PAP Singapore: Higher than Expected Victory


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s dominant and long-term government party PAP has surprised everybody from political observers, journalists and the opposition to its own membership with a sweeping victory of 69.9 % in yesterday’s (11.09) general election.
In a rather colorful nine day official campaign Workers’Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) especially managed to pull huge crowds and rouse the expectations of their supporters.

Here are the main results, published by Election Commission and Straits Times:
GE2015 Results

And nota bene: These results still look rather mild for the opposition parties because they calculate their percentage on the votes in constituencies they contested. Only the PAP had fielded candidates for all 89 seats. If calculated on the total number of valid votes the two main opposition parties look much more miserable:

Total number of valid votes: 2,257,016                 Invalid/rejected votes: 47,315 (2%)
Voter turnout: 93.56%

Workers’Party (WP) share of all valid votes:                          12.48%
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) share of all valid votes:  3.75%

The Workers’Party narrowly retained the group constituency in Aljunied and more convincingly one single member constituency, losing one other it had won 2 1/2 years ago in a by-election. All seven other opposition parties did not win any seat but three candidates will be offered a seat as Non Constituency MP as “best losers”.

The media are talking about a two thirds majority which in reality is closer to four fifths. But calling the results “undemocratic” or “reminding of North Korea”, as losing party leaders said in their disappointment, is certainly far from justifiable. The first-past-the-post electoral system is not helpful for small opposition parties, sure, but all in all space of maneuvering, access to mainstream media including TV coverage, allocation of big open spaces for rallies, canvassing, and publication of pamphlets were free and fair enough. The ruling party could bank on its track record of running the country with exceptional and corruption free  success plus the financial means to improve nearly on all practical aspects of the citizens’ lives. Attacking the government for underground train disruptions or increasing prices for food and health care did not resonate with the PAP supporters, nor could criticisms of the compulsory savings fund CPF, which includes in the meantime a lifelong pension scheme after retirement, mobilize a population of (close to 90 %) home owners against the government. The privileges  of citizenship in the city state contrast quite favorably with what most other countries have to offer, including the neighbors in Asia. So the opposition parties tried to harp on the importance and usefulness of opposition voices in parliament as checks and balances but obviously the silent majority does not care too much for more controversial debate. Nearly 70 % seem to think that the PAP government is caring enough and has sufficient foresight to lead Singapore into an even better future.

Winner takes all

First-past-the-post system:

Winner takes all

SDP losers

Loser loses all

Political Funding by Private Donations and Party Preferences


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: In Southeast Asia private campaign and party donations are certainly not coming in smaller amounts from millions of citizens. The millions here are more investments by cronies and businesses interested in government contacts and contracts. Nevertheless, an article titled “Live together, vote together” in The Economist, November 22d, page 33, is interesting in the way it shows that peer groups can be rather influential on political choices: “Americans who live and work together are often politically like-minded, according to The Economist’s analysis of more than 1.7m individual contributions of $200 or more made during the 2014 election cycle. The analysis also reveals which cities and companies are most politically engaged, financially speaking.” The survey does not correlate its findings with the election results, but at least the more one-sided results are indicators.
Economist Nov.

In systems with only two parties like the US it is certainly easier to define the areas with better election chances than in splintered multi-party systems. But for political parties in Southeast Asia, apart from the traditional rural – urban divide, it may be useful to study possible partisan clusters in more detail.
One interesting case in point is a pocket of opposition stronghold in the North-East of Singapore, where the Workers’ Party has managed to surf a wave of anti-establishment and anti-PAP feelings and conquer a five seat group representation constituency (GRC) in 2011 plus a single member constituency in a by-election in 2013. The losing PAP normally has a very good grassroots system and its MPs get a feel of the ground in their meet the people sessions every Monday night. Both camps will be trying hard to gauge the voters preferences for the next election which is due by January 2017 latest.

Singapore’s “Men in White”: Can They Lose the Next Election?


