New book analyses outcome of GE2015

Essays study reasons for massive vote swing towards PAP, election campaigns and issues

Five months after last September's general election, a group of researchers have put out their analysis of the reasons behind the People's Action Party's strongest electoral victory since 2001.

Their new volume of essays, titled Change In Voting: Singapore's 2015 General Election, is the earliest extensive attempt by scholars to interpret the Sept 11 elections that saw the PAP returned in 83 out of 89 seats and with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

The authors' surprise at the extent of the vote swing is clear - several described the result as unexpected, even shocking. Just four years earlier at GE2011, the opposition had registered its best showing since independence when the Workers' Party won Aljunied GRC and the PAP's vote share fell to 60.1 per cent.

It had been hailed as a "new normal" for politics in Singapore.

But elections are not frozen in time and should be seen as part of longer-term trends in politics and society, said co-editors Kevin Tan and Terence Lee, who co-edited a similar volume after GE2011. They say the contrasting outcomes of GE2011 and GE2015 can be explained by the pragmatism of Singaporean voters.

Associate Professor Lee said the GE2015 result can be explained by the adaptability of the PAP in fixing its policy missteps prior to 2011, and by the entrenchment of pragmatism as the dominant ideology in politics.

ENTRENCHED DOMINANCE

For the foreseeable future, general elections in Singapore will not be about replacing the PAP as the ruling party but more of a national referendum and bellwether of national sentiments about the PAP's performance.

DR LAM PENG ER, of the National University of Singapore's East Asia Institute, writes in the book.

Dr Lam Peng Er of the National University of Singapore's East Asia Institute added: "The main consideration for Singapore's middle ground electorate appears to be based on performance: It will reward the ruling PAP and the opposition parties if they perform credibly."

The 318-page book also discusses whether GE2015 was a new normal for politics here or an anomaly.

Dr Lam's view is that the PAP's dominance remains entrenched.

"For the foreseeable future, general elections in Singapore will not be about replacing the PAP as the ruling party but more of a national referendum and bellwether of national sentiments about the PAP's performance," he wrote.

The book tackles election issues and analyses campaigns from the perspectives of law, history, media, culture and sociology.

The PAP's strong branding smoothed over gaffes made by their candidates, while the strengths of the opposition's star candidates were neutralised by the failings of the opposition as a whole since 2011, wrote Mr Loke Hoe Yeong in a chapter on personality politics.

Party brands therefore trumped personalities although all parties played up their personalities, he wrote. And in a chapter on rallies, Dr Terence Chong argued that the demographic profile and size of rally crowds are not indicative of voting patterns.

The book was launched last night at Orchard Central and the co-editors and several authors spoke at a panel discussion. Published by Ethos Books, the paperback volume will be sold for $26.75 at major bookstores by the end of this week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'New book analyses outcome of GE2015'. Print Edition | Subscribe