There’s a saying, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Haven’t Singaporeans been fooled before? Haven’t we seen this movie that we are now witnessing? What makes us think that things would be any different this time around?
The People’s Action Party (PAP)’s popular vote share for GE2020, although a significant drop from 2015, is still higher than 2011. The PAP lost a GRC for the first time in 2011 and had to do soul searching. It followed up with some position and policy changes and managed to appease ground sentiment and curtail the tide of resentment and unhappiness.
And so in GE2015, the PAP scored a landslide victory in the aftermath of Lee Kuan Yew’s death. The PAP saw this as a resounding endorsement by the people. It could do no wrong. The results of GE2011 were nothing but an aberration, to be consigned to the history books.
After the 2015 sweeping electoral success, water prices went up steeply, impending GST hike was announced, foreign influx continued, Parliament passed controversial changes to the elected presidency, the hotly debated online falsehoods Bill (POFMA) was passed. In recent months, handling of the COVID-19 pandemic became a contentious issue and a general election was called despite pleas and advice to hold back.
Many call GE2020 a watershed election. GE2011 was also dubbed a watershed election, the PAP losing a GRC for the first time. GE2015 was also called a watershed election, coming in the wake of Lee Kuan Yew’s passing.
If we start calling every GE a watershed election, when does it hold significance anymore?
For GE2020, the PAP was true to form, conducting its campaign in predictable fashion.
Raeesah Khan’s past social media posts were whipped up and made a meal of at the height of the hustings. To the PAP, it was an opportunistic strike par for the course. But many of us watched and winced because we had seen it all before, it was trademark gutter politics.
As for the calling into question of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s integrity, we have also seen it before. But the use of an analogy involving spousal violence to make a point – that we have not seen, and it made us wince.
Fear mongering? It happened. As with every GE, Singaporeans were told they could find the PAP losing power overnight and what’s more, winning alone wasn’t enough, the PAP had to win big otherwise investors would lose confidence.
In 2011, late Lee Kuan Yew told Aljunied GRC voters they would “repent” if they voted in the Workers’ Party. For GE2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong went to Sengkang GRC and told the voters, “Why settle for PAP-lite? The real thing is much better.”
He must have thought it was witty and amusing because he laughed as he said it. The Sengkang voters, as it turned out, rejected “the real thing” in favour of “PAP-lite”, otherwise known as the Workers’ Party.
But having asked voters to go for “the real thing” in Sengkang, the PAP repeatedly touted the fact that no matter what happens, there would be 12 opposition NCMPs in Parliament. Guess what, where this is concerned, voters would much rather prefer “the real thing” – electing an MP into Parliament is far superior to having a losing candidate as an NCMP.
So when all is said and done, given the results of GE2020, we can expect the PAP to conduct a post-mortem – like it did in 2011. We can expect some fine-tuning, even some position and policy changes.
As for a less divisive, more inclusive style of governance, embracing diversity and aspirations of Singaporeans – that, we shall have to see.
So it’s not yet time to get swept away on a tide of euphoria.
By all means, in the wake of GE2020, let’s look at the glass as half-full. The people have spoken, the rest remains to be seen.
The PAP said of Dr Chee Soon Juan during campaigning: “a leopard does not change its spots.”
The best we could hope for is for the PAP to prove that a leopard can indeed change its spots.