The Nine Days is a socialservice.sg podcast covering the 2020 general election in Singapore (#GE2020), through daily five-minute news summaries, conversations with young voters, and interviews with academics and experts.
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East and West Coast plans
Nomination Day marks the start of the general election. This year, all 17 group representation constituencies and all 14 single-member constituencies will be contested, which means there were no walkovers. There are only two three-cornered fights: In Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, and in Pioneer SMC.
The main electoral battles are expected in the East and the West of Singapore. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat of the ruling People’s Action Party was moved to East Coast GRC, while Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee moved to West Coast GRC. In particular, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described DPM Heng’s move as a quote, “tactical”, end-quote deployment.
In East Coast GRC, the PAP team led by the DPM is set to go up against a Workers’ Party team which includes Nicole Seah, who contested and drew strong media attention in GE2011. Candidates addressed supporters upon their successful nomination, and part of DPM Heng’s speech quickly went viral:
DPM Heng: “For our East Coast residents, we also have a plan for the East Coast. We have a East Coast, Singapore, we have a together and East Coast plan. We care at East Coast.” (02:13 to 02:30)
Over in West Coast GRC, the PAP will be challenged by the Progress Singapore Party, which is led by former PAP member and MP Dr. Tan Cheng Bock. Dr. Tan’s former Ayer Rajah ward is now part of this GRC.
PSP member Lee Hsien Yang will not contest in GE2020.
Other constituencies to watch
The WP looks to defend Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC against the PAP. Aljunied was the first GRC to be won by an opposition party in 2011, while Hougang is the country’s longest-held opposition ward.
In addition to the WP (contesting 21 of 93 seats in six constituencies) and the PSP (contesting 24 seats in nine constituencies), the SMC contests of the Singapore Democratic Party (contesting 11 seats in five constituencies) will be of special interest. In Bukit Batok, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan will contest PAP incumbent Murali Pillai again. And in Bukit Panjang, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah will do battle with PAP’s Liang Eng Hwa.
The main campaign issues of GE2020
In the bigger picture, the campaign has been framed around three issues: First, GE2020 as a crisis election, with the coronavirus pandemic in the background; second, as an election which could, for the first time, result in up to 12 non-constituency members of parliament with voting privileges; and third, as a pandemic and Internet election, with no physical rallies.
The manifesto of the ruling party is titled “Our Lives, Our Jobs, Our Future”, and a “flight to safety” phenomenon has been proposed. Pointing to the elections after September 11, for example, the argument is that voters are more likely to vote for the ruling PAP. Relatedly, this election could also be perceived as an assessment of the government’s response to the ongoing pandemic.
In addition, PM Lee has alluded to a, quote, “significant opposition presence”, end-quote, regardless of the election outcome. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah has made similar points. Through an amendment to the Constitution in 2016, the maximum number of NCMPs was increased from nine to 12, all of whom would have voting privileges. The opposition, especially the WP, has argued that NCMPs will not constitute a serious alternative. They also point to related disparities, such as losing PAP candidates who go on to serve as grassroots advisors in opposition-held constituencies.
Finally, in the next nine days, election campaigning will be confined to social media and the Internet. While candidates and parties can still canvass for votes in person, albeit under stricter physical distancing rules, it would be interesting to see how the Opposition makes up for the absence of physical rallies.