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) has elected its Central Executive Committee (CEC) last Sunday, 7th December. About 2000 cadres in the white party dress came together in this biannual ritual. They are supposed to be the most reliable party members but apart from electing the CEC they have no other privileges.
The results were no surprise. Among the twelve elected members there is only one newcomer, manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin. He replaced defense minister Ng Eng Hen, who came out as number thirteen and was automatically co-opted together with speaker of Parliament Madam Halimah, number fourteen.   PAP rally
Secretary-general Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong used the opportunity to introduce changes to the party constitution with updated objectives. Upholding the multiracial and multi-religious, fair and just society and the vibrant economy are not that new to Singaporeans. “Serving all Singaporeans responsively and responsibly, attentive to immediate concerns” is certainly a  good objective for any party, but the “focus on long-term challenges and opportunities” is a strong point for the PAP, which other parties in the region ruling as long as the PAP cannot claim.
“To strengthen an open and compassionate meritocracy” and “To develop a democracy of deeds” sound somewhat vague and will have to be clarified in practice.

The Real Surprise of the Rally:
The idea that the opposition could win the next election, due by January 2017 at the latest, or that the country is heading toward a two party system with PAP and Workers’Party (WP), may sound rather unrealistic for most Singaporeans, the “men in white” included. But the election could be called earlier as well, maybe closer to the 50th anniversary of the Republic, and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) announced already that it is starting its preparations. So the Prime Minister’s battle cry can be understood as a signal to the party and the opposition at the same time. Ruling since 1959 and entrenched in all sorts of administrations and organizations, the party could take too many things for granted. The 2011 loss of a group representation constituency with six mandates to the Workers’ Party and the following by-election loss
(one seat) in 2013 were alarming enough for the leadership. And in 2014 Roy Ngerng, a young blogger, attacked the Prime Minister on alleged mismanagement of the compulsory retirement fund CPF. Lee reacted by suing Ngerng, but donations from the public for his fine and legal fees revealed the surprising extent of support for the issue and the latent mistrust in the CPF scheme at large. As all long ruling parties the PAP has to face adverse undercurrents among the voters and their extent is not easy to assess. The 60.1% in 2011 are still a dream result for most parties in the world but a reason for concern in a party used to super-majorities.
The message to the opposition, of course, is clear: Don’t feel safe in your supposed strongholds in the East of the island, we will go all out to win back these constituencies.

“Singfirst”, A New Opposition Party in Singapore


Partyforumseasia: Three political parties have made it into Singapore’s Parliament: The dominant PAP with 80 seats, the biggest opposition Workers’ Party (WP) with 7elected and 2 non-constituency (NC) seats (which are given to the best losers), and the Singapore People’s Party with one non-constituency seat. There are ten other active parties and twenty-two are registered but not active.
On this background of a splintered opposition camp which had problems in past elections to avoid three- and more cornered fights instead of uniting against the PAP, it certainly needs optimism to start a new party from scratch.

Tan Jee SayTan Jee Say is the man behind this new party founded in May 2014 and registered three months later under the name Singaporeans First or Singfirst in short. Singfirst logoTan is a former civil servant (principal private secretary to PM Goh Chok Tong). He had a short stint in the Singapore Democratic Party, and lost the 2011 presidential election as third of three candidates with 25% of the votes. According to the party’s website (link here: Singfirst.org) Tan Jee Say is the secretary-general, chairman is psychiatrist Dr. Ang Yong Guan, a schoolmate of Tan in the elitist Raffles Institution.  Ang
Under the headline “Chairman says fear no more” Ang explains that Singfirst had to be established because he thinks that the PAP has deviated from the old successful course: “The old service-driven people-connected PAP was able to deliver and people did not mind the tough policies it implemented. Singaporeans were prepared to tolerate living in a nation that is largely apolitical but economically vibrant. (…) The emergence of the new PAP in recent years driven by profits, obsessed with economic growth and disconnected from the people has led to complacency at the top and anger and helplessness on the ground.”
Since Dr. Ang is giving a glimpse into his own political experience as a (PAP??) community leader from 1988 to 2004 and in close cooperation with former foreign minister George Yeo, there may be some space for speculation about different views inside the ruling party and what the establishment of Singaporeans First might mean for the next election, due latest by January 2017.
Partyforumseasia has a little doubt about the expressed intention to find common ground with the other opposition parties. It did not work well among the older opposition parties so far. The choice of the party’s name, though, which sounds somewhat anti-immigrant if not xenophobic, might resonate with the many Singaporeans who resent the pressure created by more than a million foreign workers in the city republic.

