THE political feathers appear to be warmly ruffled and there are growing signs that the much-awaited General Elections (GE) may well be called in the last quarter of this year.
While the elections are not due until early 2021, political analysts and grassroots folks say that there are signs a GE could be set in place in advance by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who will probably be the key player to decide if the ground-feel is conducive.
Many factors come into play. To name a few, there’s the state of the economy, the rousing bicentennial celebrations, the recent warming of bilateral ties across the Causeway and even the political climate in neighbouring countries.
Nee Soon East branch activist George Han notes that the “recent Leaders’ Retreat has put the Singapore leadership in good light. It has managed the hiccups with the Pakatan Harapan government well, prevailing with its usual rational and business-like approach”.
Han, who is Founder of Far East Advisory, adds: “It will have an advantage if it calls for a GE this year. However it should be mindful of the underlying grassroots issues over CPF and HDB leases. Ironically, a stormy relationship with Malaysia works in favour of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government as an external threat unites people and they tend to vote for the familiar and not gamble with their vote.”
Veteran PAP cadre Abdul Halim Kader who was a former Kampong Kembangan Branch secretary says conditions are favorable for an upcoming GE very soon. “Looking at our neighbours, we are blessed to have stable government and good time to continue with renewal process of 4G leaders. I believe overall conditions are more positive compared the last month or so. With China and USA trade coming to a more reasonably positive outcome, we can be more optimistic.”
Touching on the “sensitive” Singapore-Malaysia relationship, he adds: “Whatever political upheavals we see up north affect us whether positively or negatively. With improving bilateral ties, Singapore’s outlook is always positive. Malaysians are very familiar with investments from Singapore and improving ties allow business links to be expanded and entrenched.”
THE TIME IS RIPE
Lawyer M. Lukshumayeh feels the time is ripe to get another mandate from Singaporeans. The President of Ceylon Sports Club (CSC), along Balestier Road, says: “Well, with the Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties now moving away from the tense situation and the national ecomony registering positive growth, the details of the Merdeka Generation to be announced in a couple of weeks , and the opposition parties far from a unity pact and with the prime minister having the discretion when to call for a General Election, it could very well be a ripe time.”
The next parliamentary general election must be held by January 15 2021. According to the Constitution, the Parliament of Singapore’s maximum term is five years from the date of the first sitting of Parliament following a general election, after which it is dissolved by operation of law.
A retired banker, who declined to be named, says the “issues at hand wouldn’t be a real obstacle because of a core PAP support and well-oiled machinery against scattered and disorganised opposition”. He elaborates: “Personally, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. After the 2011 “surprise” elections, whereby the opposition managed to limit the PAP to 60.1 per cent, many political pundits and the general public were speculating the opposition to get close to, or even better the 2011 GE results in 2015.
“But I felt the PAP would increase their share to 68-72 per cent and I was proven right, with the PAP obtaining 69.9 per cent. I reckon that would be the status quo in the foreseeable future — the political divide would be in the region of roughly 70-30 if all seats are contested again. I think the opposition was too confident and naive that 2011 was the turning point, forgetting that in that election, they were more focused on fewer seats, correctly calculating that it would be a slaughter if they went for all seats. They forgot, and assumed too much and competed in all seats in 2015.”
Another significant factor to push for an early date could be against the backdrop of the most significant leadership renewal in the ruling party in decades, with the fourth-generation leaders on the starting blocks. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is expected to be handed the baton by PM Lee.
At the PAP’s biennial conference in November last year, PM Lee seriously rallied party activists to start gearing up: “PAP did exceptionally well in the last GE, but we can neither rest on our laurels nor take people’s support for granted.”
He also noted that this could be the last party conference before the country heads to the polls.
Days earlier, when he was asked by Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait if the commemoration of the 200th year of Singapore’s modern founding would be reason enough to bring forward the GE, Mr Lee said: “It’s always possible. There are many reasons to bring elections forward or not, so we’ll see.”
Some analysts note that such milestones have been leveraged to good effect by the PAP, with the most recent being the Golden Jubilee (SG50) celebrations in 2015. In the GE held in September that year, the PAP garnered 69.9 per cent of the vote share – the highest since 2001. While the bicentennial commemoration would be a “shot-in-the-arm” to create a positive hype, the impact would likely not be as great as the SG50 celebrations.
The state of the economy is always ranked as a “hot potato”. Despite troubling factors such as the ongoing trade war between the world’s two major economies of the United States and China, Singapore remains on course for growth in 2019.
Former Workers’ Party GE candidate and a decorated Raffles Institution (RI) academic-sporting stalwart Maurice Neo says: “The GE is later part of 2019 or early next year. The PAP is in no danger of any loss of electoral power as such but they’ve sure lost the effectiveness to carry the ground socio-culturally.
“People not with PAP-ness? Don’t belief (sic) them. There appears to be no alternative and no political initiative among populace. Inertia and anomie, the worse states to be in. The Malaysian political psyche is more forward looking . Not a one-party state. Racial tripartism (race, state and religion) disguised as multi-racialism, multi-culturalism is being exposed as a fraud in Malaysia.”
‘TRIPARTISM THE MANTRA’
Neo, who is currently a freelance writer, believes the Barisan Nasional alliance of UMNO, MCA and MIC is “disintegrating by itself … starting with Islamic hollowness being called out as being synonymous with all manner of corruption and depravity”.
Of Singapore , he adds: “But tripartism rather than integration is still the PAP mantra.”
Former civil servant Samuel Veera Singaram, from the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) and Ministry of Defence, is of the view that the critical Singapore-Malaysia relationship may be a crucial vote-factor. He says: “Bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia have always been good. After Pakatan Harapan took over, there was lots of tension because (Prime Minister) Dr Mahathir started to re-visit old issues like the crooked bridge, water treaty, air space usage, the intrusion into Singapore waters, egg and fish issues and even stopping the HSR project.
“These were done to divert the attention of the Malaysians away from the umpteen domestic issues. But despite all these unpleasantness I still believe that our relationship with Malaysia is still intact except for the unnecessary issues.”
At the end of the day, the closer call to a year-end election is imminent with even feverish-like heartland talk that several primary schools have been activated as potential voting and/or counting centres. More important, as grassroots leaders feel, it will be about the PAP pulling all the disparate strands together so that it can go to the hustings with as good a report card as it can get.
Usually, the general view is that the elections are won more than on the sentiments of the “report card”, where voters can judge how the ruling party has governed and how they assess the next four to five years for them, and for Singapore.
Whatever the temperatures at ground-level, and with the prevailing elections in Indonesia and Thailand, political feathers have been warmly ruffled. The PAP may well use the chance to showcase what it has achieved in governing the country, especially since 2019 also marks the 60th year of the PAP’s uninterrupted rule.
So you may want to get your vote-call in mind towards a possible GE in the last quarter of this year.