Who will PM pick for Aljunied?

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By Augustine Low

The more you think about it, the more it appears that Aljunied GRC is presenting the PAP with one big headache. The GRC system seemed like such a foolproof way for the PAP to secure its dominance. Who would have thought that it would end up haunting it, with that one loss opening up a can of worms?

As we inch ever closer to the next General Election, which could well be next year, Singapore’s 50th year of independence, the PAP needs to have its strategy in place real soon. How it plays its cards in Aljunied GRC will have wide-ranging implications, and will demonstrate the Party’s state of mind.

Will it be courageous and gutsy? Or will it cower and cut the risks?

Headache No. One: The Disappearing Act

All five losing candidates from the PAP team have joined the private sector. Four have confirmed that they have quit politics for good – George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua, Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Cynthia Phua.

The fifth candidate – Ong Ye Kung – has not officially ruled out a return to politics. But the fact that he left his deputy secretary-general’s post at NTUC to join Keppel Corporation leaves a big question mark on his political ambition. And even if he returns, he might not be fielded in Aljunied GRC, given that he was touted to be of Ministerial calibre and the Party would want to ease him into Parliament.

All in, the disappearing act of the Aljunied team only fuels further criticism that PAP candidates are fair weather politicians who scurry off when the going gets tough. One electoral loss, and they do not have the will and the mettle to make a comeback to reclaim the slate! I can imagine the Opposition having a field day capitalising on this, not just in Aljunied GRC but elsewhere.

Headache No. Two: Go in with guns blazing or with a whimper?

One or two Ministers typically anchor each PAP GRC team. The last time around, the PAP lost two Ministers and one Senior Minister of State in one fell swoop in Aljunied GRC.

Who will it pick to helm the new team? Can it afford to lose more Ministers, who are already such scarce pickings?

But can it afford not to have a heavyweight or two anchoring the team? Fielding a team of newbies without any experienced Ministers at the helm would be an affront to voters of the GRC. It would show that the Party does not have the stomach for a fight. Singaporeans keenly wait to find out.

There is also the question of whether the Workers’ Party will spring another surprise. It took a huge gamble by sending its A-team to contest the GRC in 2011. What if it decides to split up its Aljunied GRC team to try and claim other GRCs? If the PAP trains its big guns on Aljunied, will it risk having depleted resources to defend other GRCs?

It’s a question of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. One dilemma after another confronting the PAP!

Headache No. Three: Managing Morale within the Party

Why me? Dispensible? Suicide mission? Lamb to the slaughter? It is entirely understandable that any experienced Minister or MP would not relish being arrowed to be part of the PAP team for a most formidable contest.

PM Lee would have his work cut out trying to manage morale and assuage feelings of those being yanked away from their comfort zone. Perhaps the likes of Hri Kumar, who has been fiercely critical of WP, would volunteer to take up the fight. This would make PM Lee’s task that little bit easier. But the rest of the candidates? Choose the most able or the most dispensible?

One battle plan may be to send the ex-army general Chan Chun Sing to lead the PAP charge. His Tanjong Pagar GRC has had a walkover in every GE, and if he pulls off a glorious Aljunied victory, it would cement his credentials and credibility to be the next PM. But with PM Lee’s track record of aversion to risk-taking, I wouldn’t bet on it. Defeat would be oh so devastating.