PS: Singapore’s “The Online Citizen” (link here) asks what Singfirst can possibly do in Tanjong Pagar, a constituency dominated by Lee Kuan Yew himself since 1955!!! Lee is 91 already and will most probably not run again. With him on the team of candidates no party contested there, providing the PAP with a comfortable “walkover”. See the following chart from The Online Citizen:
Tanjong Pagar

Nine New Faces: Singapore’s Nominated Members of Parliament


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is not short of political parties, no less than 28 are registered, but during 49 years of independent statehood the overwhelming dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) has not changed much. Though its share of the popular vote has shrunk to an unprecedented 60.14 percent in the last general election in 2011, and two cabinet ministers were voted out, the ruling party won 81 out of 87 seats due to the (British heritage) first-past-the-post majoritarian election system. But for the first time in 2011, the opposition Worker’s Party managed to win a group constituency with six seats. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was one of the tweaks to the election system introduced since 1984 and not really seen as making it easier for the opposition.  Parliament
In order to balance the overpowering hegemony of the PAP, however, the constitution allows for a number of unelected members to join Parliament. These are Non-Constituency MPs (NCMP) or “the best opposition losers”, if they can win at least 15 percent in a single member constituency, and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP). These are nominated by the President for two and a half years after recommendation by a parliamentary select committee under the speaker. This year’s committee included two ministers and five other MP’s including the chairman of the opposition Worker’s Party. According to the defense minister, who was part of the select committee, the NMP’s are expected to enrich the debates on issues like “ageing, economic restructuring and productivity, sporting excellence, a better living environment, retaining Singapore’s heritage and appreciation of its history, challenges of working mothers, youth aspirations, and entrepreneurism.” (Straits Times, 12 August 2011, p.1) On sensitive issues like amendments to the constitution or public finances the NMP’s can contribute to the debate but are not allowed to vote.
Among the newly appointed NMP’s are a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, an architect, a medical doctor, a unionist, a historian, an economist, and a banker. The somewhat naughty application of a social blogger who is being sued by the Prime Minister for alleging inconsistencies in how the government is handling the compulsory Central Provident Fund, has been rejected.

To put the NMP scheme into a proper perspective, it is fair to say that Singapore has only a part-time Parliament with MP’s following their professional careers as normal. Apart from the seasonal sittings of Parliament they are involved in intense grass roots work in their constituencies. So it makes a lot more sense to co-opt specialists than in classical full-time parliaments with professional politicians.

More information on Singapore’s political system can be found here:
Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization-Money-Influence, Partyforumseasia, Singapore 2014.
The new book is available at Amazon under the following link: Party Politics

 

An Internet Revolt Against Singapore’s PAP?


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is one of the most successful small countries world-wide, if not the most successful anyway, and much of its success is due to the foresight of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). PAPNearly five decades of practically unassailable rule have allowed the political and administrative elite to plan and implement with a long term view and according to priorities of necessity. One striking example is the water supply for more than five million people plus industry on the island. From the beginning in 1965 fresh water had to be imported from Malaysia which gave the latter a dangerous blackmail capacity, fortunately always avoided. Now efforts of water catchment,  recycling and treatment have made Singapore autonomous and independent, as Malaysia is facing water shortages herself.
The younger generation, mostly grown up in affluence, may take for granted many of the advantages of living in such a well managed country. While the splintered opposition has made it into parliament in sizable numbers since 2011 (eight MP’s from the Worker’s Party – out of 87 ), the relative result for the dominant PAP has gone down to 60 percent.
Among the older generation, the heavy-handed style of founding father Lee Kuan Yew had created a lot of fear and hatred. But as long as the government provided the goods the party could cement its grip on power. Now the fear has faded under the more relaxed and accommodating political style of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, but the hatred seems to resurface among the young. In April, very visible anti-PAP graffiti on housing blocks were fast removed, but the blogosphere reveals more than resentment. A 30-year-old blogger has accused the government of mishandling the billions of dollars in the compulsory retirement fund CPF. Obviously touching a nerve, he collected more than 70,000 S$ in donations for his legal cost when the Prime Minister sued him for defamation, an instrument very efficient under his father. The young man was also sacked by his employer, a hospital.
The social media attacks, called already “internet revolt” by a paper outside Singapore, go on. The newest incident happened on 12 May, when the Wikipedia site of the PAP was massively and rather viciously re-edited, changing the name into “Party Against People”. Parts of the pampered youth of Singapore, used to more freedom than any other generation in Southeast Asia, are obviously allergic against state interference in the blogosphere. But the lightning in the PAP’s logo  mPAPay not be the right answer to address the problem.