Singapore’s Ruling Party Prevails in Election But Faces Headwinds

Opposition chips away at supermajority . . . 

Singapore’s general election, held on Friday, handed the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) another supermajority in parliament, with 83 out of 93 seats. However, the results also put the PAP on notice that its decades-long political dominance may be showing signs of weakening. First, the Workers’ Party now holds 10 seats, the most ever held by an opposition party. Second, the PAP got only 61 per cent of the popular vote, a nine-point drop since 2015. Third, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, widely considered to be next in line to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2022, won only 53 per cent of the vote in his district.

Bleak economic picture . . .

The ruling party’s disappointing performance comes against the backdrop of one of the most challenging economic situations it has faced in years. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore’s heavily trade-dependent economy was suffering from the fallout of the U.S.-China trade dispute, and its GDP growth rate fell from 3.1 per cent in 2018 to 0.7 per cent last year. With trade disruptions unlikely to ease anytime soon, the PAP may find its economic model needs updating, including addressing growing voter discontent with widening inequality and cost-of-living issues.

More space for “diversity of voices”?

Prime Minister Lee acknowledged that the election results “show a clear desire for a diversity of voices in parliament.” How much space those voices will be given in or outside of parliament is uncertain. This was Singapore’s first election since it passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in 2019. Ostensibly, the law is meant to root out fake news. Still, one observer has documented that a large majority of online posts that have been targeted were critical of the government on sensitive issues like corruption, public spending, and policies seen as favouring foreigners over citizens. Whether the PAP takes a cue from its lacklustre performance to listen to this “diversity of voices,” or whether it uses the POFMA to silence these voices, remains to be seen.