By Vernon Lee and Chia Han Keong
SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has suffered its worst electoral performance since independence in terms of the number of seats lost to the opposition, as the Workers’ Party won Sengkang GRC and retained Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.
The PAP won 61.24 per cent of the votes cast and 83 seats out of 93 at the General Election (GE) held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Its vote share was a sharp drop from 69.9 per cent in GE2015.
The results come after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans last month following the dissolution of Parliament to give the PAP a strong mandate in order to empower the government to continue dealing with the severe impact of the pandemic.
Speaking at a media conference after the GE results were announced, Lee said the percentage of the popular vote for the PAP was “not as good as we hoped for”. The results reflected the “pain and uncertainty” of Singaporeans.
The loss of Sengkang GRC was a major loss to the PAP team, said Lee, adding that he has called to congratulate the Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh. The PAP GRC team was anchored by Ng Chee Meng, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and labour chief.
Lee said he would recognise Singh as a leader of the opposition at the next Parliament and looked forward to working with him. With 10 seats in the next Parliament, the WP will further cement its position as the leading opposition party in Singapore.
At the close of poll for GE2020, a total of 2,535,565 votes were cast in Singapore including 45,772 rejected votes, the Elections Department said. This made up 95.63 per cent of the 2,651,435 registered electors, it added.
The GE was called nine months before the deadline for the election. Lee said previously when he called for the election that Singapore has been fully focused on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak since the beginning of the year.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods and the economy, while the government unveiled a slew of measures to curb the spread of the virus, he added.
To mitigate the economic impact, the government announced four budgets with a total injection of about $100 billion to help workers, businesses and households.
While Singapore is progressively reopening, Lee said the country was only at the beginning phase of the battle against COVID-19 and that a long struggle lies ahead.
Lee and other PAP leaders have forecast that there would be more business closures, more retrenchments and a rise in unemployment in the coming months as economies around the world continue to reel from the COVID-19-led downturn.
They stressed during campaigning that the government is determined to not only save as many jobs as possible, but also create new jobs. At the same time, businesses and industries receive help to ride out the crisis and restructure themselves.
Among the initiatives, the National Jobs Council, helmed by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, has pledged to create 100,000 jobs and training opportunities over the next year.
In a PAP booklet distributed to every Singaporean household, Lee said in a message to Singaporeans, “In the coming months and years, we will face many tough situations and difficult decisions. To see ourselves through safely, we need a capable and committed leadership team, working closely with a resolute and united people, enjoying full trust and confidence in one another...Please vote for me and my PAP team. Together, we will overcome COVID-19 and secure a brighter future for our children.”
During a lunchtime e-rally by the PAP on Monday, Lee committed himself to ensuring a smooth leadership transition and underlined his “deep personal responsibility” to make Singapore succeed amid the pandemic.
“You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as the 4G ministers, I will see this through. I am determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team,” Lee said.
On the opposition, Lee said at the e-rally that Singaporeans should not to be “taken for a ride” by opposition politicians who say that “it is important just to have more choices”.
The opposition campaign
During the GE, opposition parties have campaigned on issues such as making the government more accountable and responsive to people’s needs, bringing down the high costs of living, as well as prioritising jobs for Singaporeans. They had wanted voters to vote them into parliament so as not to give the ruling PAP a “blank cheque” on future policy decisions.
Most of the parties were unhappy at the decision to hold the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as they felt it had put the more vulnerable citizens under undue risks of infection.
Some parties, such as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP), criticised the government’s management of the pandemic, blaming it for the high number of COVID-19 cases among the migrant workers’ dormitories as well as sending confusing messages over the wearing of face masks in public.
Another key contention was the PAP’s assertion that its Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme guarantees opposition voices in parliament.
Opposition parties argued that the scheme prevents the opposition from sinking roots in a constituency, and was a ploy used by the PAP to entice voters not to vote for opposition candidates.
Key opposition figures who were in the spotlight during the campaign include PSP’s secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP Member of Parliament; WP’s Pritam, who was leading his party’s GE campaign for the first time since taking over Low Thia Khiang; and SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, a prominent expert on infectious diseases, who led the criticism on the government’s handling of the pandemic.
For a brief period, media attention was diverted to Raeesah Khan, WP candidate for Sengkang GRC, who was embroiled in a police investigation over her social media posts. Raeesah had purportedly made remarks that attempted to sow racial enmity and cast aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary. While she has apologised for her posts, her party had to endure calls by the PAP to clarify its stance on the “serious matter”.
Another opposition member who was in the news was Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of PM Lee, who joined the PSP a few months ago but only made public his decision days before Nomination Day.
The brothers were estranged due to an ongoing legal tussle over their old Oxley Road residence after the death of their father, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, in 2015.
While the younger Lee did not contest in the GE, his presence at several PSP walkabouts, as well as his online speeches in support of the party, drew heavy media attention.
This was also the first GE in which the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) had been invoked to issue correction directions to articles and videos with statements of falsehood. While opposition parties have strongly criticised the controversial law, they have complied when issued the correction directions.
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