So on Friday 11 Sept 15, Singapore had its 13th general elections. If you have any Singaporean friends on Facebook, it would very apparent that the Singapore elections are coming, many Singaporeans suddenly becomes a political pundit.
The reason for this? The elections in Singapore tend to be snap elections, called suddenly and with a very short period of campaigning. On 24 Jul, the electoral boundaries were drawn and the number of seats per location were allocated. During the month of August, the different parties started introducing their candidates and where they were contesting as well as their party manifestos. The Parliament was dissolved on 25 August 2015 and the candidates were nominated on 1 September 2015. Election rallies were only allowed from 2 September to 9 September, 10 September is “cooling off day” a day when none of the parties or the candidates are allowed to campaign. (I too took a “cooling off day” one day after the elections, 12 Sep before posting this!) So it is only for this short period when election fervor hits the island city and everyone starts revealing their political inclinations on Facebook.
Singapore unlike the United Kingdom have single member constituencies (SMC) and group representative constituencies (GRC). This means that depending on your electoral division, you are either voting for a single individual or voting for a group of people. The reason (as stated in the Singapore Constitution Article 39A) for the GRC is to ensure that minorities are properly represented in parliament as GRCs have a quota with each GRC requiring at least one to belong to a minority.
In general, the Singaporeans are split into two, pro People’s Action Party (PAP) and pro opposition. The PAP have been the ruling party since independence and have governed a no nonsense Singapore, restricting certain freedoms and probably the only democratic government in the world with the ability to have 15 year plans. In Singapore, the government likes to micro manage certain activities and “fines” people for failing to comply, dubbing Singapore a fine city.
In this elections, it is the first time that all the Electoral divisions are being contested. A total of 29 divisions. The last elections in 2011 was supposed to be the first with the opposition team from the Singapore Democratic Alliance contesting against the PAP in the Tanjong Pagar GRC. However they filed their nominations papers late and were disqualified, resulting in the walkover of the division in favour of PAP. Before 2011, there have always been divisions that were walkovers for the PAP as there weren’t enough opposition candidates to stand against the PAP.
This time around with all the divisions contested, the PAP won with nearly 70% of ballots cast voting for them and having 83 out of 89 seats in parliament. This was a sharp improvement over the 2011 elections where the PAP took only 60% of votes and having 80 out of 87 seats in parliament. This was the PAP’s worst performance ever, with the public unhappy about a number of issues and the opposition capitalising on that.
How did the PAP do so much better this time around?
- The timing and surrounding situation – People are happy, with the post SG50 euphoria still a buzz among the population, the comparison with Malaysia and the 1MDB scandal as well as the rapidly declining Ringgit, the general Asia markets getting hit and slowing down, the electorate is in general happy and grateful that Singapore is not in a worst shape compared to its neighbours. Singaporeans compared Singapore to its neighbours an realised that it is doing a lot better than its peers in ASEAN, the “PAP is a safe choice in troubled times” mentality carried through.
- The death of PAP’s founding leader – Singaporeans came out in force to remember and mourn Lee Kuan Yew’s when he died earlier this year. This weighed heavily on people and was an emotional factor in the election for the seniors who are reminded on that LKY did for the country. In the SG50 national day parade, there was a tribute to LKY which pulled at the heart strings of Singaporeans, and reminded them of the PAP powerhouse.
- Lui Tuck Yew’s resignation. Lui Tuck Yew was the minister of transport and was the target of many online jabs due to the frequent transportation breakdowns causes massive problems during rush hour. His resignation swung sentiments towards the PAP with people feeling he was unfairly blamed. His resignation also removed an area of discountent from the mindset of the population, the public outcry has been satisfied for awhile as the public sees that the government is doing “something” about it.
- Poor opposition. This is probably the biggest factor, unfortunately the opposition parties are very very weak.
While in 2011 it was “cool” to be anti PAP and pro opposition, the public sentiments have shifted. (In 2011 I had seen a lot more Facebook posts vehemently anti PAP, and comments from many others supporting the anti PAP rhetoric.) This time around, with Roy Ngerng (the Reform Party) and Han Hui Hui (independent) making a fool of themselves and heckling autistic children and confronting a PAP minister in one of their protests, voters wary of Chee Soon Juan (Singapore Demoractic Party) who was disgraced and bankrupt and barred from running from 2002 to 2011, the worker’s party and the Aljunied-Holland-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) fiasco (the AHPETC is alledged to owed money a managing agent company. and the auditors are unable to verify accounts and the Auditor General’s office reports on the many lapses of the AHPETC) the public’s sentiments have changed to properly questioning and querying the strength of the opposition.
The AHPETC incident did damage the worker’s party as their “stronghold” division of Aljunied was hit badly. In 2011, the worker’s party fielded a “super star” team of candidates to challenge the Aljunied GRC and managed to win it from the PAP with 54% of the votes. This elections, the worker’s party maintained their “super star” team but only managed to get 50.05% of the votes, a very close outcome which had to have a recount, barely retaining their seat.
Many people have commented on the opposition speeches noting that there are very few who spoke well and are charismatic. The reform party’s Kenneth Jeyaretnam calling voters brainwashed and comparing Singapore to China and North Korean when the sample counts were released and he saw his party performing poorly just further highlight’s this point.
The opposition also fails for having too much variety, for such a small country, Singapore has 9 different political parties, with this election seeing 2 new parties forming and 2 individuals contesting as individuals. This only adds to confusion to the voters who have to determine which party to vote for. The PAP enjoy having a homogenised platform to run while the opposition parties are scattered and varied.
Fairly or unfairly, the opposition members are viewed at individually on their own merits, meaning to say that one “bad loud individual (Roy Ngerng) or incident (AHPETC)” ruins the bunch. While the PAP on the other hand are viewed as a whole for their past success, a single bad individual doesn’t bring the PAP into disrepute (the Tin Pei Ling fiasco in 2011 elections for example).
All in all, the PAP have done extremely well for themselves in this election, gaining almost 10% upswing of the votes. The opposition parties should learn from this election and either get together to form a “super party” to properly contest the PAP, or rethink their campaigning platforms as just one individual can spoil the public’s sentiments.