NUS Prof Bilveer Singh who recently gave an interview said that PAP will entirely wipe out opposition in this GE (‘Experts say PAP will wipe out entire opposition in upcoming GE 2020‘, 3 Jul). Prof Singh is the Deputy Head of Political Science Department in NUS and an author of a number of books on Singapore’s politics.
In the interview, Prof Singh thinks PAP will win by landslide in this GE. “It is without a doubt that GE2020 will be a landslide victory for the PAP. In fact, the opposition may be entirely annihilated this election. Singaporean voters will run back to papa,” he said.
He warned not to overestimate the power of social media. He explained that in times of crisis, Singaporeans will run back to the ruling party. “We would rather forgo time for check and balance, accountability and transparency if it means securing our bread and butter as quickly as possible,” he opined. He noted that many Singaporeans have been living on government handouts during the Circuit Breaker.
PAP has proven throughout Singapore’s history that it could craft strong policies to revive the economy during a crisis, Prof Singh said. He cited 3 instances: Lee Kuan Yew after independence, Lee Hsien Loong during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and Heng Swee Keat during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. As such, he thinks that it is still likely PAP will win by a generous margin because of its track record of handling crises, despite slip-ups like Ivan Lim.
“GE2020 will be like 2015, it will be another ‘freak election’ (for opposition), because of Covid-19. But what is more exciting to come is GE2025. It will be a referendum on the 4G leaders and not the 3G leaders… the PAP will have to prove themselves (by then),” Prof Singh said.
Prof Singh’s book: Is The People’s Action Party Here To Stay?
Last year, Prof Singh published a book, ‘Is The People’s Action Party Here To Stay?‘, to explain how the PAP has continued to win support from the public and why it’s difficult for the opposition to challenge them.
In his book, Prof Singh wrote that PAP has entrenched power since 1959. He said, “The continuous rule of the PAP has allowed it to implement policies with long-term consequences, one of which is to marginalise the opposition and establish a compact with the voters.”
So, with the ability to both punish and co-opt dissenters, the PAP has remained at the apex of political power since 1959.
“By being the incumbent since 1959, the PAP has engaged in rule-making that has established the rules of engagement and forced both the citizens and opposition to operate within the PAP-created system that advantages the ruling party,” he noted.
Voters are apathetic
Prof Singh has also observed that despite criticising the PAP, most voters are not quite interested in politics. PAP understands that the voters are primarily concerned with material benefits, something the ruling party is highly adept in, he shared.
Voters may have demands, but replacing the government doesn’t seem to be one of them. So, since 1965, there has been no major demand to replace the PAP as the ruling party and even key opposition parties such as the WP have said they are not interested in replacing the PAP, yet.
While the voters may have specific demands, such as lower cost of living and fewer foreigners in the country, it is never to replace the PAP as the government of Singapore. This is primarily because the PAP has been successful to satisfy the majority of Singaporeans.
PAP created a system where the highly competitive Singaporean is more focused on creating a good life for himself and his family rather than partaking in the national politics of replacing the government.
Prof Singh added, “What is even more intriguing is the perception that one’s well-being is directly linked to the continued rule of the PAP and hence, the compact between the PAP and the voters.”
“As long the PAP continues to deliver the goods for the populace, the Singapore voter will adopt the attitude and posture of ‘leave politics to the PAP’, and this advantages the PAP and its political dominance,” he said.
“Hence, from the perspective of rational voter behaviour, the PAP has been successful in providing the ‘goods’ that the voters want and where the PAP is in a position to deliver, thereby entrenching even more deeply the PAP in the public’s psyche as the ruling party.”
While there may be fear of the ruling party’s repressive measures, there is also a fear of losing the PAP that many Singaporeans believe would lead to the loss of a good, safe, secure and successful life.
The voters’ sense of disempowerment as far as political issues are concerned, and the unwillingness of major public interest groups to support an alternative political party to challenge the PAP, have also created a situation of almost no real challenge to the PAP from the present set of opposition parties in Singapore.
“For all the faults of the PAP, the voters have also got used to the beast called the PAP and their love-hate relationship in a situation of a lack of alternative, which has allowed the PAP to continue to rule Singapore with no sight of this being overturned in the short term,” Prof Singh opined.
Pervasive control by PAP
In addition to the legislature domination, PAP has also exercised control over the political and non-political organisations in Singapore, Prof Singh noted.
This includes the PAP’s control over grassroots organisations, the mass media, civil service, trade unions, and the economy as well as being credited for our ethnic and inter-state peace and harmony.
“In short, there is a sense of pervasive control over the city-state despite exuding a political system of openness in various sectors,” Prof Singh shared.
“This also makes it clear that the PAP government has captured the non-government sectors of the society, thereby compelling the political, economic and socio-cultural organisations to work in tandem and not against the state that is controlled by the PAP.”
In the Prof’s views, PAP has essentially created Singapore in its image, be it in national politics, economy, socio-cultural terrain, ethnic management, education policies, civil society, media, trade unions, grassroots organisations as well as the Republic’s defence and foreign policy.
Similarly, nation building and national identity have also been a function of PAP’s policies and imagination. Hence, Singaporeans identify Singapore’s success as being primarily due to the PAP and its policies, from which the voters have benefited immensely.
PAP’s political savvy in political mobilisation, its ability to recruit the “best and brightest” and deliverance of political goods, especially economic and social stability, have also been its key source of legitimacy. With such dominance, there is no sign of the PAP collapsing as the Barisan Nasional (BN) did in Malaysia as PAP leaders are not seen as “Najibs” and the PAP is not seen as the “BN”, Prof Singh noted.
“Through effective policies, often a mixture of hard and soft policies, the PAP has succeeded in capturing the political centre of Singapore and the imagination of its voters.”
Finally, through various measures, the PAP has also succeeded in denying legitimacy to the opposition and any alternative narrative that may surface with regard to Singapore’s past, present and even near future, Prof Singh said.
“While the public may continue to demonstrate some support for the opposition, largely as a protest against the PAP, when it comes to choosing a government for Singapore, since 1959, Singaporeans have continued to support the PAP — thereby explaining and demonstrating the resilience of the one-party dominant state in Singapore,” he concluded.