The next General Elections (GE) which is to be held by April 2021 could well be do or die for the Singapore People’s Party (SPP).
This will be the first time that the party heads into a GE without its talismanic figurehead Chiam See Tong as its secretary general.
The veteran politician, who served as Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir from 1984 to 2011, stepped down as the party’s secretary general in September last year.
Effectively, the SPP has not won a seat in Parliament since 2006, the last time Mr Chiam was elected as MP for Potong Pasir.
The party won a non-constituency MP seat in 2011 when its candidate, Lina Chiam (Mr Chiam’s wife) lost by a razor thin margin.
She was fielded again in 2015 despite the 2011 defeat, and only garnered about 35% of the valid votes cast in 2015, thus ending the SPP’s presence in Parliament.
With the Elections Boundaries Review Committee having kept Potong Pasir SMC intact with new areas added from parts of Bishan-Toa Payoh and Marine Parade GRC, it is probably safe to say that this upcoming General Elections will be the final opportunity for the SPP to make some headway in its electoral performance.
And if it doesn’t, it is effectively as good as over the SPP.
New Leadership – But is it too late?
The SPP was inaugurated in 1994 and the first time the party flag was used in a General Elections was at the 1997 GE.
That year, the SPP fielded three candidates in Potong Pasir (Chiam See Tong),
In 2001, the party contested in 13 seats and then 20 seats at the 2006 elections.
Both times, the party only won one seat, through Mr Chiam.
In 2011, Mr Chiam left his stronghold of Potong Pasir and stood with a team in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC but garnered about 43% of the vote, thus ending a storied political career.
He did not participate at the 2015 GE.
Pundits have pointed to how the party was practically being kept relevant through Chiam’s name, and his goodwill among the people of Potong Pasir, borne over 27 years of representation in Parliament.
Without having groomed any potential leaders during his time as leader of the party, the party went on a hiatus after the 2015 GE.
Insiders indicated that there was all-round disappointment following the GE2015 defeat in which its best performing candidate was Lina Chiam in Potong Pasir.
Others, like Ravi Philemon received a meagre 25.2%i n Hong Kah North while its hastily cobbled Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC team led by Benjamin Pwee received 26.4% of the votes.
After a period of relative inertia following the GE2015, the party came to life sometime in 2017 when a team of activists started their groundwork in Potong Pasir, Bishan-Toa Payoh and Mountbatten.
In Potong Pasir, Chief Strategy Officer of communications firm SW Singapore I Malaysia Jose Raymond was visibly active with house to house visits, events and also with providing residents with legal and other forms of support.
A team led by former non-constituency member of parliament Steve Chia has been less active in Bishan-Toa Payoh than in Potong Pasir, while Jeannette Chong was continuing her work in Mountbatten unless she resigned in August 2019, just before the party heralded in a new leadership.
What could be the SPP’s GE Strategy
With Jose Raymond elected as the party’s chairman, and with Steve Chia the new secretary-general, it will be now or never for the SPP to make inroads into Parliament.
And based on how the boundaries have been drawn up, its best show at returning to Parliament will be through its battle for Potong Pasir.
The SPP has also been very careful not to have been seen in any coalition talks with any of the political parties.
It was previously reported that SPP had resisted any discussions on coalition with any of the political parties, and had consistenty said that it was choosing to just continue its ground work.
It can be argued that the party is aiming to focus its energy on trying to regain its former stronghold in Potong Pasir, and then take it step by step thereafter, very much like how its former secretary general Chiam See Tong grew the strength of the representation in parliament after winning the Potong Pasir seat in 1984.
From one in 1984, Mr Chiam then brought in two others with him into parliament in 1991 through Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen.
Focusing on Potong Pasir and ensuring it gets a foot in could well be its first step to having a seat at the parliamentary table.
Can Potong Pasir be overcome?
Despite having worked the ground for three years and over, SPP’s Chairman Jose Raymond could well be in for a tough fight.
The incumbent MP Sitoh Yih Pin has been on the ground since 2001, and lost two elections before finally making a breathrough in 2011.
With new areas in Joo Seng and Bartley Road carved into the SMC’s boundaries, it will be a lot tougher for the SPP to try and wrest the constituency from Sitoh.
What’s more, with the national mood more sullen and depressing due to the COVID-19 virus, it is highly likely and can be argued that people will vote for the incumbent.
Whatever the case, and whenever the elections are called, expect that Potong Pasir will end up becoming a hotspot yet again.
For the SPP, the next GE may be its only chance left before it loses its relevance and may be forced to shut.
Which will be a shame for the party and its erstwhile leader Chiam See Tong.