Five takeaways from #GE2020, in five minutes and five words: Mandate, leader, consolidation, COVID-19, weathering

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The Nine Days is a 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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This historic election can be summarised in five words: Mandate, leader, consolidation, COVID-19, and weathering.

Mandate: A “clear mandate” and a “strong mandate”

First, mandate. As in PM Lee describing his party’s win as a “clear mandate” and a “strong mandate”. His party won 61.24 per cent of the popular vote and 83 of 93 parliamentary seats. It retains its supermajority.

However, its popular vote share is nine percentage points lower than its 2015 performance, and only one percentage point higher than in GE2011, when the People’s Action Party had its worst showing since independence.

The prime minister is taking this victory, quote, “as an endorsement of the PAP policies, of our team and of our plans”, end-quote. But, I’m not so sure.

Critics will have different explanations for PAP’s poor showing. The government’s handling of the coronavirus situation. The conduct of the campaign, such as those involving candidate Tan Wu Meng, former candidate Ivan Lim, the unprofessional press releases, and a predilection to attack other candidates. Young voters and minorities might have voted otherwise. And the unlevel playing field for the Opposition.

Ultimately, I too was disappointed by the lack of substantial, substantive discussions, on the most urgent issues confronting Singapore.

One more thing: This result happened, in spite of the lack of physical rallies.

Leader: Leader of the Opposition

Second, leader. As in the formal designation of Workers’ Party Pritam Singh as leader of the Opposition. He will now have staff support and resources. The WP has 10 elected MPs, after defending Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC as well as winning the newly formed Sengkang GRC.

Earlier this morning, WP won Sengkang with 52 per cent of the vote. WP also improved its vote share in Aljunied and Hougang, compared to GE2015.

I had described Sengkang, with its large number of young voters and young families, as a microcosm of the election. The constituency was a test of WP’s electoral strategy in the East, and its team was going up against an older all-male PAP line-up,  PAP’s Ng Chee Meng was also leading as anchor minister for the first time.

Also, leader. As in the supposed 4G leadership of the government. DPM Heng Swee Keat had an uneven performance this election and won his East Coast GRC with only 53 per cent of the vote. Whether he will remain PM-designate is in question, which I will come back to later.

Consolidation: The other opposition parties

Third, consolidation. As in whether the other opposition parties will consolidate or be weeded out. And whether the best candidates would be snapped up by the WP, in the future.

The Progress Singapore Party has secured two NCMP seats, but who will take them up? What would leadership transition look like, in a post-Dr. Tan Cheng Bock party? And can PSP offer more than a bareboned manifesto?

The Singapore Democratic Party thought it ran a good campaign and had good showings in Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang. Yet they didn’t do well enough to secure parliamentary seats.

Finally, what of the smaller parties, who lost in wider margins against the PAP? Some seemed keen to continue, though gaining credibility is challenging. Singapore People’s Party Jose Raymond worked and walked the ground, focusing his attention on Potong Pasir SMC over national issues. But that did not seem quite enough too.

COVID-19: A pandemic election

Fourth, COVID-19. As in, the fact that the election was called during the pandemic. And the many problems which cropped up on Polling Day: Long queues, doing away with the requirement to wear disposable gloves at polling stations, and the lack of PPE for polling agents.

PM Lee acknowledged that voting arrangements could have been improved, and that a thorough review will be conducted.

And while it is true that Israel and South Korea did not see meaningful spikes in coronavirus cases after their elections, we can only hope it will be the same in Singapore. Scenes of the queues, voters congregating in nearby spaces, and Singaporeans celebrating the victories do not inspire confidence.

Weathering: Grey skies in the horizon

Finally, weathering. As in, how Singapore would weather the economic and employment fallout of the pandemic. Even before Nomination Day, the ruling party has been using weather metaphors, impressing upon Singaporeans the need to weather through the crisis or the incoming storm together.

It looks like the prime minister is staying on, at least to help the PAP government and the country navigate through some turbulent times. That raises questions, as mentioned, about the 4G leadership. But now the focus, unironically, turns to our lives, our jobs, and our future. Trying times are in the horizon.

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