Singapore election: PAP chief and PM Lee Hsien Loong says results ‘show clear desire for diversity of voices’
- People’s Action Party has formed government, winning almost 90 per cent of 93 seats contested
- Workers’ Party secures record 10 seats, making it first time opposition presence in Singapore’s parliament is above 10 per cent
Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui declared results for all 31 constituencies in Friday’s general election early on Saturday morning.
The PAP won 15 multi-seat constituencies and 13 single-seat wards, with a vote share of 61.24 per cent of all votes cast.
The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) won a record 10 seats, retaining the five-seat Aljunied constituency, and wresting the four-seat Sengkang constituency from the PAP’s hands with 52.1 per cent of the vote. It also won the single seat precinct of Hougang. The WP contested 21 out of the 93 parliamentary seats, and secured 11.22 per cent of all votes cast nationally.
Streets in the opposition’s stronghold district swelled with supporters honking horns, cheering and waving party flags – some seemingly paying little heed to social distancing rules.
“Today’s results are positive, but we have to hit the ground running,” said Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh. “We should not get over our head with the results. There is much work to do.”
The Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which unsuccessfully contested 24 seats, won 10.18 per cent of the national vote.
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PM Lee: results show voters want diversity
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the weaker-than-expected results for his People’s Action Party (PAP) after Friday’s general election showed that citizens, especially younger voters, wanted to see a diversity of voices in parliament.
The ruling party, in power since 1959, will now contend with 10 Workers’ Party MPs in parliament – the largest opposition presence in the legislature in five decades.
But with the extraordinary pandemic-era vote over, Lee urged the country to “put all our differences aside, close ranks and work together on the tasks ahead”.
“Well, it's not as strong a mandate as I hoped for, but it's a good mandate, I think the popular vote, 61 per cent is very respectable,” he said.
Before the vote, the 68-year-old leader had asked voters to give the PAP a strong mandate to guide the country out of the coronavirus crisis.
Asked whether the PAP had seen a slippage in the youth vote, Lee said: “I think these are things which we will analyse in due course, not at five o'clock in the morning.”
He added however that “different generations have different life experiences, and the young people have great significantly different life aspirations and priorities”.
In a first in the country’s post-independence history, Lee said he was offering Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh the title of “Leader of the Opposition”.
That position had not been offered to Singh or his predecessor Low Thia Khiang since 2011, when the opposition group first staged a historic victory and sent six MPs to parliament.
The government had previously offered Low the title of “Unofficial Leader of the Opposition”, which the opposition stalwart rejected.
PAP’s vote share slips to near record low
The PAP’s two-thirds majority affords them a free hand to pass legislation and amend the constitution, but its leaders will also be under pressure to address the near record low margin of support.
Chong Ja Ian, a political scientist with the National University of Singapore, attributed the marked drop in the PAP’s vote share from 2015 – when it won 69.9 per cent of votes – to “less satisfaction with how the PAP has been handling policies from the economy to the coronavirus pandemic”.
“In the Singapore context, this is a defeat [for the PAP],” said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at Malaysia’s University of Nottingham. “[It’s the] worst seat performance and loss of popular vote in an election that they called early in a pandemic mistakenly thinking the crisis would help them.”
Analyst Woo Jun Jie said the ruling party could also have been “negatively affected by some long-standing bugbears, such as growing income inequality and the growing number of foreign PMETs”.
Loke Hoe Yeong, author of First Wave, a book on the history of the Singapore opposition, said the opposition’s performance surprised even themselves.
“The results have surpassed the expectations even of some in the opposition,” Loke said. “It also looks like voters are voicing their disapproval of the PAP calling a general election in the midst of the pandemic.”
DPM Heng Swee Keat retains seat with slim margin
Senior leaders from the ruling People’s Action Party have made their first remarks since the release of results tonight.
The Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, speaking to the voters of East Coast GRC, offered his thanks to those who braved “long queues in the hot sun” to cast their vote.
The Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui earlier announced that the PAP’s five-person slate in East Coast, led by Heng, won 53.41 per cent of total votes cast.
Heng did not address his team’s weak showing. He thanked party activists, as well as the WP for “giving us a strong contest”.
Earlier, trade minister Chan Chun Sing, another member of the PAP’s so-called fourth generation or 4G team, said now that the election is over, “it is time for us to unite”.
He said the country needed to work together to save as many jobs and businesses as possible in the coming months. Chan and his five-person team won the Tanjong Pagar GRC against the Progress Singapore Party with a comfortable 63.13 per cent of vote cast.
