An academic has said that distinguished diplomat Tommy Koh misrepresented her analysis of the 2020 General Election.
Dr Bridget Welsh, an educator and political analyst who currently serves as honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham Malaysia’s Asia Research Institute, analysed the results of the election in an article that was published by the East Asia Forum.
In her article, Dr Welsh noted how the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) suffered one of its worst results and how the opposition gained valuable ground despite having the odds heavily stacked against it. Dr Welsh highlighted that the PAP, which won 83 out of 93 seats, received a result which would have been a “landslide victory in most democracies”.
She, however, pointed out that the victory was not so resounding locally since the ruling party – which has been in power for 55 years, since Singapore’s independence – saw hefty swings against it as she called the PAP’s losses self-inflicted. Noting that Singaporeans were keenly attuned to the significance of the election outcome, she wrote:
“This would be a landslide victory in most democracies. But the numerical majority in actuality suggests a rather humiliating defeat, especially in a ‘crisis’ election called early amid the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh did not agree with Dr Welsh’s assessment. Prof Koh asserted that he was “quite shocked” by election result analyses by foreign observers like Dr Welsh, in an opinion piece for the Straits Times.
Pointing out that Dr Welsh’s described the outcome as a “humiliating defeat” for the PAP, Prof Koh asserted that the PAP’s performance was an “outstanding victory” when compared to the results of victors in elections in Australia, the United Kingdom and India. He wrote:
“When we compare the PAP’s electoral performance to those of the winning parties in these three countries, any fair-minded person would conclude that it was an outstanding victory. It was certainly not a “disaster” or a “humiliating defeat”.”
In a post on his personal Facebook page, published on Friday (17 July), Prof Koh reiterated that Dr Welsh was “wrong to say that it was a humiliating defeat for the PAP.”
Dr Welsh has taken issue with the way Prof Koh’s characterised her views and his rebuttal to her post. In a forum letter published by the Straits Times, Dr Welsh said that the words she used were taken out of context and that her analysis was misrepresented.
She also felt that Prof Koh’s suggestion that those with an alternative view – that the election outcome may not be an “outstanding victory,” given Singapore’s unique position – may not be “fair-minded” was uncalled for and needlessly personalised the discussion.
Dr Welsh, who has collaborated with Prof Koh in the past and opened her rebuttal by affirming her respect for him, called the distinguished diplomat’s insinuation “uncharacteristic”. She asserted: “I believe the focus should be on the arguments. In fact, a comparison of our pieces shows that we agree on many points.”
Pointing out that they both agree that the results would be impressive if it was elsewhere, that the ruling party’s attacks against the opposition hurt its performance and that the PAP needs to engage inequality and fairness, Dr Welsh said that her main disagreement is that she believes “Singapore’s political system is unique and should be assessed on its own terms.”
She further argued that she does not think Prof Koh’s comparisons of Singapore to the United Kingdom, Australia and India are fair since they did not hold elections amid a pandemic and since “they do not have a legacy of more than 55 years of one-party rule.”
Dr Welsh added: “Healthy debate on GE2020 strengthens Singapore. Rather than use labels such as “outsiders”, a more constructive approach would be to engage alternative views – a position that Prof Koh has often argued for in the past, and I wish him well in doing so in the future.”
Read her rebuttal in full HERE.