For decades, many Singaporeans have suffered and struggled against the seemingly unbeatable Goliath – the People’s Action Party (PAP). We seethed at the way they messed with our Constitution and rammed through undemocratic repressive laws like POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act).
We shed tears reading how they gunned down vocal critics and destroyed the reputation and lives of opposition leaders like Workers Party (WP)’s JB Jeyaratnam, Tang Liang Hong and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s Chee Soon Juan. We were hurt and insulted by how they disrespected Singaporeans with their arrogant words and dismissive actions which made our people feel like second class citizens.
After the disappointing General Election (GE) 2015 where the PAP won almost 70% of the votes, many hopeful Singaporeans became despondent and frustrated as the PAP-ruling party tightened its control over us and accelerated its toxic brand of politics with the help its increasingly aggressive Internet Brigade (IBs). The sense of hopelessness grew with the implementation of laws like POFMA, which purportedly is to fight fake online news but which in reality has been weaponised by the government. The light at the end of the tunnel was dimming and some voices went silent.
This 2020 election changed it all and has brought a rebirth of hope
GE2020’s results on July 11 brought immense joyous relief to many people. The sheer happiness and loud crazy cheers that rang loud in the streets of Hougang and Sengkang at dawn reverberated across the island.
Indeed, we have much to celebrate. This was the second general election where all seats were contested since our country’s independence. That is significant. For many years, there were walkovers due partly to pork barrel politics and gerrymandering and many of us could not vote. Some only got to vote when they were middle aged! How galling! Hopefully, walkovers will never again happen here and all of us can exercise our right to vote including more than 200,000 overseas Singaporeans most of whom were upset at being unable to vote as there are only 10 polling centres worldwide.
A key milestone to note at this GE2020 is that PAP’s share of the votes dropped in most of the constituencies except for a handful. And its overall vote share fell from the whopping 69.9% in 2015 GE to 61.2%!
Contrary to general impression that the PAP is hugely popular, the party’s vote share at every election has actually been dropping since 2001 when it scored 75.1%. It plunged to 66.6% in 2006 and to 60.1% in 2011 before being bumped in 2015 when the PAP used Lee Kuan Yew’s death and legacy to manipulate public sentiments.
So what do the latest GE results mean? That it fell again in line with the downward trend shows the underlying unhappiness with PAP is still there and that there is growing widespread concerns over the PAP’s elitist and arrogant style of governing, its brand of gutter politics, its self-serving agendas and certain policies that do not really improve the lives and future of Singaporeans.
SCMP’s report yesterday quoted NUS political scientist Chong Ja Ian as attributing PAP’s marked drop in vote share to “less satisfaction with how the PAP has been handling policies from the economy to the coronavirus pandemic” Bridget Welsh, a honorary research associate at Malaysia’s University of Nottinghand was more blunt and said “in the Singapore context, this is a defeat (for the PAP)…(it’s the) worst seat performance and loss of popular vote”.
This election’s victories, seemingly small, are in reality significant achievements. WP, led by an astute Pritam Singh, gained much admiration for outplaying and outwitting the PAP and he significantly bolstered the image of the party which had taken a beating in recent years no thanks to the lawsuits instigated by the ruling party over Aljunied GRC.
WP won three constituencies and 10 Parliamentary seats, the most ever by WP. This was despite fielding several younger candidates like economist Jamus Lim and lawyer He Ting Ru against PAP’s political office holders including two ministers in Sengkang GRC. WP’s East Coast GRC group led by Nicole Seah lost but dealt an embarrassing blow to the group led by PM-designate Heng Swee Keat which won with a paltry 53.4% of total votes casted.
WP’s handsome wins in Aljunied GRC and Hougang were impressive in view of all the allegations and lawsuits thrown by the ruling party at WP over the past few years which led many to assume that voters there would not root for the team in blue again. Instead, WP gained a 9-point vote share from to almost 60% in Aljunied GRC, a testament to the wisdom of voters there.
Concerns over WP stalwarts Low Thia Khiang, Chen Show Mao and Png Eng Huat not contesting, proved unfounded. Hougang SMC, long our beacon of hope, also gained vote share with a strong 61.1% win by Dennis Tan.
Sengkang GRC’s win by a group of relatively young but outstanding WP candidates, was the real surprise of the night. Thousands of households in Sengkang cheered loudly in the wee hours when the result was announced. Hundreds of thousands more across the island cheered along with them, ecstatic as we were over this huge achievement. The seemingly impenetrable GRC system had been cracked again by the Hammer and by many young families living there.