Prime Minister Lee too addressed voters in his Ang Mo Kio GRC. He is expected to address the election result in a press conference. The 68-year-old leader’s team won their ward with a vote share of 71.91 per cent.
Ex-PAP stalwart Tan Cheng Bock narrowly loses in West Coast GRC
“A young team didn’t win a seat, but I must say we have caused an impact in this GE,” Tan said at a press conference. “If you look at the level of support that has been given to PSP candidates … it [averaged] at 40 per cent.”
He described the outcome as the “beginning of a new chapter for PSP”.
“We are not deterred by this disappointment because I think the team that I have built will go further in the next election,” he added.
Tan, 80, has a national profile as he served as a PAP backbench MP from 1980 to 2006. He narrowly lost a presidential election in 2011 against former deputy prime minister Tony Tan, the PAP’s preferred candidate.
Political analyst Felix Tan said Tan’s harsh criticisms may have overshadowed how the party was viewed, with the group’s agenda “taken over by such a strong personality”.
This election is likely to be Tan’s last.
Analyst Felix Tan said Lee Hsien Yang’s presence may have taken away “the attention from the party members and its manifesto”.
Singapore could see just two NCMP seats
NCMPs are candidates who are “best losers” from non-government parties. In this election, the maximum number of NCMPs was set at 12.
But the number of NCMP spots offered depends on how many seats non-government parties have won. With the WP taking 10 seats, this means just two NCMP seats will be made available.
The NCMP scheme was first introduced in 1984 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the current prime minister’s father, as a way to ensure alternative voices in the legislature. At that point, the party had held a large supermajority for 16 years.
In 2016, following the PAP’s crushing victory in elections in the previous year, the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong amended the NCMP scheme to give NCMPs full voting rights comparable to elected MPs.
During the campaign, Lee used the scheme to rebut Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh’s assertion that the opposition faced a “wipeout” in the legislature.
The prime minister said the 12 NCMP seats ensured there would always be alternative voices in parliaments, and urged voters not to back the opposition as a counterbalance to the ruling party even though they supported the PAP.
Workers’ Party wins Sengkang
Singapore’s Workers’ Party has won a knife-edge victory over the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the four-seat constituency of Sengkang, with 52.13 per cent of the vote.
The result is only the second time in history that an opposition party has won a multi-seat group representation constituency (GRC), which exists to ensure a multiracial mix of lawmakers in the Chinese-majority island state.
The Workers’ Party won its first GRC, the five-seat ward of Aljunied, in landmark polls in 2011.
The result could spell an unceremonious exit from parliament for Ng Chee Meng, a key member of the ruling PAP’s fourth generation or “4G” leaders poised to assume power in the coming years.
Garry Rodan, said the victory was “a massive result for the opposition and a serious embarrassment to the PAP”.
Local political analysts pointed to a so-called “Jamus Lim effect” in securing the victory for the opposition group.
Lim, 44, was the opposition’s breakout star during the nine-day campaign, after he wowed citizens in a live TV debate with three other candidates, including the PAP stalwart Vivian Balakrishnan, who is the foreign minister.
Online, commenters said Lim, an economist, represented the kind of top-calibre candidate that the PAP had long criticised the opposition for lacking. His closing lines in the debate went viral.
Others in the Workers’ Party’s Sengkang slate are activist Raeesah Khan, bank executive Louis Chua, and lawyer He Ting Ru.
“A younger profile of voters appreciated the diversity, achievements, and overall freshness of the WP Sengkang team,” said Kenneth Paul Tan, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
“The ‘Jamus Lim effect’ was palpable – charisma mattered and the risk of choosing a rookie to debate seasoned politicians on television paid off,” he said.
Early sample counts suggest signs of surprise swing for opposition
Two of Singapore’s key opposition parties, the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party, appeared headed for better-than-expected results in Friday’s election, going by early sample counts released by officials.
The preliminary figures showed SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, a long-time strident critic of the ruling People’s Action Party, with 43 per cent of votes cast in the solo ward of Bukit Batok. The SDP took 45.2 per cent of the vote in the final count.
This is the first time in 57-year-old Chee’s career that his share of the vote has passed 40 per cent. When he contested the ward in 2016 in a by-election, he got about 39 per cent of the vote.
The PAP has in the past assailed Chee, a former university lecturer, for his firebrand politics in the 1990s and 2000s.
Early results for several hotly-contested wards have been released with East Coast GRC, helmed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the designated successor of PM Lee Hsien Loong, getting 54 per cent of votes.
Additional reporting Reuters, Bloomberg