Singapore GE2020: PAP spells out reasons vote fell below expectations

But it says GE result is still a solid majority and its heartland base kept faith with the party

Minister Lawrence Wong talking about the general election results, at PAP HQ on July 18, 2020. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The voters made it clear that they wanted a People's Action Party (PAP) government at the helm by giving it 61.2 per cent of the vote in the general election, but the result fell slightly short of the party's own expectations, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

It was nevertheless a solid majority, given the difficulties that people were facing on the ground, he added.

"And that's because the base kept faith with the PAP, knowing that the PAP kept faith with its base. What is this base? They are the working class, the middle class, the heartland of Singapore," said Mr Wong, who shared the party's preliminary analysis of the recent election.

He acknowledged that the result was lower than the 65 per cent the party had hoped for, with that 4 percentage point gap translating to around 100,000 votes.

To close the gap, the party must do better at appealing to the young and work to address the economic pain of voters in their 40s and 50s, Mr Wong said.

"We are unlikely to exceed 65 per cent of the vote in future," he added. "The desire for diversity in Parliament, for checks and balances, is permanent. It is here to stay, and we must be prepared for this new reality."

Mr Wong, a member of the PAP's central executive committee, was addressing party activists in a speech streamed live from the PAP's Bedok headquarters, and took questions from reporters afterwards.

Putting the party's performance in context, he said pundits and commentators had predicted that the PAP could get more than 70 per cent of the votes as voters sought safety amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The ruling party itself did not expect that, given the pain on the ground.

In fact, over the past nine general elections, it had approached or surpassed the 70 per cent mark only twice, said Mr Wong. In 2015, it got 69.9 per cent of the vote. In 2001, it won with a 75.3 per cent vote share. In contrast, the party got 63 per cent or less in four out of these nine races, he added.

This year's result is at the "low end of the expected range", which is between 60 and 65 per cent.

"It is not a very good result, but it is within the range of expectations, and we've been here before," he added. "The expectation that the PAP should have had a result at the top end this time, I think, has coloured the outcome as a setback."

He set out several reasons for the PAP's performance in the polls.

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First, the Workers' Party ran a good campaign that spoke to the desire of many voters to have more checks and balances in Parliament, he said. The emergence of the Progress Singapore Party cut into the PAP's western strongholds.

The PAP's online campaign also did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong noted. "We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens - especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram."

While there has been much talk of younger voters turning away from the party, the swing against the PAP was also seen among voters above 40, who make up a much larger proportion of the electorate, Mr Wong said. This group faced economic hardship due to job or income losses from the pandemic, he added.

The PAP also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, who may have felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, he said.

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The party will conduct a thorough review of the general election, identifying two areas that the party will have to work on. It must better connect with younger voters and address the "real economic pain" that a substantial segment of older voters are feeling, he said.

The emphasis on the base will remain unchanged. "Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable," said Mr Wong. "This is in the PAP's roots and DNA. We must never waver in our commitment to social justice, to preserve social mobility for all Singaporeans, and to build a more fair and just society."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 19, 2020, with the headline Singapore GE2020: PAP spells out reasons vote fell below expectations. Subscribe