast, Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs,” he added.
Given that Mr Lee ran for Hougang Single Member Constituency in the 2015 and 2020 elections but lost to the Workers’ Party (WP) candidates Png Eng Huat and Dennis Tan, respectively, Associate Professor Tan said PAP would see it “fit to deploy a new branch chair who is likely to be fielded in Hougang”.
He added that Mr Loh’s appointment as Sengkang’s branch chairperson shows that PAP is looking at candidates who are “closely aligned with the demographic profile of voters there — in their 30s and who are parents with young children”.
Ms Nydia Ngiow, managing director of consultancy firm BowerGroupAsia in Singapore, said these changes point to the ruling party’s “ongoing efforts to bring in new talent” for both wards.
“It makes sense to raise public awareness of new talent early on, such that they have a longer runway to build and establish trust with residents,” she said.
She believes that the replacement of Mr Ling in Sengkang GRC is more of a “planned succession” rather than a sudden development.
This is evident from Mr Loh’s consistent presence alongside Mr Ling during house visits and party activities over the past couple of months, which were documented on social media, said Ms Ngiow.
As to whether a General Election is imminent, she said that it “remains to be seen”, and the upcoming PAP convention could provide more clues as to when that will be.
Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, the head of policy development, evaluation and data analytics at global policy advisory firm Kantar Public, said that he would not pay too much attention to these recent changes as the replacement of branch chairs happens in between elections.
However, he noted that changes signal that the party wants to “refresh their candidates” in opposition wards and “to signal a fresh start in the constituency”.
AN ‘UPHILL’ TASK
While developing the “trust and confidence” of the voters is the most important task for potential candidates, the experts said that Mr Lam will “need to exert greater effort” to establish himself as a credible challenger to the WP incumbent for Hougang.
Assoc Prof Tan described Mr Lam’s task as an “uphill” one, as Hougang is the “crown jewel” for WP and has remained its stronghold since 1991.
Ms Ngiow said: “It would be critical for Mr Lam to craft a distinct campaign strategy compared to his predecessor, Mr Lee Hong Chuang, who faced accusations from the WP of falsely claiming credit for renewal programmes during the 2020 General Election, if there is to be any chance of PAP winning back this WP stronghold.”
As for Mr Loh, he would likely find a “smoother transition” in Sengkang as he is able to leverage an already-established PAP team under the leadership of Dr Lam Pin Min, said Ms Ngiow.
In GE 2020, WP won Sengkang GRC with 52.13 per cent of the vote.
Assoc Prof Tan does not think that former WP MP Raeesah Khan’s resignation in November 2021, following her admission that she had lied in Parliament, will be a big factor in the next GE.
“Other factors will matter much more, like how well-run the estate is,” he said.
Still, Assoc Prof Tan stressed that newcomers “need a presence on the ground” to gain the trust and confidence of voters regardless of which party they are from.
For Sengkang and Hougang, WP candidates have the edge “by virtue of being the incumbent and having four years to show residents what they have done and can offer in another term if elected”, he added.