Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Political Change in Singapore

Singapore's Workers' Party (WP) leader Low Thia Khiang has led his "Super A Team" to an electoral breakthrough victory in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) at the recently held general election. This political breakthrough by an opposition party in the GRC has changed the Lion City (Singapore)'s political map. This electoral victory in the Aljunied GRC has also shocked the people across the nation. Currently, we have already done a preliminary assessment of Singapore's general election. Today, what we want to do is to further study and analyze the possible impact of the incredible party defeat suffered by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on Singapore's political scene.
Defeat for Ruling PAP
From our perspective to observe the magnitude of the change of political map in Singapore, the result of this round of general election in Singapore can really be described an incredible party defeat for the ruling PAP. This is because at this round of general election, the total supporting votes obtained by the PAP was only 60.14 percent.
At the 2006 general election the ruling PAP has obtained a total of 66.6 percent supporting vote from the people. As we compare this voter support percentage with its 2006 general election result, the ruling party has indeed lost 6.46 percent supporting votes from the people at this round of general election.
Impact of Internal Personnel Strife
Nevertheless, out of the total 87 parliamentary seats, the ruling PAP did win a total of 81 parliamentary seats. In other words, the total elected seats the PAP obtained at this round of general election are still a great distance ahead of the seats secured by the opposition parties. Although the ruling PAP was trapped in an unprecedented hard fight against the opposition parties at this round of general election, the opposition parties have also faced the impact of internal personnel strife. When the Workers' Party, which is the main opposition party in Singapore faced the massive "electoral army" coming from the ruling PAP, this opposition party was also trapped with the internal party debate of what party line it should adopt to fight against the ruling PAP at this round of general election.
The internal issues faced by other opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the Singapore Democratic Party were even more problematic. As such, before the general election was known, most observers opined that the worst scenario the ruling PAP could face at this round of general election was but a minor loss and the worst case was for the ruling PAP to lose a few parliamentary seats at the most and that there was even the possibility for the ruling PAP to retain all the GRCs. However, when the election results were known, although PAP has regained control of the Potong Pasir Single Member Constituency (SMC), PAP has lost the Aljunied GRC led by its foreign affairs minister George Yeo.
Moreover, the total supporting votes obtained by the ruling party at this round of general election has also slipped to a new low in Singapore's political history. The unexpected election result has indeed tolled a political alarm bell to the ruling PAP that has long enjoyed political advantage in Singapore. If we consider the relative status of the ruling PAP that processes huge political resources and solid foundation it has nurtured for half a century, using the word "defeat" to describe the ruling PAP's election result is even not sufficient enough for us to describe the political blow suffered by the ruling PAP in Singapore.
Evidence-Based Path
Strictly speaking, the root cause for such a political defeat of the PAP at this general election has long been planted. It can be traced through evidence-based path. As such, one should not interpret the political defeat of the PAP at this general election as "due to some bad luck" or that it was "an unexpected election result." In recent years, although the cabinet policy led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has attained some defin ite degree of success but the Government's economic policy, the high property prices, the short supply of the Housing Development Board (HDB) government flats, the introduction of foreign talents and professionals to the country, the use of federal reserve fund have also provoked controversy in the society. Moreover, one cannot deny the fact that the period for Singapore to be ruled by the same strong ruling party has indeed been too long. All these factors have contributed to the long embedded sentiment for the people in Singapore in wanting to seek change.
As a matter of fact, at the 2006 general election, PAP's voter supporting rates has already fallen sharply. It was actually a warning sign to the ruling party. However, the ruling PAP did not deeply understand the public opinion and the feeling of the people. At this round of general election, the main consideration of the ruling PAP leadership in picking their candidates to contest for the parliamentary seats was still based on party stability factor. It was also based on the need for the ruling PAP to nurture a fourth generation successors. In this regard, the PAP has failed to display a new image good enough to allow the people to have a refreshing look at the ruling party. This has given the people in the society an added negative perception of the ruling PAP. Although shortly before the polling day drew near, the senior leadership of the PAP did show a rare scene of unity in order to restore the declining voter supporting climate; and although the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has long promoted its cabinet as a "Pragmatic Cabinet" and although Lee Hsien Loong did try to do something difference at the eleventh hour of the general election, but the party structure of PAP could not be changed. As such, since the bigger change environment within the PAP has not been formed, how can the ruling PAP restore the confidence of the voters whose faith in the ruling party has gradually been shaken over a long period of time?
