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Writer Catherine Lim on GE2020: “Something has changed, and in a radical way”

She warns that if the PAP does not learn the lesson from GE2020, it could lose dominance over the next five years

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Singapore — The writer and longtime critic of the People’s Action Party, Dr Catherine Lim, has weighed in on the results of the recent General Election in a piece entitled “The Surprising GE2020 Election Results: What Could Have Happened?”, which was published online on July 16 and has begun to circulate on social media.

Dr Lim asserts that, contrary to the expectation that PAP would sweep the elections given the conventional wisdom that people would cling to safe choices in a time of crisis, results showed unprecedented gains for the opposition, which won more seats in Parliament than ever.

According to Dr Lim: “Although the PAP kept its majority and would continue to dominate in Parliament, it was clear that the Opposition had made deep inroads into that majority.”

In her analysis as to why Singaporean voters have made a surprising turn towards the opposition, Dr Lim points to the “complex, perturbing nature” of the relationship between the ruling PAP and Singapore itself, writing that it “has always been marked by ambiguity and contradiction, by a curious mixture of two opposing states of mind and feeling, namely, respect and resentment”.

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She explains that while Singaporeans recognise that PAP leaders have given them a good life, at the same time, they perceive that they are “a self-serving leadership that ultimately cares only about maintaining power, best achieved by creating a contented, compliant electorate”. Proof of this has been the PAP leadership’s intolerance for “dissenting voices which are immediately slapped down”.

Furthermore, Dr Lim writes that while the PAP leadership may be aware of the gap between them and the people they lead, they’ve not made a sustained effort to mitigate it.

She adds: “It is noteworthy that the leaders have never been described in the epithets of emotive nurturing and human connection, such as ‘warm’, ‘affable’, ‘approachable’, ‘highly regarded’, ‘popular’, ‘likeable’, etc. Instead, the praise has always been limited to the detached language used for high intellectuality, proven efficiency and moral stringency.”

And now, Dr Lim believes that “something has changed” in Singapore after the elections, “and in a radical way”.

GE2020 shows the “upsetting, for the first time” of the stance Singaporeans have taken regarding political leadership for the first time in 50 years. The long-entrenched attitude of respect-resentment ambiguity “is being replaced by the fear of change”, she writes.

“For the close numbers and margins in the GE2020 results point to the possibility, once unthinkable, of the PAP losing its majority and Singapore emerging as a two-party or multiple-party state, with all that implies of an overhaul of existing state structures, institutions, age-old traditions and expectations, indeed of the entire ethos itself. It would be change on an unprecedented scale. Moreover, it could happen in the foreseeable future, creating an unrecognisable Singapore.”

She adds: “In short, there is a split between head and heart in the Singaporean as he evaluates PAP leadership… While the head wants the PAP to continue as the ruling party, the heart wants to see a little humbling take place now and then.”

Dr Lim further says that this heart-head split, particularly among younger voters, will stand in the way of sweeping electoral wins for the PAP in the future, and warns that if the ruling party does not learn the lesson from GE2020, it could lose dominance over the next five years, as the Opposition further gains ground. “They have become a force to reckon with, and can only grow in strength and influence in the coming years.”

And while Singapore’s leaders have in the past been deeply conservative, they may now need to embrace their younger colleagues and be prepared to “face challenges, take risks, even embrace dangers”, or otherwise find themselves left behind. /TISG

Read also: Ambassador-at-Large Chan: The youth bought the opposition’s message of need for diversity

Ambassador-at-Large Chan: The youth bought the opposition’s message of need for diversity

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