Partyforumseasia: Great Expectations is the title of a famous novel by Charles Dickens. As in most elections, it describes as well the hopes and expectations of the competing political parties, in Singapore the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and at least the three major opposition parties, namely the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and the newly formed Progress Singapore Party (PSP). While the PAP was asking the 2.65 m voters for a strong mandate for a strong leadership in and after the Covid-crisis, all the 10 participating opposition parties were striving for a more balanced and more pluralistic parliament to check on the PAP government.
The short campaign period showed a rather colorful competition with posters, walkabouts in markets and food courts, and canvassing in the housing estates. TV-airtime was given to all competing parties, and the print media were also reporting extensively on the opposition parties. Behind the media surface, as expected, the social media scene and blogosphere were very alive as well.
The result in terms of parliamentary seats is not really surprising, the PAP won 83 of the 93 seats. Party leader and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a press conference early on Saturday morning that he was satisfied even without the strong mandate he had hoped for. The six decades of PAP-rule have been more successful for the country than for most ruling parties worldwide. The PAP expected a 30% natural swing-vote but indeed, the electorate has matured and obviously wants more opposition. The big winner is the Worker’s Party which not only managed to retain its two-term stronghold in the Aljunied GRC with five seats but also won the new Sengkang GRC with four seats plus a single ward in Hougang. That means altogether ten mandates really won instead of the up to 12 guaranteed seats without being elected. Their strategy to warn the electorate against an “opposition wipe-out” beat the PAP call for a strong mandate.
The two remaining guaranteed opposition seats will go to the new Progress Singapore Party under veteran Tan Chen Bock, a former PAP MP and former presidential candidate. The Singapore Democratic Party managed to increase its result, especially for its president, professor Tambyah and secretary general Dr. Chee Soon Juan, but did not reach the PSP results to qualify for the two remaining “best loser or consolation mandates”.
Overview: Straits Times, 11 July 2020
Compared to the voting history of Singapore, which was characterized by years of multiple “walkovers” when the opposition did not field enough candidates, in the last few elections all the constituencies have been increasingly contested. To read the special circumstances in Singapore and the results correctly, it is necessary to bear in mind that the published results in percentage points for the different parties are calculated only for the constituencies contested, that is 93 for the PAP(=61.24%), 24 for the PSP (= 40.85%), 21 for the WP (=50.49%), 11 for the SDP(=37.04) etc. Calculated on all the 93 seats nation-wide, the opposition results cannot be compared to the 61.24% overall for the PAP, meaning that the political competition is less vibrant as it looks on the surface. But all in all, the contest was livelier than ever, even without big outdoor rallies. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was gracious enough to congratulate WP-chairman Pritam Singh in the night after the results were out and declared him leader of the opposition, a new position in the Singapore parliament and a sign of democratic consolidation. A difficult period for Singapore lies ahead when the whole impact of the pandemic on the economy becomes visible and indeed, a decisive and courageous leadership and constructive opposition will be necessary.