Since the public opinion on the ruling PAP was already unstable, as such, if the PAP leadership wanted to hold its ground, the PAP should indeed make more efforts to plan its election strategy and election campaign organization more carefully. However, it was apparent to us that on one hand, the PAP was restricted by some local district party faction to make party change and yet on the other hand, the arrogant and over-confident attitude of the ruling party have also resulted in the flourishing of free speeches and free opinions on the web when the Government finally allowed the full liberalization of all media channels for election campaign including allowing all political parties to use the new media such as Facebook and Twitter to carry out electronic election campaign. Since the young voters have taken up close to half of the voter population at this round of general election, such an environment has exacerbated the psychological need for the people to seek change. Another taboo committed by the ruling PAP was that when the PAP leadership realized that the party reputation has dropped, the election campaign for the ruling party has taken a high-profile and shrew attitude. The ruling PAP projected a strongman image to repress the relatively political-resource-weak opposition candidates. Although such an election strategy adopted by the ruling PAP did raise the momentum of the ruling party up for a while but such an election strategy has also strengthened the sense of political crisis of PAP's political rivals and allowed the opposition parties to gain the sympathy from the voters. The attitude of the ruling party has also helped the opposition party supporters to form cohesive force. As such, during the last stage of election campaign although the public opinion was still optimistic about the PAP gaining good election result, but it was a defeated scene for the ruling PAP in the end. We can say that this situation was but a repeat of the mistakes committed by the ruling PAP at the 1988 election. This was also a serious t echnical election mistake made by the PAP.
Restructuring of New Cabinet
The political defeat of the ruling PAP has quite a far reaching impact on Singapore's political development. The first most profound impact is the issue of stability of the PAP regime in the coming years. Although after the general election, the ruling PAP has again received political mandate from the people to ruling the country, but the result of the general election has already caused a major blow to the reputation and credibility of the Cabinet of Lee Hsien Loong. In other words, the political defeat of the PAP has indeed reflected people's dissatisfaction and disappointment on the national policies implemented by the ruling government. Such a wave of people power will hit hard at Lee Hsien Loong. The only way for Lee Hsien Loong to reduce the impact of such a strong people power is for Lee Hsien Loong's new cabinet to undergo a massive restructuring exercise and for Lee Hsien Loong to make an overall adjustment to the current decision making model. Lee Hsien Loong must totally get rid of the influence coming from Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. It is only through such a restructuring of his new cabinet that Lee Hsien Loong can possibly respond to the new political situation in Singapore. As for the speculation that the ruling PAP government might take the initiative to invite the opposition parties to form a "coalition government," such an initiative will be subjective to the opinions of both ruling and opposition party leaders.
As we observe the current political situation in Singapore, unless the ruling PAP is willing to release part of its cabinet dominant right to the opposition party leaders. Moreover, if the views of the opposition parties on this are split, then the thought for the ruling PAP to form a "coalition government" with the opposition parties is highly unlikely.
Influence of Opposition Parties
This round of general election in Singapore has already broken the myth that "GRC is the impregnable fortress for the ruling PAP." In the general election that follows, the ability of opposition parties to penetrate the PAP ruled GRC can create a domino effect.
In lieu of the fact that from now onwards, the opposition party can also control certain portion of the political resources in the GRC ruled by it, we can expect Singapore's political environment will gradually undergo structural political change. The party factions at the local district-level may also bend its political inclination according how the political wind blows. The power and influence of opposition parties in Singapore will further be strengthened given time.

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