Singapore—Bertha Henson, former Straits Times journalist turned university professor, talked about her new book “GE2020: Fair or Foul?” with Yahoo!’s Dhany Osman recently, wherein she characterised the results of the recent election as a “new norm.”

Prof Henson was asked by Mr Osman what she thinks the results of July’s General Election (GE) would mean for the country’s political future.

She answered by saying that the results, wherein 60 per cent of the vote went toward the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and 40 per cent to the opposition, is the “new norm,” adding that the PAP would be “hard-pressed” to obtain the 70 per cent of votes it won in the 2015 election.

“We’re taking about a middle ground of swing voters who will have to be wooed assiduously,” she added.

And while “bread-and-butter issues” will always be foremost in voters’ minds, she also said that “increasingly, I think Singaporeans are imbued with a great sense of fair-mindedness and fair play.”

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Prof Henson called this “a new element that has to come into the electoral system.”

She told Mr Osman that on a personal level, she’s satisfied with the GE’s outcome.

“Frankly, I think 60-40 is a very comfortable position for me as well because we do have the PAP government firmly in charge but (without) so strong a mandate as to make them so comfortable that they think they can do anything they want in Parliament.”

Prof Henson said she’s glad to see more opposition figures in Parliament, noting that based on her observation, she finds they are able to debate on fundamental issues such as the minimum wage.

She explained that she had thought the Workers’ Party MPs would “attack” the Government for its handling of the Parti Liyani case, but found that the debate had been carried out “on a much higher level” as it included the responsibilities of the Attorney-General as well as whether or not there should be an Ombudsman. The National University of Singapore professor noted that at least, the discussion has started.

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As to whether or not this level of debate can be maintained or if it would devolve into name-calling, she said, “When it comes to name-calling, the Government would have to restrain itself, rather than the other way around.”

“And if the Workers’ Party cannot maintain that level of debate, then they should be voted out in the next round,” she added.

Prof Henson singled out WP’s Dr Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) as “doing quite well” especially in issues such as economics. (Dr Lim is an Associate Professor of Economics.) Although she also said she has yet to see other opposition politicians in action as much as she has seen Dr Lim.

At one point in the interview, Prof Henson said that the last chapter of her book has a set of recommendations that she hopes today’s young leaders will adapt. When asked if she believes whether these leaders are listening more to outside advice, even from the media, she chuckled a little.

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“Whether they do or they don’t, I think the main thing is I’ve put it down. If somehow, somewhere someone picks it up and thinks it’s worth acting on, then I would be very gratified,” Prof Henson answered.

Tune in to Dhany Osman’s interview of Prof Henson here.  —/TISG

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