SINGAPORE: The People’s Action Party (PAP) will do more to address the economic pain of voters in their 40s and 50s, and work on appealing to young voters, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Jul 18).
Sharing a preliminary assessment of the election results with PAP activists and the media, Mr Wong said that the popular vote share of 61.2 per cent was within expectations, albeit at the lower end of the 60 to 65 per cent anticipated.
The GE2020 outcome was about “four percentage points less” than the party had hoped for but it still received "a clear mandate" from voters that they want a PAP government, Mr Wong said to activists in a virtual meeting.
“It is not a very good result, but it is within the range of expectations and we have been here before.
"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 said.
The PAP retained a firm hold on power with 83 out of 93 parliamentary seats and 61.24 per cent of the popular vote in the Jul 10 General Election. But opposition parties improved from their GE2015 showing.
In particular, the Workers' Party (WP) won four seats in Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC), while improving its margin over the PAP in Aljunied GRC and Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC).
In addition, the narrative that the PAP had lost the support of young voters nationally did not hold true when the results were examined in more detail. The party received majority support in many polling districts with young families and young voters, he said.
Rather, a swing occurred among middle-aged Singaporeans, who make up the majority of voters, and this could be due to the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"So the swing against the PAP was not concentrated solely amongst the young and it was not just about unhappiness about the PAP style of campaigning or how we talk about race or POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)," he said.
"In particular, there was a fall in support among those in their 40s, 50s and perhaps even in their early 60s. These were due primarily to the economic pain they have suffered."
He added that first-time voters between the age of 21 and 24 make up less than 10 per cent of the electorate, while 70 per cent of voters are 40 years old and above.
The PAP also saw a fall in support among a segment of the population living in private landed properties and condominiums, which Mr Wong said could also be related to economic issues.
"In 2015, this segment had swung towards the PAP, but this time, the support was not as strong. Perhaps because they felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis," he said.
"They might be business owners, they might be SME (small- and medium-size enterprises) owners, and they will be facing considerable economic difficulties."
SANDWICHED GROUP AND YOUNG VOTERS
The party will do a thorough review of the General Election as it usually does, Mr Wong said, but he highlighted two areas that it will need to focus on – understanding and connecting with young voters, and addressing the economic pain of the “sandwiched group” in their 40s and 50s.
The PAP recognised that members of the older group, who have both elderly parents and young children to care for, faced difficulties even before the COVID-19 outbreak, and these were then exacerbated by the crisis, he said.
“Many of the schemes and programmes in the four Budgets this year were aimed at this group. Unfortunately, no amount of help will be enough in a crisis of this magnitude,” he said.
“So we will continue to review and update our policies, and we will do whatever we can to address their anxieties and pain during this difficult period.”
He also said that the PAP needs to “build trust and a new social compact with younger Singaporeans”.
“They have different aspirations, hopes and expectations. The issues they care about are different from the older generation and older Singaporeans, and they also look at existing issues differently,” he said.
READ: Clear messages sent by voters in GE2020, 'soul searching and reflection' needed, says Shanmugam
The party also aims to attract more young people to its ranks, and mobilise them to serve the community, he added.
“In fact, quite a few of our MPs, especially the new ones, are young Singaporeans themselves, who have come up the hard way and feel passionate about helping others to succeed. We will need to get more young people like them to identify with the PAP as a party that provides hope and a path to the future and build our bonds with a new generation of voters,” he urged activists.
When asked if the PAP's handling of police reports against WP's Raeesah Khan had alienated young voters like those in Sengkang GRC, Mr Wong emphasised that the party had seen support in many districts with similar demographics. But he said that the party will also review its style of campaigning.
"Whether or not we can improve, do better in terms of the style of campaigning, in terms of the approach, in terms of the conduct of the campaign and how we go about highlighting falsehoods that may arise during the course of the campaign or issues that we think are of concern ... that's something we do want to review and see how we can improve and do better in the future."
PAP DID NOT EXPECT “REPEAT OF 2015”
Mr Wong also told PAP activists that they should expect future elections to be tougher than this one, while elaborating on the party’s interpretation of the GE2020 results and its implications.
“Subsequent General Elections will be much tougher than this one. And as I said, we are unlikely to exceed 65 per cent of the votes in future … the desire for diversity in Parliament, for checks and balances, is permanent. It’s here to stay and we must be prepared for this new reality,” he said.
“For now, Singaporeans want to see the PAP in power but they also want a credible opposition check on the PAP.”
He said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had warned it would not be an easy election due to the pain and anxiety that Singaporeans are experiencing during the crisis.
“Neither PM nor anyone in the Central Executive Committee expected a repeat of 2015 but many pundits and commentators thought that we would get above 70 per cent, and the opposition capitalised on this and claimed that they feared a wipeout,” he said.
He added that the PAP had got close to 70 per cent of the vote cast in only two out of the last nine General Elections - in 2015, when the popular vote was 69.9 per cent, and in 2001, after the September 11 attacks, when the PAP got 75.3 per cent. Those two elections were outliers, he said.
“Indeed, in four out of these nine races, we got 63 per cent or less,” he added. “So this year’s 61.2 per cent is the third-worst outcome over nine GEs across 36 years.”
The PAP’s worst-ever performance at the polls was in 2011 when it garnered 60.1 per cent of the votes, and its second-lowest vote share - 61 per cent – was in the 1991 General Election. Its vote share also fell to 63.2 per cent in the 1988 elections.
REASONS POPULAR VOTE WAS AT LOWER END OF EXPECTATIONS
Besides the swing towards the opposition in some segments, Mr Wong highlighted other reasons why the PAP vote share was at the lower end of its expectations in this election.
He said that the Workers’ Party ran a good campaign that spoke to Singaporeans’ desire for checks and balances on the Government, while the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) emerged to challenge the PAP in constituencies in the west and north of Singapore.
“(The Workers’ Party’s) call to give the PAP government 'no blank cheque', I think resonated with many people who wanted more opposition voices in Parliament. Second, we saw the emergence of a new party - PSP with strong appeal in some parts of Singapore, cutting into our strongholds, in the west in particular,” he said.
WP and PSP were the two opposition parties which performed the best in the election. In West Coast GRC, a PSP team led by secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock lost narrowly to the PAP team lead by Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran, and the party will have two Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from that team in the House.
Mr Wong added: “Now that the Workers’ Party has more MPs in Parliament, they cannot just continue asking the Government questions. It is also their duty to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.”
He also admitted that the PAP did not do as well when campaigning in the digital realm, which was necessary in this election due to COVID-19 safe distancing regulations.
“We tried our best, 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 said. “And as with a normal campaign, the negative messages carry further reach than positive messages, and this is further accentuated on the Internet.”
He added that the PAP's online campaign improved from the last two elections, but "obviously more needs to be done".
WHY PAP RETAINED 61%
He also said that while the party did not do as well as hoped for, it had received a clear mandate.
“We also need to ask ourselves, why did the PAP manage to retain 61 per cent? In fact, the PAP has never gone below 60 per cent all these years, and that's because the base kept faith with the PAP knowing that the PAP kept faith with this base,” he said.
“What is this base? They are the working class, the middle class, the heartland of Singapore and the PAP must continue to keep faith with our base.”
He added: “Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable. 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.”
Rallying the activists, he said: “Remember, the right to leadership cannot be inherited. Just because the PAP has governed Singapore since independence doesn't mean that it always will govern Singapore … We must continue to strive to win the trust of our people.”
“We have five years to overcome the problems, consolidate on the ground and show voters what we can do. Comrades, the work to win GE2025 starts now.”