Singapore — The US-based media website OZY took a look into how and why the Workers’ Party (WP) made unprecedented gains in the General Election this year and concluded that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) needs to “watch its back”.
OZY, whose aim is to introduce people to fresh trends and new ideas so they can see “a broader and bolder world”, was created by Carlos Watson, a journalist formerly with CNN and MSNBC and, Samir Rao, a Goldman Sachs alumnus.
Its report, “Can The Left Win Over Singapore?,” features the rise of the WP over the years, building on smaller gains until this year, when it won 10 seats in Parliament and its leader, Mr Pritam Singh, was officially declared as the country’s first Leader of the Opposition.
The report adds that Mr Singh’s ethnicity is also noteworthy, quoting London-based political analyst and research manager Loke Hoe Yeong, who said that the popularity of the WP is also due to Singapore’s rising ethnic diversity.
“The ruling PAP has long claimed that majority-Chinese Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister. This General Election has shown that Singaporeans are ‘ready’ for a non-Chinese leader of the opposition, who is technically a prime minister-in-waiting under the Westminster system,” it quotes Mr Loke as saying.
Another main reason for WP’s broader support is Singapore’s young people, who responded the most to Mr Singh’s appeal to deny the PAP a “blank cheque”.
OZY quotes research fellow at the International Institute of East Asian Studies in the Netherlands, Ying-Kit Chan, as saying that the youth “appear willing to experiment with a politically pluralistic system and taste a higher degree of freedom, which includes Internet or online speech and expression of views that are critical of the government”.
The younger generation are also having a more difficult time with upward mobility due to the high cost of living in Singapore, a problem that the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has made worse. According to Mr Chan, “many of them do not see how they can eke out a living in the country”.
The report adds that the WP’s big 2020 win could signal the transition to a two-party system in Singapore, after decades when the opposition was considered largely insignificant due to the PAP’s overwhelming majority.
But this is also up to the WP to answer, and it remains to be seen whether the party can make the transition from “a strong opposition to a serious challenger to the PAP” as well as if “it’s truly a progressive alternative to the party in power”.
Singaporean voters have yet to champion the more socially progressive parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party, which is why the WP’s gains have also been due to its moderate left stance as “pro-business but also pro-immigrant”, being “a credible opposition”, which it will need to continue building if it wishes to mount a real challenge to PAP.
It adds: “Still, it’s clear that if any party can turn Singapore into a truly competitive democracy, it’s the Workers’ Party. The PAP needs to watch its back.” /TISG