Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gives a fist pump on the campaign trail ahead of July 10 elections in the city-state. Image: Twitter

The People’s Action Party was seen as reckless when it opportunistically called for a general election in Singapore in the midst of a pandemic. Despite a slew of overly generous governmental handouts and a well-orchestrated media campaign to gloss over its poor containment of the pandemic that has resulted in Singapore facing its worst economic recession since independence, the PAP’s bet has backfired.

Its strategists thought they could take advantage of the vulnerability of voters in crisis. But the results of the July 10 election must have been disappointing for the PAP.

Not a ‘landslide victory’

At their post-election media briefing, while the PAP strategists were wondering how their well-oiled propaganda machinery could have backfired, it was clear that their top honchos were in a state of shock.

It was a mystery how the PAP could claim that it had won the election with a 61.24% mandate when the official results show that only 57.51% (1,524,781) voted for the ruling party, 36.4% (965,012) voted for the opposition, 1.73% (45,722) were rejected votes while 4.37% (115,870) did not vote.

Looking at the 4.37% of the electorate who did not vote, it is also puzzling why the Election Department took the drastic step of extending the voting time to 10pm from 8pm when 96% of voters had already cast their ballots by 8 o’clock Friday evening.

Appallingly, the mainstream media in Singapore did not investigate these discrepancies but instead touted the election result as a landslide victory for the PAP, by crowing that the ruling party had won 83 of the 93 seats in Parliament.

It is indeed troubling that the mainstream media, the Election Department and the POFMA Office, which is responsible for the administration of the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act, have yet to take any action to clarify or correct these discrepancies.

Vote swing

If only the PAP had listened, the election would have been a walk in the park for it. Unfortunately, the PAP treated honest criticisms and feedback with great contempt and hostility. Like a narcissistic child, it had to be its way or no way.

The party simply could not accept the fact that the root causes of many of the problems and issues that are plaguing Singapore lie with the incompetence of its current fourth generation (so-called 4G) of politicians and a dysfunctional election system that is paralyzing the city-state’s parliamentary system.

Reality check

The poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic has obviously jeopardized the economic viability of the working class, entrepreneurs and enterprises, reducing them to a state of helplessness.

This also means that many more young students will be graduating into unemployment while many in the working class are now extremely vulnerable to losing their jobs. The Singaporean Dream that their parents and forebears had labored for over many generations has been shattered.

The PAP has clearly lost its way at the expense of the future of countless Singaporeans.

Despite only garnering the support of just 57.51% of voters, the PAP has a disproportionate control of 89.25% of the parliament.

Taking a peek into the pages of the diary of the late president Devan Nair, it is not hard to see that this disproportionate representation was craftily engineered by the PAP in the 1980s to ensure that the opposition would never get a chance to threaten the PAP’s ability to monopolize Parliament.

Until this Gordian knot is loosened, there can be no real democratic change in the way Singapore is governed or managed.

The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was introduced in 1988 supposedly to enshrine minority interests and representation in Parliament. This scheme calls for massive revision of electoral boundaries while the management of town councils becomes a new criterion in general elections. Fears were instilled into voters that they had more to lose by voting for the opposition.  

Collectively, these changes make Parliament almost impenetrable for the opposition. Without any real representation in Parliament, the opposition can do nothing except protest. When even their rights to protest have been confined to a small controlled space in Hong Lim Park while netizens risk being silenced by POFMA orders, patriots are thus systematically reduced to being apolitical. This again advantages the PAP.

But no one could have imagined that it would be a virus outbreak that would inflict the greatest blow to the PAP.

Can the leopard change its spots?

Unfortunately, the very craftiness of the PAP has also caused it to become overly scheming, complacent and arrogant, and breeds a very toxic party and nationalistic culture that embraces mediocracy of yes-men over the meritocracy of doers. This toxicity is metastasizing away the competitiveness of Singapore’s DNA.

It is also paralyzing the party from being even able to initiate any real reform that can holistically address the challenges facing Singapore. If it could, it would have done so before this election.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has to win big in order to inaugurate his succession plan, more crafty politics and policies are to be expected. As such, a snap election is a real possibility once the pandemic has been contained.

Anyone who is hoping that the PAP will abandon its capitalistic inclinations and return to its socialistic ideology of service to the nation will likely to be disappointed. Like an adult leopard, it can no longer change its spots but will fight only for its own survival.  

Joseph Nathan has been the principal consultant with several consultancy agencies in Singapore for about three decades. For Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East, he undertakes consultancy via JN Advisory (M) Sdn Bhd and is also the brand owner of Victorian Herbal. He is a Singaporean and holds an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Australia.