Singapore’s GE2020: Is a resounding victory enough?

JULY 12 — The People’s Action party with 83 seats and the Workers Party with 10 seats.

That is the bottom line. 

The party that has ruled Singapore since independence will continue to lead Singapore with a super majority. This means it can not only pass any legislation it chooses to, but it can even alter the fundamental Constitution using its two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats. 

There has, therefore, been no change to the basic status quo.  

But under this fact, there are all sorts of developments that make 2020 rather interesting.  

While the results do not really alter the balance of political power for the PAP, the results are something of a setback.  

The party, which is among the longest serving continuously ruling parties in the world, saw its vote share decrease from 69.9 percent to 61.2 per cent.  

The opposition Workers' Party also won two GRCs – political constituencies that return multiple MPs to parliament – marking the best showing by an opposition party in Singapore's history.     

The fall in vote share comes as a blow to the ruling party’s next generation of leadership.  

While Lee Hsien Loong, prime Minister of 16 years, led the party through the election, this campaign was also fronted by 4G leaders Heng Swee Keat and Chan Chun Sing. 

Heng Swee Keat, who is seen by many as the prime minister designate, won his GRC with a narrow (by PAP standards) majority — 53 per cent. 

Meanwhile, the party old guard — Lee Hsien Loong and Tharman Shanmugaratnam and K. Shanmugam — carried their GRCs with over 60 per cent of the vote. 

This might indicate the next generation does not engender the same confidence among Singaporeans as the previous generation. 

This should worry the PAP as in the next general election many of the old guard will probably have stepped back.   

It’s also worth noting that Tharman won his GRC by a commanding majority of 74 per cent. It has been said by PAP leadership in the past that many Singaporeans aren’t ready for a non-Chinese prime minister but Tharman’s showing in his GRC casts some doubt on this assertion. 

For the opposition, the results were mixed. On one hand given the limited campaigning period and the possibility of a swing to the incumbent in the face of the unknown dangers of Covid-19, they avoided a feared wipeout i.e. losing all their parliamentary seats. 

In fact, in these difficult circumstances they increased their share of MPs.  

With a total of 10 MPs in parliament, the Workers' Party has now firmly entrenched itself as Singapore’s main opposition party.  None of the other opposition parties won a single seat.

But the question for the party is, what next? How do they go from a handful of MPs to being a true parliamentary opposition with the ability to check government legislation? 

They will need to at least double their tally of GRCs in the next election and to do this, they will need to think about contesting across Singapore and not just in a few GRCs. 

They also need to improve their rapport with Singaporeans at the grassroots – they weren’t able to put forward a representative for the official Chinese language election debate and without better Chinese-speaking representation, it’s hard to see them making deep inroads.  

Meanwhile, the other opposition parties did not fare so well — they did not win any seats. 

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) — fronted by Chee Sun Juan — was competitive in the areas it contested. Paul Tambyah campaigning for the SDP secured 46 per cent of the vote in the Bukit Panjang SMC but in Singapore’s first past the post system, close is not good enough. 

The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) fronted by Tan Cheng Bok and prominently backed by the prime minister’s estranged brother Lee Hsien Yang also mustered over 40 per cent of the votes in Bukit Panjang and West Coast.

Again, close but not close enough.   

Meanwhile, the other parties — People’s Progress Party, People's Voice Party, Red Dot United, Reform Party and independent candidates — failed to make much of an impression. 

The question for all opposition parties outside the Workers' Party now is whether it's time to throw their weight behind an election alliance helmed by the Workers' Party. 

The Workers' Party is making inroads and it's clearly seen to be credible and electable by Singaporeans, so why not work together in a formal alliance to allow stronger opposition representation in future?   

But how can the smaller parties do this while retaining their own credibility and identity? 

Finally, one result worth looking at is Prime Minister Lee’s own GRC. Ang Moh Kio is a large GRC and PAP stronghold but almost 30 per cent of voters in the constituency voted for the opposition. 

This is even though the opposition in the constituency was provided by the Reform Party which did not mount a very forceful campaign.  

Even the party leader was serving a stay home notice for much of the campaign and yet there was a sizable opposition vote in the area.  

This seems to indicate that a significant number of Singaporeans just want change. With a strong challenge and set of candidates, even government strongholds can possibly be keenly contested.  

So, while the bottom line for GE 2020 is that the PAP remains firmly in control, there is some indication that Singapore is not actually politically moribund. 

But for now, it seems change will likely be incremental — but that is after all the Singapore way. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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