After easy election victory, the real work begins for Singapore leader Lee Hsien Loong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 1:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 1:51am

Stunning is the most apt word to describe last week's election win by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party. Opposition groups had been gaining ground in polls and few could have predicted anything other than a continuation of the trend. As it was, the almost 10 per cent swing to the government caused surprise and handed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a strong mandate. But the result should not be seen by authorities as an easy victory: the island nation cannot afford hubris and complacency at so challenging a time in its history.

Lee was the biggest winner. With the PAP now having 83 of the 89 seats in parliament and taking 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, up from 60.1 per cent in the last election in 2011, he now has the space to carve his own legacy beyond the shadow of his father, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March. Hard work went into helping the victory through delivering on tough public demands. There is no better lesson for how a responsible government should respond to the citizens it serves.

The drubbing the PAP took in 2011 was taken to heart: faced with rising discontent over housing, immigration and transport, it resolved to rectify its ways. In just four years, 100,000 flats were built, rules on foreign workers tightened and billions of dollars spent on expanding transport services. But even then, amid the clamour by young voters on social media for change and the determination of opposition parties to make an all-out bid for power by for the first time contesting most parliamentary seats, there was no assurance of regaining lost ground.

Timing the snap poll amid the sentiment evoked by the passing of the elder Lee, Singapore's founding father, and in the 50th year of nationhood, was not in itself a winning strategy for the PAP. What tipped the result was the silent majority's fears for the future. The outlook for the economy amid China's slowdown is less than rosy. Nor is there certainty for the region, with political turmoil in Malaysia, the source of most of the island's water, and rising Indonesian nationalism.

Singapore has had no government other than the PAP: returning it to office with an increased majority was, in effect, a flight by the electorate to safety. A strong government, not a weak opposition, is what is needed in such circumstances. But the election is not a case of winners and losers: both sides now have a stronger engagement with voters and better understand their desires. There is a promise of standards being raised even higher. More hard work lies ahead for Lee and the PAP.