05 May 2016

Modelling the Bukit Batok 2016 by-election

How much of a swing in the electorate does Dr Chee Soon Juan and the SDP need
to win the Bukit Batok by-election?

We first mooted the idea of using Dunleavy's electoral modelling of dominant party states for Singapore's 2015 general election. Polling results have vindicated our adoption of Dunleavy's model over alternate narratives from the ground and Singapore's self-appointed pundit class, who variously pointed to the apotheosis of Lee Kuan Yew, or predicted further gains for WP and SPP solely because they believed the electorate are, just like the pundit class, fellow conservatives who just want a different style in parliament or a 10% discount on PAP policies.

The upcoming by-election in Bukit Batok is much easier to call, for both a dominant party state model as well as other folk and pundit narratives. That is, a by-election is a course correction for any misplaced enthusiasm or bad faith in the dominant party in the previous general election. That is, the by-election is the PAP's to lose.

This is specially so given the SDP's adoption of the "clear water strategy". The party under Chee is ideologically consistent and fully differentiated from the range of parties in Singapore, but struggles to garner a vote of more than 35%.

Our model begins with a win for the People's Action Party

But what is the swing away from the PAP? What is the baseline we should begin with?

The dominant party state model is only interested in two questions for this by-election: Has the perceived effectiveness and competence of the dominant party changed since the last general election?

Our model begins with a baseline of a 67% win for the PAP

Note that the by-election takes place barely half a year after the last general election. How much can public opinion on the competence and effectiveness of the dominant party change in barely half a year? How much can public policy or government change in half a year, given that parliament only began sitting in February?

In our model, the Bukit Batok by-election is, aside from a potential course correction to the unexpected PAP 2015GE landslide, a rough barometer on the ground reaction to the 2016 Budget and the coming recession, whose reality and impact appears to be played down at the mainstream media, via orders from the government's propagandists. There is an outside chance that for some segment of the population, the spat between Lee Wei Ling and Minilee has taken the halo off the PAP. Just how big that segment is, remains to be seen.

Our model also predicts that the manner of David Ong's departure will have very little impact on the PAP. As a putative backbencher, Ong is not tied to the image of the dominant party. If Ong had been a minister, being caught in bed with a live girl would've guaranteed a by-election loss for the PAP.

How the PAP can still lose it

An interesting thing happened at the opening of the by-election: Murali Pillai dangled the upgrading carrot/stick, and then withdrew his pork barrel bribe/threat. It may have to do with a campaign on FaceBook re-sharing our "PAP upgrades its own upgrading carrot" to problematise the use of the upgrading carrot.

We would rather have our article be used to question the competence of the PAP's candidate, whether he understood the hubris of claiming the work, research, and proposals of others as his, and whether he understood the audacity of being an unelected candidate claiming he had the authority to guarantee the continuance of upgrading projects if he is eventually elected.

We do not claim to speak for any Bukit Batok elector. However, it must be galling to have an unelected candidate strut in barely half a year after the last general election, to re-sell you the upgrading package you had already signed up and paid for, and claim that your failure to re-contract would incur penalties - never mind that we're in a by-election due to the failure of his predecessor, as well as the failure of the party leader to smell a philandering rat.

The fact remains: Murali played the best card the PAP has (despite his poor timing), to remind voters that it is the dominant state party - and then tore up that card and ate it.

How the SDP could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

By reminding people that the PAP is still an effective dominant state party instead of working actively to attack its halo of effectiveness and legitimacy. Our model indicates it is counter-productive for the SDP to continue to complain about the entire PAP cabinet campaigning for Murali.

As we noted in our post-mortem of GE2015:

In an election where the PAP declared town council management and town council master plans to be the most important issues, the SPP dutifully trotted out candidates who would promise their best to be good local governors, releasing their own town council master plans. 

The SPP suffered a humiliating defeat, with voters rejecting its "model backbencher MPs". This by-election, the SDP could ill-afford to make the same strategic blunder as Mr Chiam - which is to compete directly on terms and grounds where the PAP is recognised as super-effective, having unique access to the resources of the state and the grassroots.

As usual, we at Illusio will return to the Bukit Batok by-election once the results are out.

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