What if I were…PM Lee Hsien Loong


PMLeeHL.jpg

Image from Straits Times

Today I begin a new series called, “What I if were…” It is one in which I situate myself into the mind of someone and see a specific issue from within that mind. This “someone” could be an actual person, or it could be a group of persons. It could well be a job position like the Secretary General of the UN. This is pure conjecture, of course, designed to provide an example of the creative play that strategic thinking requires us all to have. It certainly does not claim to be an expert opinion, and it certainly does not represent any other person’s opinions except mine.

It’s 11 April 2015. I have just reshuffled the cabinet; moved people around, promoted others. I feel that our team is ready for the next lap without Mr Lee. I have placed what I feel are the right people in the right place. Now comes the big decision, when should I call the next election?

Our term of office ends May next year so there is still another year left. However, many Singaporeans expect the elections to come soon. It is SG50, and there is already some anticipation of the celebrations that will culminate on National Day. In fact, we have already designated 7 August a special public holiday so that we have a long weekend of celebrations; so by all intents and purposes, this is a better year to call for the elections than next year. But is it?

Intent My intent is not just to win back popular vote, but also Aljunied GRC. Since the Workers’ Party is still trying to settle into their constituency management, with the hiccups that usually happen, and are now being played up, there is no better time to take back Aljunied. If we don’t do it this election, it is not likely that we can wrest it from WP hands in the following one. Indeed, we cannot lose any more seats to the opposition.

Thinking in Time

We launched a very good budget this year, in what some people might call an election budget. Election or no election, this budget is needed for us to be more prepared for an expected downturn.

Yes, there may well be an economic slowdown. Just look at the Manufacturers’ Purchasing Managers’ Index. It has been below 50% for this year and slowly inching down. There may be one or two bright sparks in the economy, so it is not a foregone conclusion. The budget will help cushion any shocks to the system, which, seems quite unlikely, since there are no major deteriorating global economic indicators.

This means we don’t have to rush.

The passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew has created a great national outpouring. We have come together as a nation to mourn his passing. It will be a bitter-sweet event when we celebrate SG50, yet the organisers should already be putting a segment in the SG50 celebrations about Mr Lee. In fact, the National Museum has already started this, and while they might close it soon, they might well reopen it in August. Although SG50 will not be a “Remembering Mr Lee” event, no one will miss the obvious link between both events’ significance.

Obviously, the more time we take, the more time the opposition has to organise themselves. To some extent, they have had the whole of the last four years to eat into our ground, but they don’t seem as organised as they were four years ago. NSP lost a good person in Nicole Seah and wouldn’t it be interesting if she suddenly turned up in PAP livery? WP is also having some problem, with their processes still in infancy. It shows how inadequate they are at running a GRC. However, the sooner they can rectify their problems, the sooner they will be in building greater political mileage, and if we want to stop them, we need to stop them as soon as possible.

Hence, any additional time that the opposition has to add to their ability to organise themselves and rally the people, the better it would be for them.

Options

There are four options:

1. right now

2. after 100 days of Mr Lee’s death

3. just after SG50 celebrations

4. well after SG50 celebrations

Right now

We are ready to go right now. I have already found the people that we want to field for the next elections. They have already been onboarded into the party. However, going in right now would be seen as capitalizing on Mr Lee’s death. There will certainly be sympathy votes, and whoever stands in Tanjong Pagar ward will certainly come under close media scrutiny, which would be a good thing. But the opposition would also label us as being opportunistic, and disrespecting Mr Lee’s death. This might offend some, pulling them into the opposition camp. To some extent, this is the risk, but it can be managed.

After 100 days of Mr Lee’s death

We have already mourned Mr Lee for 100 days, and from 1 July, we cannot be accused of capitalizing on Mr Lee’s death. By this time, preparations for the SG50 celebrations would be in full swing, and a lot of the details of the parade would already be made known. The NE shows would start to kick in around this time, building the anticipation for a great event. The excitement should be at about 80% of the level just after SG50 celebrations, so it would be a great time to call for the election. We can also cap our victory at the SG50 celebrations, cementing our new elected members of parliament with the people. Quite sensible.

Just after SG50 celebrations

This is another opportunistic time. Emotions are high, everyone loves Singapore and Mr Lee, and the Singapore Grand Prix is around the corner. The time just after SG50 is also a great option. Yet, this is so obvious that if by 17 July parliament has not been dissolved, this becomes the most obvious option, and the opposition already has their message on hand. So while this is a great opportunity, the opposition is ready for this. Not strategically sound.

Well after SG50 celebrations

Everyone expects the elections to be called between now till SG50 celebrations. Once we pass SG50, we should then move well past it. Obviously, the longer we wait, the more time we give the opposition, but we will have surprise on our side. And we don’t have to make campaigning too long. When we move past SG50 celebrations, we will have to move well into December, maybe even to early 2016. December is the earliest time so as to avoid the major examination periods. After all, schools are used as the polling centres and we cannot have a situation of any security breach that might impact exam results. We also don’t want to disrupt the final ramping up period for the students. Yet, that might still be obvious so if we reach this time, it might well be more appropriate to move past December! There are certainly risks associated with this because with elections so far from SG50 celebrations, the positive effect from it would not be felt. There is always the risk that the economy may take a turn, although I don’t foresee a hard-landing.

Ranking the options

Looking at each of the options, the best option might well be after 100 days from Mr Lee’s death. With so many options still ahead of us, the opposition would have to work many scenarios, and plan many contingencies. They would certainly be quite fragmented in terms of their messaging at this time. The more time we give the opposition, the clearer their message would be.

The next best alternative would be right now. For the same reasons as the best option, we can obfuscate the opposition with the number of possibilities, and when they are still not yet ready, to strike at them. Obviously we have to deal with the accusations of disrespecting Mr Lee, yet, we can also turn that around to say that this would be something that Mr Lee would want. So, we can still turn that to our favour.

The other two options are not as favourable as the above two, so I will not think about them for now.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings

So, from the looks of things, I will probably settle for 100 days after Mr Lee’s death. But, as they say in football, the ball is round; and many things can affect this decision. So it’s not over yet until the fat lady sings.

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