Updated on 11th July 2020 at 0257
One of the longest serving democratically elected Governments in the world goes to the polls today. The PAP, which has ruled Singapore since its Independence in 1965 is up against an Opposition alliance comprising of the Workers Party, the Progress Singapore Party and the Singapore Democratic Party.
According to Bloomberg, the election is expected to be a walk in the park for the ruling party.
I am not so sure. Bloomberg got the GE 13 Malaysian Election result horribly wrong.
The seats are divided between Single Member Constituencies, which send 1 MP to the Parliament and Group Constituencies, which send 4 to 5 MPs in a winner-take-all contest . To win, a party needs to win 47 seats. With the results announced, on the face of it, any other democratically elected Government will look at the figures, 83 for and 10 against, and conclude what is there to be upset about? However, the summary figures belie a very loud message that Singaporeans gave the PAP to not take things for-granted and not assume that the PAP will continue to rule indefinitely.
The Rembau Times explains why in our Op-Ed on the recently concluded Singapore General election.
The thing about this election cycle is the timing. Like the stock market, timing is a very very important component in any decision. If you get the timing wrong, you may get punished.
For the last election in 2015, which the Government won comprehensively, Singapore was doing ok. Actually, at that time the Singapore news cycle was dominated about the 1MDB scandal so Singaporeans could subconsciously compare the situation in Malaysia versus the situation in Singapore, and add a tick to the box with respect to the ruling PAP. The economy at that time was doing ok – the tourism, retail and hospitality sectors were doing relatively well and the rest of the economy was doing ok.
However, in 2020 – there are some serious challenges, not only facing Singapore but the entire world. The tourism and hospitality industry is gone, for the moment. The oil and gas and petrochemicals sector is in bad shape. The manufacturing sector is bad. The construction sector was decimated due to the lockdown measures imposed. These were of course the result of the global Coronavirus pandemic, something that was outside the control of the Government, but the timing is definitely not favorable.
There is also the small matter of their Malaysian cousins having voted out the Barisan Nasional government in the 2018 elections, and Malaysia did not disappear from the face of the earth. In a way, an even better version of BN, the more humble Perikatan Nasional, emerged from its ashes – and it is now the current Government of Malaysia. Rembau Times strongly supports Perikatan Nasional.
And unfavorable timing has its effects.
People locked in their homes for an extended period of time, those who lost their jobs and those who saw their incomes decimated tend to be very angry and may seek some redress for their frustration. This is the volatility that makes things very difficult to predict – a swing of 10% is sometimes all it takes for a previous 60% – 40% landslide win to become a knife edge 50% – 50% fight that could go down to the last ballot. And when we have a case where 20% of the lowest income earners in the population, those working in hotels, in retail outlets, in manufacturing, in petrochemicals, in construction, when suddenly given a ballot and a pen in their hand – may react outside the boundaries of what prior trends may predict.
The knife edge wards in this years contest are the Aljunied GRC ward, the East Coast GRC and the West Coast GRC. Expect also a very close contest in previously safe seats which have been affected by the Coranavirus such as Choa Chu Kang GRC, Pioneer SMC and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.
[Updated: of the 3 knife edge wards, the Opposition won 1 outright and narrowed the PAP’s winning majority to within single digits, narrowly missing out on the West Coast. ]
Our prediction is that this election is too close too call at the moment.
Updated at 11 pm:
The sample counts are in and the PAP is all set to win the election outright, albeit with a reduced overall vote majority. Workers Party is leading comfortably in the sample count in 3 constituencies, with 10 seats, and the PSP is trailing the PAP 48 -52 in the mega-constituency of West Coast. The West Coast seat is probably the only seat that will probably go down to the wire.
A win is a win, but the relatively strong showing of the Opposition parties in several large constituencies, who narrowed the PAP’s winning margin to single digits will probably be a bit of a surprise to some.
More Analysis at 3.00 am 11th July
The biggest shock was the Workers Party bagging 3 victories, adding the newly created Sengkang GRC to their stronghold in Hougang and Aljunied. Some may be ask why did the Sengkangnians® revolt?
Actually it was not just the Sengkangnians who revolted. Up and down the island, the ruling party’s winning majority was slashed. In the mega East Coast GRC, the PAP team anchored by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat winning majority was 6.5%. In the other mega ward, the West Coast GRC, the PAP majority down to a razor thin 3%. In the Bukit Panjang SMC, the PAP winning majority was less than 7%. There were also sizable number of spoilt votes as well in some contests – not enough to change the result, but enough to send a message.
The results show that the PAP Government cannot take things for-granted. The government did secure a clear mandate but if there was a swing of 5% to the Opposition alliance, one would have seen the PAP lose both East Coast and the West Coast GRC.
There are several inter-related issues here. The first is the thinning of the PAP Vote base, the second the emergence of stronger opposition candidates, and the third is the economy. We will cover the first and the last.
PAP Vote Base
The PAP’s vote base is mostly identified with the older Singaporeans, those who have lived through the independence and the emergence of Singapore as one of Asia’s financial centers. However, this vote base thins as a result of an aging population and is replaced by a younger generation of voters. These voters are self-confident and to a certain degree have enough faith in the system that underpins Singapore, namely the civil service and the statutory boards to see past the argument that it is a function of a single political party but rather a function of the nation. In their minds, things will still work regardless of who forms the Government. For example, many see the provision of a HDB Flat as a function of the Government, and public housing will be provided no matter who is in the Government. Younger generations, meaning those below the age of 45 years, are able to separate the concept of a Government, whether it is at the local or national level with the political party occupying the levers of power.
It is a matter of debate whether this is the classic example of a Shakespearean tragedy, in the sense of the Government having been able to inoculate a First World mentality and capability among the general population so as to create a situation where Singaporeans believe that their local leaders are generally capable regardless of which party they come from. (North of the causeway, this is referred to as a “Senjata yang makan tuan” situation).
And with progress comes greater expectation – children who have lived their life entirely within a HDB flat may not find the idea of a living space less than 1,200 sq. ft. to be something that one aspires to. But the HDB folk form the bulk of the electorate – lose the HDB folk, the heartlanders and you lose the election. Matching the expectations of younger Singaporeans is going to be a very difficult challenge for the incoming 4G leadership. (In a way even the term 4G is going to be outdated very soon as the world is moving towards 5G).
The economy will be the crucial factor going forward. The disruption caused by Covid-19 is wrecking havoc to large swathes of the economy, especially the tourism and hospitality sector. No matter how much a Government provides assistance, unemployment is something that affects people deeply at the psychological level. What is worse is when sudden unemployment is forced on them through no fault of their own. One could have been the best frontline staff in a hotel, the best bartender, the best air steward, or the best worker at a factory – if the employer is out of business, the individual is out of a job.
And what makes it worse is that this unemployment may seem structural as it affects the entire industries. Retraining is good but it is difficult for older people to adapt to new skills, the brain ages with time and for a 40 year old to pick up new skills is a challenge. What people hope for is for those same industries which employed them to return. Upset voters may register their votes in a manner to bridge the Relatability Gap™ aka 我们都是 Separation Index (KSI)™ (Kaki-lang Separation Index™).
No doubt the statisticians, data analysts and consultants will be pouring over the results in order to provide some insight as to factors that contributed to this drop in overall voter support. While data analysis is always good, the great data analysts are able to distill down multiple reasons into several key factors through the use of appropriate multivariate analytical tools. But analysis should not lead to paralysis, the key things to watch is whether the Government will be able to navigate through some extremely testing times ahead, retain the mindshare of their existing supporters and widen their electoral base to include younger Singaporeans.