Singapore—Two well-respected members of the academe, Professors Cherian George and Donald Low, tackled the possible ill effects of this year’s election on the country at a crucial time when trust and unity are vital, as Singapore deals with, and emerges from, the coronavirus pandemic.
In a piece called GE2020: Why Singapore may lose, whatever the final score published on July 7 on academia.sg, the two academicians point out that while a victory for the People’s Action Party (PAP) is all but guaranteed, the quality of that victory is in question, largely due to how the ruling party has handled itself even before Parliament was dissolved in late June.
This, they asserted, could leave even middle-ground voters with a bad taste in their mouths, even if they do end up choosing to vote for PAP. The authors wrote, “The likely victors…are displaying an insecurity and defensiveness that will militate against the openness to new ideas needed for Singapore to remake itself.”
Messrs George and Low brought up several incidents of “hardball electioneering” by the PAP, whose opening salvo was the attack against playwright Alfian Sa’at. The real target, however, was Workers’ Party (WP) head Pritam Singh, who had spoken up for the playwright in Parliament.
The second example was PAP’s “defense” of disgraced former candidate Ivan Lim. The attack against Mr Lim was called by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a “trial by internet,” of which the authors wrote, “The PM’s remarks smacked of a resentment towards a more participatory political culture.”
The other examples given by the writers are PAP’s delayed and too “tetchy” reaction to the 10 million population issue and the number of POFMA correction directions issued, writing, “With mainstream media already biased in favour of the ruling party, POFMA compounds doubts about the fairness of this exceptionally media-reliant electoral contest.”
Next, the authors brought up the “attacks” against WP candidate Raeesah Khan, which may yet backfire against the ruling party. Ms Khan has been gaining support online from netizens who have found the police reports filed against her unwarranted and unjust. This could cause younger voters to “view the PAP’s conflict escalation not only as partisan, but also as another case of boomers trying to suppress the inconvenient idealism of millennials and zoomers.”
Finally, the authors called out PAP’s insistence that a strong mandate is necessary for this election, calling it a type of “emotional blackmail.” Loyal Singaporeans are within their right, they argue, to support parties of their choice. “To equate national unity with voting PAP is precisely the kind of partisanship that can sow unnecessary division.”
And while PAP may end up with the numbers they desire to see on Polling Day, negativity stemming from the GE may make things difficult moving forward.
“The post-pandemic world of de-globalisation, diversification of supply chains, and de-carbonisation – not to mention the strategic rivalry between the United States and China – may well be one that is not conducive for city-states highly reliant on trade and investment flows, and an open, liberal global order.”
Additionally, a strong argument can be made for a “more credible and active opposition” as answers are likely to be needed from more diverse solution finders than in the past.
The authors write, “Singapore’s highly educated society is ready for such a transformation in the way we govern ourselves. But excessive partisanship will cheat Singapore of this possibility. Even if the government reaches out post-GE, able Singaporeans may choose not to work with leaders who have turned them off with their petty politicking during this campaign.”
At the end of the piece, the professors warn of the lasting effects of a negative GE 2020. “Unless there is a strong determination within the party to engage in a cultural shift, a more mean-spirited society led by a more irritable and irascible PAP may become a long-term feature of politics in Singapore.” —/TISG