What happened to NUS Prof’s prediction that PAP will wipeout opposition in 2020 GE?

What happened to NUS Prof’s prediction that PAP will wipeout opposition in 2020 GE?

At the polls on Friday (10 Jul), the People’s Action Party (PAP) garnered 61.2% of the votes with an 8.7-point swing from its near 70% vote share in the last GE. This was only slightly better than the 60.1% it garnered in 2011 GE, which was PAP’s worst showing since the independence of Singapore.

Ten seats were lost to the opposition Workers’ Party (WP). PAP also lost an additional GRC – Sengkang GRC – to WP, on top of Aljunied GRC. WP retained its Hougang SMC with an improved showing, garnering 61.1% this time as compared to 57.7% it obtained in 2015 GE.

Earlier before yesterday’s GE, NUS Prof Bilveer Singh went on an interview on record to say that PAP will entirely wipe out opposition in this GE (‘NUS Prof who says PAP will wipeout opposition explains why it can win public support in book‘). Prof Singh, who is the Deputy Head of Political Science Department in NUS, has written a number of books on Singapore’s politics, including one – “Understanding Singapore Politics” – that is used by students as a textbook in NUS Political Science Department.

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.

Prof Singh opined that in times of crisis, people will go for safety and familiarity, and hence will vote for PAP. He warned not to overestimate the power of social media. He explained that in times of trouble, 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.

“GE2020 will be like 2015, it will be another ‘freak election’ (for opposition), because of Covid-19.”

‘Freak election’ for PAP instead

In a way, Prof Singh was not wrong in his observations. Take for example, in 2001, Singapore was facing a potential tough economic situation due to the September 11 terrorist attacks in America. There was general fear in Singapore as well as in the rest of the world. The ruling PAP government took the opportunity to call for a GE. In that 2001 snap election, Singaporeans indeed voted for safety and familiarity, giving PAP a resounding victory of 75% vote share.

However, yesterday’s GE results did not go the way Prof Singh predicted. In fact, far from being a ‘freak election’ for opposition, it became a ‘freak election’ for PAP. So, what went wrong?

Prof Singh essentially, has not considered that the circumstances surrounding this GE were vastly different from those in previous crises. In the past, Singaporeans still had good jobs and did not necessary have to compete with foreigners. There was no legal requirements then for companies to “consider” Singaporeans “fairly” when companies put up job advertisements to recruit staff. And in the past, driving a taxi to ferry passengers was considered an “embarrassing” job especially if one is a graduate. These days, however, large number of Singaporean PMETs with diplomas and degrees are forced to drive taxi or Grab in order to eke out a living.

This was exactly the sort of situation the former Singapore’s UN Permanent Representative Professor Tommy Koh warned about. At the Singapore Bicentennial Conference last October, Prof Koh cautioned the 4th generation PAP leaders about the inequality in Singapore. He said one of their priorities should be to make Singapore a more equal society (‘Prof Koh tells 4G leaders: We don’t want more S’poreans to become Grab drivers and angry voters‘).

These include looking into allegations of discriminatory hiring practices and working to make Singapore a classless society, he told the audience. “We should not abandon the displaced workers because we don’t want more and more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers or, worse, to join the ranks of the angry voters,” he said.

When one is already hungry, it doesn’t really matter to him if there is a crisis going on or not. Indeed, when you were a PMET who used to earn $6,000 a month and ended up driving Grab making only $3,000+ a month and thus, suffering from a drop in standard of living, would you be happy? When you have nothing else more to lose, crises don’t matter anymore.

Dominance of PAP

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, he 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.”

“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.

That may be true in general but as long as Singapore’s election is still based on one-man one-vote system, “angry voters” can still vote out the PAP, like what they did at Sengkang yesterday, kicking PAP out from a second GRC and allowing WP to win 2 GRCs in a row.

PAP continues to deliver goods for populace?

Prof Singh has also observed that despite criticising the PAP, most voters are not quite interested in politics. 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, he said.

“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,” he added. “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.”

The key phrase used by Prof Singh here is to be able to “deliver the goods for the populace” and hence, the voters will “leave politics to the PAP”. There is nothing wrong with this assertion. But what’s happening in recent years is that in PAP’s earnesty to “complement” Singaporeans with “foreign talents”, things backfired badly for Singaporeans. Take for example, in March this year, it was reported that a Singaporean lady was “unfairly” retrenched at a MNC in favour of a foreigner (‘MNC’s foreign hiring manager relocates from HK to SG and proceeds to replace SG PMET with HK lady‘).

The lady earned a 5-figure salary in the company. She said, “The FT hiring manager was recently relocated to Singapore from [Hong Kong] and shortly after, he informed me that though my BAU (business as usual) is solid, I had failed to value add.” However, the manager did not elaborate nor give specific examples of value-adding, simply saying that he expected her to do more than her BAU. Aggrieved, Laura slammed the MNC for not having a proper performance appraisal system and for “simply telling people at end of the year that sorry you have under-performed, out you go.”

“Nothing whatsoever was documented throughout the year to indicate any under-performance on my part,” she added. “I was told I had to go because my role had combined with a lady from HK and she will be relocating from HK to SG to replace me. I asked if he had considered me for that combined role and he said he had appraised and think the HK lady is more suitable.”

So, to this Singaporean lady, does Prof Singh think she would simply accept her fate and continue to “leave politics to the PAP” after losing her 5-figure salary?

“Resilience of the one-party” ?

Lastly, Prof Singh thought that 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.

PAP may be “resilience” for now but nobody can really say it will be “resilience” forever. This was best summed up by the founding PM Lee Kuan Yew himself who gave an interview in 2009 about the future of Singapore.

Mr Lee said, “I think there will come a time when eventually the public will say, look, let’s try the other side, either because the PAP has declined in quality or the opposition has put up a team which is equal to the PAP and they say, let’s try the other side. It must come.”

“If the decline in standards (in PAP) happens gradually, an opposition will emerge of quality. I mean, the public can sense it,” he added. “I think the more likely is a gradual evolution because it is most unlikely the way we have evolved the party and the renewal of the party leadership that you will get such a clash of opinions that it will divide the whole leadership, the MPs and the party machinery into two, or into one major part, one minor part.”

Even so, cracks are already beginning to surface as the latest opposition party, PSP, is helmed by a respectable ex-MP of PAP, Mr Tan Cheng Bock, who “split” with his old party. Who is to say there won’t be more former PAP politicians joining Mr Tan?

Mr Lee continued, “No system lasts forever, that’s for sure. Ten years (i.e, from 2009 to 2019), I don’t think it’ll happen; 20 years, I can’t say; 30 years, even more I cannot tell you. Will we always be able to get the most dedicated and the most capable, with integrity to devote their lives to this? I hope so but forever, I don’t know.”

So, there you have it. Even Mr Lee Kuan Yew can’t see the future of PAP, let alone Prof Singh.


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