SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party won a clear mandate with a "solid majority" of 61.2 per cent of the votes at the general election, though the result was lower than the 65 per cent it had hoped for, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
That four percentage point gap translates to roughly about 100,000 votes lost, said the PAP central executive committee member on Saturday (July 18).
Speaking to reporters at the PAP's Bedok headquarters during a press conference that was also livestreamed to party activists, Mr Wong sought to put the election results in context, and set out several reasons for the PAP's performance.
He noted that in the past nine general elections, the PAP has only received near 70 per cent of the vote or more twice – in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when it received 75.3 per cent of the vote, and in 2015 when it got 69.9 per cent.
Describing those elections as outliers, he said the PAP has won between 60 and 66 per cent of the total votes in the other seven elections since 1984. In four of those, it got 63 per cent or less of the votes.
So while 61.2 per cent is “not a very good result”, it is within the range of expectations and the party “has been here” before, he said.
“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 added.
A reasonable expectation going into GE2020 was for the PAP to achieve an outcome of around 64 to 65 per cent of the votes, Mr Wong said, as he outlined the party’s thinking on why it failed to do so.
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.
This year also saw the emergence of the Progress Singapore Party, which cut into the PAP's western strongholds.
Another contributing factor was that the PAP's online campaign did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong noted.
"We tried our best," he said. "We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens - especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram."
He added: "And as with a normal campaign, the negative messages carry further reach than positive messages, and this is further accentuated on the Internet."
Mr Wong noted that much of the post-election commentary has focused on younger voters and how they have turned away from the PAP.
But voters in their 20s and 30s make up only a third of the electorate, with first-time voters aged between 21 and 24 making up less than 10 per cent of the vote.
"So the swing against the PAP was not concentrated solely amongst the young. And it was not just unhappiness about the PAP style of campaigning, or how we talked about race, or Pofma," he said, referring to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.
"In particular, there was a fall in support amongst those in their 40s and 50s, and perhaps even those in their early 60s."
This group of older voters swung against the PAP due to economic hardship, Mr Wong said. They included people who had suffered income or job losses, had their businesses disrupted, or been forced to downsize to lower-paying occupations.
"This is quite understandable," he said. "Although we have made great efforts to lessen the pain and impact, there has been severe disruption to jobs and families."
The ruling party also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, perhaps because they felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, Mr Wong added.
"But we should also recognise that this was a clear mandate, and that voters want a PAP government," he said.
The PAP’s base – the working class, the middle class, and the heartlands of Singapore – had kept faith with it, he said, stressing that the party must likewise continue to keep faith with its base.
“Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable,” he said. “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.”
Mr Wong said the election outcome could also have been worse, especially given the difficulties that people were facing on the ground.
He also made the point that the PAP is unlikely to win more than 65 per cent of the votes in future general elections, and that its goal for the next election will be to close that gap of four percentage points.
This is because the electorate's desire for diversity in Parliament and for checks and balances is permanent, he said.
"It is here to stay. And we must be prepared for this new reality."
The minister added that the party will conduct a thorough review of GE2020.
He also identified two areas that the PAP will have to work on, the first of which is to better understand and connect with younger voters.
"We need to connect with them and be a party that is able to represent their aspirations and bond with them," he said.
The PAP will also have to address the “real economic pain” that a substantial segment of people in their 40s and 50s are feeling, he added.
This sandwiched group, who are looking after elderly parents and also caring for young children, was facing difficulties even before the Covid-19 crisis, he said.
While many schemes and programmes in the Government’s four budgets this year were aimed at this group, he acknowledged that “no amount of help will be enough in a crisis of this magnitude”.
“So, we will continue to review and update our policies, and we will do whatever we can to address your anxieties and pain during this difficult period.”