SINGAPORE: Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) extended 56 years in power on Saturday after a lopsided snap election that dashed hopes of a two-party system in the city-state.
Friday’s vote, which saw the party take 83 of 89 seats and nearly 70 percent of the ballots cast, stunned opponents and reversed a plunge in the PAP’s share of the popular vote in 2011.
It strengthened the mandate of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong amid an economic slowdown, with analysts warning the trade-dependent economy could suffer a technical recession in the third quarter.
“It is a good result for the PAP but it is an excellent result for Singapore,” said Lee, 63, who admitted the outcome exceeded the party’s own expectations.
“The results will be noted by the outside world . . . I believe these results will greatly bolster confidence in Singapore and Singapore’s future.”
The United States immediately congratulated Lee and the PAP for the victory.
“The people of Singapore have spoken and, in doing so, have once again united to demonstrate their commitment to free and fair elections,” US Ambassador Kirk Wagar said in a statement.
The ‘LKY effect’
The election came six months after the death of Lee’s father, independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, plunged Singapore into mourning and generated a wave of patriotism which analysts have called “the LKY effect.”
The PAP led Singapore, a former British colonial outpost, to industrialized status in just one generation but has been criticized for jailing dissidents and using defamation suits to cripple the opposition particularly during the elder Lee’s 31-year rule until 1990.
There was never any doubt the PAP would again win a majority — but the results were a marked improvement for the party over the 2011 vote, when it took 80 of the 87 seats but saw its share of votes plunge to an all-time low of 60 percent.
Low Thia Khiang, leader of the main opposition Workers’ Party (WP), vowed his party will rebound.
“You win, you lose. So I think that is part and parcel of life,” he told reporters Friday.
Immigration, the high cost of living and the plight of elderly and poor Singaporeans were the key issues raised by the opposition during the campaign, but analysts said the PAP’s efforts to address grievances after 2011 appeared to have placated voters.
The new PAP mandate “suggests that the journey towards a stronger and more credible opposition is not important to most Singaporeans,” political analyst Terence Chong said in a Facebook post Saturday.
“They are happy with a PAP-dominated landscape with a small opposition presence in parliament, with perhaps the risk of even this disappearing,” said Chong, a researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“The transactional relationship of goods delivery and electoral reward comes across most vividly while the desire for political pluralism seems overstated.”
‘Technocratic authoritarianism’ entrenched
Michael Barr, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia who closely follows Singapore politics, said the outcome “solidifies the PAP’s model of technocratic authoritarianism even after the LKY era.”
The party has traditionally drawn ministers from the civil service, academe, the military, private business and the professional sector, many of them with foreign post-graduate degrees.
The odds were clearly in PAP’s favor.
It controls the mainstream media and most MPs in Singapore are elected as part of geographic clusters, a system criticized by the opposition as stacked in favour of the ruling party.
The opposition campaigned hard on social media to generate rally crowds of up to 30,000 people but the numbers failed to deliver enough votes.
Lee, who has been in power since 2004, had staked the PAP’s fate on its performance since winning its first election in 1959, when Britain granted Singapore self rule.
The opposition had urged voters to support the building of a robust legislative opposition to rein in the PAP, but Singaporeans decided to back the ruling party instead.
The WP retained by a hairline margin the five-seat district of Aljunied it had won in 2011.