GP Insights # 383, 11 July 2020
Singapore's ruling party wins general election again, but with a lesser margin
The People's Action Party (PAP) in Singapore has won the elections again. It has been voted back to power for another tenure in the general election that took place on 10 July. The PAP won 83 of the 93 parliamentary seats in comparison to the 10 seats won by the opposition, Workers Party (WP). Singapore is the third country after South Korea and Serbia to hold the election amid the ongoing pandemic.
What is the background?
First, the PAP has been winning since independence. The party has been in power since independence in 1965; it has been dependent on the promise of economic change that was lived up to by Lee Kuan Yew, the cofounder of the party. The party has provided stability to Singapore over the decades and has been the engine of Singapore's economic and political growth. From a small city-State into a global power centre in Southeast Asia - the party has played a strong role. This has been one of the reasons for the support to the party from its people.
Second, there have been criticisms during recent years. Despite the above positive role by the party, there have been criticisms as well on media censorship, tight government control, use of oppressive laws and civil lawsuits against rebels, discriminations against the ethnic minorities and migrant labourers etc. PAP's lack of attention to the deteriorating living condition for the migrant labourers was cited as a reason for the pandemic spread in these clusters. Similarly, failure to address the differential treatments towards ethnic minorities has been one of the major criticisms of the party.
Third, there has been a decline in the number of votes for PAP. Although PAP won a clear majority, there has been a decline in its vote share. The 61 per cent of the vote for PAP is considerably low compared to its previous record. The 10 per cent of seats by the opposition is remarkable in Singaporean political history. The reduced numbers of votes for PAP has been a trend noticed since 2011 elections, whereby although they secured 81 seats of total 87 seats but lost of the important Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (the leader's constituency) to WP. Similarly, they lost 6 seats to WP in 2015, winning only 83 seats of the total 89 seats.
What does it mean?
First, economic advancement and political stability promised by the PAP remain the priority for the majority of the voters, as could be seen from the electoral support. However, there is growing anxiety among the voters regarding the job cuts and inflation due to the impact of COVID-19. This will be the greatest challenge that the PAP and Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong will have to address along with meeting the needs of the young voters.
Second, the government also has to address the ethnic disparity and the criticism on the freedom of expression. This was evident when a young candidate from the WP, Raeesah Khan, had to apologize for her comments on social media accusing the police of harsher treatment towards ethnic minorities and migrant workers. However, she won from her constituency.