In the last three days since the GE results, several activists have wondered aloud to me if it is worth carrying on doing what they do. The GE results, while of course the PAP and its supporters will cheer, have nonetheless cast a cloud of uncertainty among some. Why carry on fighting for change when the vast majority of Singaporeans seem to want no change?
I think it is worth noting that there is no widespread sense of jubilation or excitement among Singaporeans as a reaction to the results, as there were after GE 2011 when the WP won Aljunied GRC. Or in 1991 when the WP again won Hougang. Or Anson in 1981.
The feeling, from what I can observe, seems to be one of resignation – that oh well, the results are such. But there is also a tinge of regret and discomfort that the votes were so overwhelmingly given to the PAP.
So, I don’t think Singaporeans, even those who voted for the PAP, necessarily are elated with the outcome last Friday.
I think the PAP has lots to do, and much to fulfill – given the higher expectations which necessarily comes with the higher percentage of support.
As for the opposition, I don’t think they should despair.
There are several things to take comfort in and to push on:
1. GE2015 is a special event under very special circumstances which have all come together – not the least of which is the death of our founding prime minister which has coincided with the 50th anniversary of our nationhood. Such a confluence of events will not happen again for a long time.
2. The reasons for the PAP win, with an increased majority, are thus several, including the fear that voting for the opposition may result in a non-PAP government. It is worth noting that such fear does not mean Singaporeans do not want opposition. I feel they do – it is just they do not want an opposition government at this point in time. So, the desire for independent voices in Parliament is still there. (Worth noting that some say the opposition’s ability to field candidates in all constituencies may be a stumbling block to its success, although I wonder why this was not so during GE2011 where all but one constituency was contested.)
3. The WP’s brand is still strong. I do not see it being damaged to any large extent, despite the loss of Punggol East and the reduced precentages in Hougang and Aljunied. In a national swing of such proportion, reduced votes in these areas are not unexpected. So, WP should not be too worried about its brand name. Having said that, there are some areas which it also needs to look at and see if it can do better, and I would flag its communications channels as one of the main things it should be looking to improve. (For example, a lot of noise from the PAP side was generated about the AHPETC matter, with even false information being circulated by the PAP. The WP did not have adequate channels to respond to these.)
4. The new faces in the opposition, especially from the WP and the SDP, bodes well for future elections. There is thus a need for these younger new faces to carry on and stay the course. It will be a test of character. All those who made breakthroughs in electoral politics all had to fight several battles before they succeeded – JBJ, Chiam, Low. What is also important is for these younger ones not to change parties. After the last elections, those who changed parties have done very badly – those who jumped ship from the RP to NSP, from the SDP to SingFirst. All have lost quite badly.
All in all, while the results are devastating from a statistical point of view, the underlying desire of voters to support the opposition has not changed, in my opinion.
GE2015 is a special event, as I said, and it will not be repeated again.
It is also left to be seen if the PAP can fulfill the higher expectations of the electorate this time round – and this will depend on the calibre of those in the new Cabinet to be announced. I am not convinced we will have a top class Cabinet, from the slate the PAP put out this election.
But that is left to be seen. The opposition is not dead by any means.