While we were disappointed that Progress Singapore Party led by well-respected Dr Tan Cheng Bock did not manage to win a seat, take heart that PSP as a new party managed to do very well in its first election, within a very short time frame, with vote share averaging about 40% for all the GRCs where it contested. Dr Tan’s team in West Coast also lost by a mere whisker with 48.3% of the votes.
PSP will also be offered two NCMP seats in Parliament thus further cementing their presence as a credible political party. Eighty-year-old Dr Tan’s poignant and heartfelt messages calling for political changes to improve the lives and future of Singaporeans and his criticisms of bad government policies have also raised extensive awareness and touched the hearts of many people both young and old.
As for SDP which did not manage to win a seat, it shows it is a party to be reckoned with. The vote share of its two star candidates increased despite the PAP wielding the POFMA sword and casting aspersions yet again at them and their party. Dr Paul Tambyah, an infectious diseases specialist, scored 46.26% – the highest losing opposition candidate among all the SMCs. SDP chief Chee Soon Juan similarly saw a significant 6.4 per cent increase in his votes to 45.2%. All this shows that voters approval of SDP and Chee have gone up and that they stand a good chance of doing even better at the next elections.
We need to remember that this victory of this GE2020 is thanks greatly to the tireless efforts of all the alternative party leaders, candidates, members and their armies of passionate volunteers. With so many credible and capable candidates contesting all wards and walking the ground all over the island they were able to enlighten countless Singaporeans that there are many non-PAP people with the ability and the heart to represent us in Parliament.
Such a united effort on the ground and online would have made a substantial positive impact on voters. For sure, PAP, even in its worst nightmare, could not have imagined that its plan to hold an election during a pandemic, without election rallies, using only digital platforms, could have backfired so badly.
For a long time, many had lamented about the political ignorance and apathy of our people especially the youths who grew up amidst a culture of fear and propaganda in social studies. There was speculation that at this election, the opposition would be wiped out as many would vote for the PAP out of fear of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic and a desire for stability by trusting in the devil they knew best. We were gladly proven wrong.
This GE2020 showed us that in reality there are many Singaporeans who are discerning, not cowed by fear and who are willing to speak up and vote for positive change.
No physical rallies so what? The winds of change was palpable even on digital platforms. Elections news and messages were shared fast and furious, commentaries and posts drew immeasurable number of comments and robust debates on handphones, on computers on iPads, etc etc.
We have globalisation and social media to thank for this change. Better educated, more aware, more woke, the millennials, together with likeminded older Singaporeans, will reshape the political landscape and policies to be more human-centric and Singaporean-centric. Being more sensitive to social issues like fairness and inequality, many will no longer be easily fooled nor intimated should the PAP remain unrepentant and continue to mislead, bully and misuse its power.
Like many older voters, the millennials are not blind to injustice nor incompetence.
The PAP’s increasing incompetence weighed heavy on many of us. Trust has to be earned and not demanded. Past performance is no guarantee of success. Trust in PAP 3G and 4G leaders was justifiably withered as we saw how the economic policies were hurting many Singaporeans who struggle to cope with the high cost of living, the rising healthcare costs and the ignominy of having to compete so damn hard for good jobs against the overwhelming number of foreigners here.
This election, held during a pandemic, also made us question the PAP’s agenda and competence even more when we saw over two million Singaporeans queuing under the hot sun and in crowded polling centres to cast their vote. It defied reason to endanger lives just so the PAP could gain a strong mandate.
All the feelings of anger, betrayal and disappointments…and hope went into the X we marked on the ballot paper on 10 July 2020.
The saying united we stand rings true. After so many decades of trying to make our voices heard it seems that our message is finally starting to get through – through our votes.
Speaking yesterday after the polling results, PM Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that the election results show a clear desire for a diversity of voices in Parliament. In a surprise move, he said WP chief Pritam Singh will be formally appointed Leader of the Opposition and will be given the staff support and resources to carry out this role.
Through our votes, we have spoken and we have finally been heard. The road to real change is a long and arduous one but we need to find our rightful place as Singaporeans again. We need to make Singapore truly our happy home again. We can do this by being united in speaking up without fear and doing right by our conscience.
We can do it and we will get there.