Singapore—In an article in The Diplomat entitled ‘Singapore’s 2020 Election: Explaining the PAP’s Stagnation,’ Conrad Guimaraes, the Founder of the Asia-Pacific Youth Organisation, outlines the changes and challenges that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) faced during the recent General Election that it must address so it can move forward.
Mr Guimaraes noted that the opposition saw its biggest win this year, and that in the nine elections since 1984, the PAP has won under 65 percent of votes in six polls. Furthermore, Pritam Singh, the head of the Workers’ Party (WOP) has officially been recognized as the Leader of the Opposition, a development that the writer says “effectively consolidates the WP as the alternative government.”
He writes that three structural changes in the last 10 years have significantly led to this moment in Singapore’s political history.
First, as its citizens have grown more wealthy, less value has been given to the social cash transfers distributed by the government to individuals and businesses. Even with the increase of social transfers from 2011 from $1.6 billion to $4.7 billion, and particularly with the massive funds extended to Singaporeans due to the current coronavirus pandemic, “the impact of cash transfers seems to have been muted in this election,” Mr Guimaraes writes, which may not be good news for the presumptive Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. “As a former head of the central bank, his premiership credentials are tied to his technocratic ability in economic policy, an area of diminishing political returns.”
The writer adds, “As incomes in Singapore rise, it is likely that greater emphasis will be placed on political, not only economic, goods — voters are looking for a level playing field and parliamentary representation that reflects their views.”
The second change Mr Guimaraes wrote about is the growing reluctance among Singaporeans to continue to accept junior candidates riding on the coattails of older leaders in getting elected as Members of Parliament for group representation constituencies (GRC), citing the rejection of disgraced former candidate Ivan Lim in this year’s GE, as well as the backlash Tin Pei Ling faced in 2011’s election as examples.
This again could reflect badly on Mr Heng, who in his first foray this year in anchoring a GRC, won narrowly at the polls by a young and popular opposition candidate.
The writer also took note that in the press conference after the GE, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did most of the talking, with Mr Heng only given a minute to speak. He pointed out that this seemed to contradict what the Prime Minister was stating before the election, that 4G leaders would be “very much be in the thick of things… taking the lead in the sense of setting the agenda, working out the policies, preparing the manifesto, making the pitch to the public, and actively campaigning during the election and organizing the election.”
The third challenge the PAP needs to contend with is the so-called “Clinton effect,” or the extraordinary rise in popularity of US President Bill Clinton in 1998 amid impeachment proceedings. While the opposition WP has leapt over hurdle after hurdle such as lawsuits, the law against online falsehoods (POFMA) and changes in rules regarding presidential eligibility, it has only grown in favour with many Singaporeans.
The author wrote, “The government’s political attacks seem to have backfired. Aljunied GRC, where the PAP has been accused by the Auditor-General’s Office of lapses in governance and compliance, saw a 9 percent swing against it in favor of the WP. The results indicate that many voters valued the connection with the WP and their ability to speak up in Parliament over accounting issues under dispute.”
The PAP will need to face these challenges for the party to move forward. After Mr Singh’s recognition as official Leader of the Opposition, Mr Guimaraes writes that PM Lee’s awareness of the need for more political equality should be “extended to institutional reforms to the electoral and legal system that allow for genuine political competition.” —/TISG