OMG! Low: a great strategist & sage

In Political governance on 24/01/2013 at 5:48 am

Given that netizens have turned against the WP and Low, I tot I should bring a little balance into the row, by letting JG say a few words.

I’m glad she didn’t compare Low and WP to Sun Tzu because then I’ll be reminded of what Edward Luttwak, a modern-day American strategist, recently wrote of the use of Sun Tzu teachings by the Chinese, “While Han generals in charge of large armies were busy quoting Sun Tzu to each other, relatively small numbers of mounted warriors schooled in the rudely effective strategy and tactics of the steppe outmanoeuvred and defeated their forces.” Lest we forget, the Hsiung Nu, Tibetans, Jurchens, Khitans, Mongols, Manchus,and other nomads defeated Chinese generals steeped in Sun Tzu’s aphorisms.

She writes:

Re : Low’s weird comments

I take the opposite tack of you – instead of Low being a liability in this BE, I think he has acted splendidly. Put it another way : on a scale of 1 to 10, I rank Low 8, LHL 6 and CSJ 4 in terms of strategic manouevers and tactical execution.

First of all, we need to recognise that in the heat of a campaign, if you put every person’s words under a microscope, you’ll find meat that anyone can go after. Dr Koh had made many verbal blunders (“As professionals, we need 2 cars”, “my wife said you want to help but people don’t want your help”), KJ (“on MC today”), LTK and interestingly so far, none from Ah Lian. These are TACTICAL mis-steps – every candidate makes them. The Great Obama said something about “bitter people .. clinging on to their guns”, Michelle Obama (“for the first time, I’m proud of my country”).

These tactical blunders happen, but most are minor and recoverable. Particularly if you look at the context they are uttered. In LTK’s case, I think he meant “all the PM has to say” to mean, “is this the best complain you PM can find about WP so far?”. In any case, I think very very few Punggol residents microscopically analyse a candidate’s every word and go off-tangent with one single badly worded utterance.

The more important battle is strategic, not tactical per se. Here, you got to give LTK credit, where I think he is due. Even PAP MPs I speak to (off the record), applaud LTK as being politically very shrewd.

At the start of the BE, look at how LTK handle the SDP jumping in saga. He did it, basically like how Obama handled Romney or McCain – let them self-destruct. LTK stuck to the politically correct script – everyone has the right to stand for elections – who can argue with “the sun rises from the east” type comments, right? Meanwhile, CSJ was detonating landmines publicly, day by day (cannot contact WP, publicly disclose confidential letters, we only good at making speeches in Parliament but not confident in handling Town Council) and then withdrawal. Similarly, it lets the ego of Desmond and KJ grow and over-shadow whatever credence SDA or RP used to have. Suddenly no more rallies, “paid volunteers” saga (for Desmond). AWOL, daily complaints of threats and police reports (for KJ) — let their wayang hog the limelight, let them self-destruct, no need to say a word.

Behind the scene, LTK selected Ah Lian to take on smooth, professional Dr Koh. Arguably, a better choice, than say GG. Because Ah Lian is so down to earth, so real (right down to her missing 2 front teeth) that the contrast with Dr Koh became greater, especially when Dr Koh came across as stretching the truth ($10 left, only enough for chopsticks, switch from BMW to Toyota car when visit Punggol etc etc). This contrast seems to be hitting a cord. It was reported on-line that reporters tailing both candidates on house visits, observed that residents are warmer towards Ah Lian, posing for photos, sharing their stories, introduce their family, giving a drink. Word got to the PAP too.

LTK also straddled the “local issue” vs “national issue” beautifully. I’d say,to the extent of running circles around the PAP. What do I mean? For Aljunied, LTK bet 100% on national – PAP thot local issue usually matters more but was swept by the tide. So PAP tried to immunize itself right from the start with PUnggol BE – a wave of good news. But LTK attacked first on the local front – Riverdale, how come so many RCs but so little coffeeshops, transport, – ie. what has your PAP MP been doing all these years? So local concerns got paraded to the front, and Dr Koh tried playing the same game – I’m my own man. LTK used these local issues to get Ah Lian to connect to each resident on the ground-game front.

Then in the closing stages of the campaign, LTK swings back to national issues in the public campaign. The more good news got trumpeted, the more it appears that if Aljunied had not fallen, PAP would not have reversed course. If Punggol BE had not happen, some of these good news would not get announced. So it plays into the need for opposition, theme. And LTK only drums up AIM in the last few days of the campaign. Why? I do not think many PUnggol residents know what is AIM, or even really care. But the hard core opposition supporters do care. So this is “red meat” for the base. In other words, focus first on the middle block, handle the risk that the base will defect to Desmond/KJ by giving them some red meat right at the end (and after giving time for Desmond/KL to implode). The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Hopefully, this then consolidates both the middle and base votes.

The other advantage of trumpeting national issues at the late stage of the game, is that it baits the “big guns” of PAP to respond. And they usually respond clumsily and turn off voters by the way they over-react.

Whether or not this is enough to win Punggol, I do not know. But I have heard that PAP is sweating. It was said that PAP carefully carved out Punggol SMC in 2011 and that in the prior elections (2006?), that Punggol SMC had 30+% vote swing to PAP. Unexpectedly, this got cut to 10% swing in GE2011. PAP had counted on multi-corner fights, particularly from newly released CSJ and SDP to spoil the party. That didn’t happen. LHL called the elections thinking there’s a good chance they’ll win. As the campaign progressed, and they too feel the “smell of Hougang”, they’re now not so sure.

But as I said, as long as WP increases meaningfully from 41%, and PAP decreases meaningfully from 55% – WP does not need to win, for PAP to lose. A 5% swing away from the PAP (ie. 49% or 50% only) will be a dreaded signal that the electorate is still unhappy with PAP and this will keep them on their toes. A WP win is a jackpot.

And oh, the other thing I like about this BE — it has also put WP under the fire too, to defend its record and hopefully, correct course where necessary. You didn’t hear WP being so defensive in Hougang BE. In other words, this time they got the message – there are some out there who’re unhappy at their low-key approach. Hopefully, this makes them a better party moving forward too. So Desmond is right and wrong – someone needs to keep a check on both PAP and WP. Unfortunately, its not Desmond — its we, the people. Through the messiness of the internet, online chatter, rallies etc. Both PAP and WP are hearing us. That’s good isn’t it ?

* If I were her employer, I’d sure be angry that she skivving.

  1. […] bared all and stripped during the Punggol East By-Election rally? – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: OMG! Low: a great strategist & sage – Where Bears Roam Free: Hey, Halimah, shouldn’t you be impartial? – The Heart Truths: […]

  2. LTK is just a common man who answers the call of the time,he has indeed performed very well,given that he managed to survive all odds,I still remember how MM Lee watched him in parliament and declared that Low was a guy who did all his home work,compared him to all other opposition leaders in Singapore,past and present,he has no equal,if he is going to be the man who helps to decide who will be the new PM of Singapore after PM Lee H L ,his mission is well accomplished.

  3. Atans, thought JG was James Gomez, 😛

  4. Paiseh! Should have noticed the female pronoun in original post!

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