Forum: Tommy Koh misrepresented analysis of election results

I refer to Professor Tommy Koh's opinion piece (Young voters and women power, July 17).

In it, Prof Koh referred to an analysis I wrote for East Asia Forum titled PAP's Self-Inflicted Election Losses that was published on Tuesday last week.

I thank him for bringing attention to my analysis. I have been honoured to work with Prof Koh on a collaborative project in the past and continue to respect his work and compassion.

We differ, however, on how my post-election analysis has been characterised. Prof Koh has focused on two words, "humiliating defeat", referring to the People's Action Party's (PAP) performance in the recent general election.

Prof Koh took these words out of context, and in doing so, misrepresented my analysis.

My original text read: "This would be a landslide victory in most democracies. But the numerical majority in actuality suggests a rather humiliating defeat, especially in a 'crisis' election called early amid the Covid-19 pandemic."

Prof Koh went on to write "any fair-minded person would conclude that it was an outstanding victory. It was certainly not a 'disaster' or a 'humiliating defeat'".

This uncharacteristically personalised the discussion, suggesting that those who do have a different conclusion are not "fair-minded".

I believe the focus should be on the arguments.

In fact, a comparison of our pieces shows that we agree on many points.

We agreed that elsewhere, these results would be impressive victories. In fact, I used the word "landslide".

We agreed that the use of attacks on the opposition hurt the PAP's performance. We both used two similar examples in our arguments.

We further agreed that the PAP needs to engage inequality and fairness.

We do disagree. I suggest that Singapore's political system is unique and should be assessed on its own terms.

I do not think a comparison between Singapore and the countries he cited - the United Kingdom, Australia and India - are a fair comparison, as they do not have a legacy of more than 55 years of one-party rule. Their elections also did not occur during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Healthy debate on GE2020 strengthens Singapore. Rather than use labels such as "outsiders", a more constructive approach would be to engage alternative views - a position that Prof Koh has often argued for in the past, and I wish him well in doing so in the future.

Bridget Welsh (Dr)

Honorary Research Associate

Asia Research Institute

University of Nottingham Malaysia