Singapore's general election on September 11 returned the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), led by Lee Hsien Loong, to office with 69.9% of the vote and 83 out of 89 elected seats. This is an increase of almost 10% on their vote in 2011.
This result, which went against the predictions, was a huge setback to the opposition parties. Only the Worker’s Party (WP) was able to hold onto one Single Member Constituency (SMC) seat, Hougang, and one five-seat General Representative Constituency (GRC), Aljnunied. Even in Aljunied the WP only just held on with 50.1% of the vote.
The WP will however be offered seats as Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP). Under the NCMP system, the three opposition candidates with the highest losing percentage will be offered 3 seats.
This scheme was introduced by the PAP after the 1984 elections in which Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam of the WP and Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) won the seats of Anson and Potong Pasir, the first time in a post-independence election that opposition parties won seats.
The NCMP scheme has been criticised because it gives people the impression that they don’t need to vote for opposition candidates and can stifle the organic growth of a parliamentary opposition.
NCMPs also can’t vote on matters relating to constitutional amendments. Despite their criticisms of the scheme, the Central Executive Committee of the WP has resolved to nominate East Coast GRC team candidate Leon Perera and Associate Professor Daniel Goh Pei Seng to NCMP seats. A third WP candidate Lee Lian has declined to accept the NCMP seat offered to her.
The biggest disappointments for the opposition were the failure of Singapore People’s Party (SPP) candidate Lina Chiam (wife of Chiam See Tong) to win the seat of Potong Pasir, despite the fact her husband had been the longest serving opposition MP from 1984 to 2011, and the failure of the SDP Bukit Timah GRC team led by Dr Chee Soon Juan.
The PAP relied on two events for its success. They used the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence to drum up a wave of mindless patriotism, and associated Singapore’s economic success to the PAP, which has ruled the country since independence.
However, the PAP has used repressive measures to maintain its rule, including detaining activists indefinitely without trial or charge using the Internal Security Act (ISA), and suing opposition figures such as Jeyaratnam and Dr Chee for libel.
Many older Singaporeans are still blindly attached to the PAP, associating it with a strong government and clean politics, even though the “old guard” PAP is vastly different to their modern day counterparts.
The other key event the PAP used in the timing of the election was the recent passing of Singapore’s officially revered first prime minister and PAP founder, Lee Kwan Yew.
Apart from the timing of the election, there were several other factors that worked in the PAP’s favour. A large influx of naturalised new citizens over the past decade — mostly privileged upper-middle class migrants from poorer Asian nations — has created a layer of voters grateful for their new citizenship and impressed by Singapore's highly developed infrastructure.
The PAP also benefitted from media bias. The Strait Times lead the charge with their biased reporting of the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council’s alleged mismanagement of funds.
The relationship between the town councils and government-run grassroots organisations such as the People’s Association’s (PA) and the Resident’s Committee (RC) also disadvantage opposition parties. The WP reported that PA and RC events were highly politicised. Guests of honour in opposition-run wards were PAP officials, with local opposition MPs not being invited.
The PAP also resorted to redrawing electoral boundaries — a standard practice by the PAP government for decades.
Such gerrymandering is blatant — redrawing electoral boundaries is the responsibility of a committee made up of staff members from the Prime Minister’s office. The media played a role in disguising this.
Throughout the election campaign, the PAP pushed the message that under opposition rule, Singapore would decline to the position of its poorer neighbours such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
They also resorted to mudslinging, for example spreading false rumours that WP rising star Daniel Goh was having an extramarital affair.