S’pore opposition makes historic gains
The People’s Action Party (PAP) has scored a thumping victory at the Singapore general elections today, but opposition parties made significant gains.
In all, PAP maintains its near absolute control of Parliament with 81 out of 87 seats, with the opposition increasing its tally from two to six seats. The ruling party won 60.14 percent of the votes, down from 66.6 percent in 2006.
Among the biggest casualties was Foreign Minister George Yeo, who together with four other team mates, lost the Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC) to the opposition Workers’ Party – a pro-poor group of lawyers and professionals.
This is the first time PAP has ever lost a GRC. The five victorious Workers’ Party candidates have been dubbed as the ‘A-Team’ due to their popularity.
Workers’ Party’s success is highly significant as it is also the first time a cabinet minister had lost in the elections.
“A new chapter has been opened in Singapore’s history,” said Yeo, adding he respected the voters’ decision. At the 2006 general elections, Workers’ Party secure 43.91 percent of the votes in Aljunied and lost by a narrow majority.
Among the five are party leader Low Thia Kiang, who took a gamble by moving from his seat of Hougang to lead the fight for Aljunied, and Chen Show Mao (left), a top lawyer and economist with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities.
The Workers’ Party also managed to defend its hold of the Hougang single member constituency (SMC).
The opposition picked up six seats – all of which were won by Workers’ Party – surpassing its previous best performance in 1991, when it won four seats. At the last election in 2006, the PAP won 82 of then 84 parliamentary seats.
Aside from a handful of single seats, most parliamentary seats are contested in clusters of four to six candidates, a setup seen as favourable to the well-entrenched PAP – but also offering a windfall to the opposition if one of its tickets gets lucky.
PAP wins 81 seats, opposition, 6
During counting last night, there was heavy speculation that the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Marine Parade GRC would slip from PAP’s grasp.
However, both the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and National Solidarity Party (NSP), lost in both contests respectively but with a higher share of the votes.
Another oppposition party, the Singapore People’s Party, suffered a setback when it failed to retain its Potong Pasir seat.
More opposition MPs may be coopted into Parliament, through the nominated member of Parliament (NMP) system.
Prior to the dissolution of Parliament, there were nine NMPs to complement the two elected opposition lawmakers.
In an immediate reaction, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) said it was a watershed election and indicated it could bring change in the city-state, one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing nations in Asia but tainted by criticism of political restrictions and little tolerance of dissent.
“It marks a distinct shift in our political landscape,” Lee told an early morning news conference on Sunday. “Many (Singaporeans) wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach.”
“Many desire to see more opposition voices in parliament to check the PAP government.”
He said the PAP will undergo “soul searching” and expressed willingness to work with lawmakers from the opposition.
Prior to the polls yesterday, there were already rumblings in coffee shops and opposition rallies over inflation and the state’s liberal policy towards hiring migrant workers.
The campaign also saw PAP lose its almost complete monopoly over the dissemination of information as opposition parties and activists took their battle to cyberspace, where Facebook and Twitter became crucial conduits.
Four days before the election, Lee apologised in public for the government’s shortcomings.
Supporters of Workers’ Party jubilant
Observers said the opposition also took advantage of the growing political consciousness of Singaporeans.
Especially younger people, who voice their dissent in popular political internet forums, were no longer willing to accept the PAP’s overwhelming political dominance, said analysts.
Supporters of the Workers’ Party were jubilant on hearing the results.
“You have made history tonight,” Workers’ Party chief Low told supporters. “This is a political landmark in modern Singapore.
“Your votes tell us that Singapore is not just an economic success, Singapore is our home.
“Your votes tell us that you want Singapore to develop as a nation. Your votes tell the government you want a more responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable government.”
As he spoke, supporters dressed in the party’s blue colours chanted “Ole, Ole,” and threw confetti on each other, shouting and clapping.
PAP backers said there were lessons to be learned.
“It is definitely good for Singapore, but I think the leaders and government realised that there’s a gap between them and people on the ground,” said Jagjit Singh, a 72-year-old.
Compulsory voting ensured a high turnout, with close to 2.06 million people – 93 percent of the electorate – casting ballots.
GRCs now seen as vulnerable
Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, stressed the significance of the opposition’s first ever win in a group representation constituency (GRC), a setup widely seen as favouring the ruling party but now shown to be vulnerable.
“The GRCs have been a cornerstone of one-party dominance in the Singapore state, and the breaking of its GRCs is really allowing a diversity of political views in the country,” Welsh said.
Six opposition parties took part in the election with the modest goal of winning more seats from the PAP – resigned to the dominance of the party that led Singapore to political independence and economic prosperity.
They divided electoral districts among themselves to fight the PAP on several fronts.
“The opposition has come together in terms of not contesting against each other. When push came to shove, they put aside personal differences for the larger cause of opening up political space,” Welsh said.