After GE2020, a time for soul-searching

Many commentators have shared their analyses of the 2020 General Election. Here are edited excerpts from two.

The PAP needs to redouble efforts to help workers

CALVIN CHENG

Former Nominated MP and an entrepreneur

There is a danger that in its soul-searching, the PAP wants to be everything to everyone.

It must not.

As a centre-right, conservative party, the PAP's rival is an alliance of two distinct groups.

The first is the progressive, liberal demographic whose views are now trending on social media.

They now believe that the improved performance of the opposition is due to their power in rejecting what they perceive to be conservative, authoritarian policies of the PAP. They perceive the incumbent to be unfair and anti-democratic.

Their opposition to the PAP is ideological.

They want alternatives and diversity in Parliament, even if they acknowledge the PAP has governed well on bread-and-butter issues.

The second pillar of the opposition alliance is the working and middle class who have been left behind economically.

They are angry that even as the country prospers, their dreams are thwarted. They believe that foreigners have unfairly stolen their jobs. They are worried about their CPF and rising costs of living.

Their objection to the PAP is practical, not ideological.

 
 

The Internet world would have you believe, without a shred of evidence, that it is the first group that swung a better result to the opposition.

But let's leave that aside, because this post is not about analysing psephological trends, but what the PAP should do.

The temptation is to now try to court the young ideologues, and the pseudo-Western liberals.

I would caution against this.

Is this group saying that if the PAP had been gentler on Ms Raeesah Khan, if Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) is repealed, and if the ELD (Elections Department) is made independent, etc, they would vote for the PAP?

Come off it.

The main desire of this group is for Singapore to become more like Western democracies, to have a two-or multiple-party system, and to have more alternatives in Parliament.

The only thing that the PAP can do to fulfil this desire is to intentionally lose, or to gift seats to the opposition.

This is of course ludicrous.

In its soul-searching, the PAP should regard this faction of opposition supporters to be a lost cause. Instead, it should focus on the second group.

Thankfully, the PAP is one of the most adaptive and efficient parties in the world in solving bread-and butter issues.

Focus on fulfilling the promises in its manifesto.

Create jobs.

Help the poor and struggling.

Empower Singaporeans to compete effectively in a globalised economy.

Redouble efforts to uplift the 40-to 60-year-old PMETs in most danger of losing their jobs in the upcoming recession.

In other words, continue doing what it has done well that made it one of the longest-ruling parties in the world.

This is in fact the strategy successfully taken by right-of-centre parties across the world, in eviscerating their left-liberal rivals.

The alliance between the champagne socialists and the struggling working class is an inherently unstable one.

If the PAP can show its competence in helping the working class, the alliance will break.

The liberal ideologues by themselves cannot win elections.

In Britain, the Conservatives annihilated a Labour Party taken over by Momentum, mostly young, progressive ideologues.

How? By winning over the traditional vote bank of Labour, the working class.

Like in business, political parties must know their core competency. Trying to be everything to everyone will fail.

If the PAP sticks to its strengths and continues to focus on solving bread-and-butter issues, it can slow and maybe even reverse losses in future elections.

This will leave mainly the intelligentsia, the well-to-do progressives, and the young idealists as the main supporters of the Workers' Party.

The Workers' Party will become the party of the liberal elite.

And, in a great piece of irony, conversely, the only thing that can strengthen the PAP, is to help the workers: the PAP must become the workers' party.

Major turning point

MANO SABNANI

Former editor of The Business Times and Today

We have arrived at a major turning point in our political development. Since independence in 1965, Singapore has not had a situation where our Parliament has featured a party, other than the PAP, that could play a substantive role in the management of the country's affairs.

We are now at the cusp of that.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been quick in offering the official role of Leader of the Opposition to Mr Pritam Singh, leader of the resurgent Workers' Party which will have 10 sitting members in the new Parliament.

The WP considers itself loyal to Singapore and always working in the interests of Singaporeans. It does not oppose for the sake of opposing and has also supported the Government on many issues, internal as well as external.

The PAP is more welcoming of this sort of responsible opposition and some voters have taken their cue from that, backing the WP strongly in all its contests and enabling it to achieve a good 50 per cent popular vote in the 21 seats that it contested.

As Opposition Leader, Mr Singh will be given resources to research and develop policies and offer more sound alternatives.

I think it also means the WP will have more clout to make the Government more transparent and accountable. If this happens, it will be a major breakthrough for alternative parties which have been pushing on this front.

The breakthrough, if it comes, will not be a moment too late. It has been a key grievance in GE2020, especially among young, educated voters whose numbers are growing and their effect evident in the latest results.

We are not yet at the stage where Singapore has a two-or three-party democracy. But we are getting there.

Besides the WP, there is the fledgling Progress Singapore Party (PSP) which scored an average of 40 per cent of the popular vote in GE2020, in the 24 contested seats.

That is an astonishing achievement even though the PSP ended up with only an offer of two Non-Constituency MP best-loser seats.

PSP leader Tan Cheng Bock has promised the party will be rejuvenated, hopefully with more younger leaders, and work in contested seats for the next general election, likely in 2024/2025.

The PAP, on its part, retains the super-majority it has held in Parliament since 1965. It will rule with 83 out of 93 seats in the new Parliament. It can amend the Constitution of the country at will, as it has in the past.

But it needs to do some soul-searching on its part.

Specifically, should the party continue to impose the Whip to bring all its MPs in line on important resolutions? Up to now, PAP MPs speak up on parliamentary motions and sometimes offer contrarian views. But when the time comes to vote, they have no choice. The PAP, for its own good, needs to allow its MPs, especially younger ones, to manifest their youth, energy and creativity. Let them vote as they wish on issues and get a real gauge of ground sentiment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2020, with the headline 'After GE2020, a time for soul-searching'. Print Edition | Subscribe