SINGAPORE: The 2020 General Election saw an overall swing towards the opposition, but not all of the 10 parties that contested against the People’s Action Party (PAP) performed equally well.
With four more seats in Parliament, the Workers’ Party (WP) will push into double-digit territory for the first time. Its 10 elected Members of Parliament (MP) cements its position as the preeminent opposition party.
This, despite the WP contesting only 21 of the 93 available seats – three fewer than the Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) 24.
No other opposition party won in the wards they contested, although two PSP members will take up Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seats after a credible performance in its first electoral outing.
Smaller parties like the Reform Party (RP) and Peoples Voice (PV) did not boost their vote share much beyond the 20-odd per cent smaller opposition parties can generally muster.
Will newcomer PSP fizzle out, and can established parties like the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) make further headway? Political analysts CNA spoke to said that it largely depends on how the parties renew their ranks.
PSP NEEDS "THIRD TIER" OF LEADERS
Mr Leonard Lim, country director for Singapore for government affairs consultancy Vriens & Partners, said that PSP should “double down” on the success of its virgin election and replenish its ranks, given that party chief Tan Cheng Bock is already 80.
The two NCMPs – party vice-chair Hazel Poa, 49, and assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai, 60 – are likely to be the next tier of leaders, but the party should look even further ahead, he said.
“There must now be a concerted effort to ride on their party’s GE2020 showing, to identify and groom the third tier of potential leaders. There should especially be a focus on identifying and bringing in younger members, given the party’s popularity among Gen Z and millennials in this election thanks to Dr Tan’s social media posts,” said Mr Lim.
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Aside from personalities, Mr Lim added that PSP should develop its policy positions on key issues like healthcare, immigration, housing and even climate change, as there was some criticism during the election that PSP’s policy ideas were less well-established compared to other parties.
“That will strengthen PSP’s credibility and build up its brand name further as an opposition party with possible policy alternatives,” he said.
NCMP SPOTS ARE CRUCIAL
According to one analyst, PSP will need to make full use of its two NCMP spots to demonstrate it remains relevant beyond Dr Tan.
“PSP needs to go beyond Tan Cheng Bock, and the NCMP spots represent the best way to achieve that,” said Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Social Sciences.
Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that the two NCMP seats can bolster PSP’s standing by moulding the public image of the party in Parliament.
He added that both PSP and SDP will need to shift the focus from their top leaders to younger members. Both parties must also continue to walk the ground so that the party maintains a strong presence in between elections, he said.
“For the SDP, it will likely see more support but not to the same extent as WP and PSP. Dr Chee has led the party since the mid-1990s. His standing down as (secretary-general) can allow the other SDP leaders to step out of Dr Chee's shadow and develop their individual political identities,” he said.
Asst Prof Walid added that SDP needs to continue recruiting good candidates and build on strong performances in areas such as Bukit Panjang and Bukit Batok SMCs.
“Both parties could take a leaf out of WP’s playbook, and build a strong base from one SMC first,” he said.
Former WP chief Low Thia Khiang won Hougang SMC in 1991. He established a strong following there and a presence in Parliament, before leading a team to secure Aljunied GRC in 2011.
Mr Low has since retired from electoral politics, but the party has performed better under its new leaders and candidates by winning a second GRC this election.
CROWDED OPPOSITION SPACE
Among the opposition parties, WP had the highest vote share of 50.49 per cent in the six constituencies it contested – Aljunied, Sengkang, East Coast and Marine Parade GRCs, and Hougang and Punggol West SMCs.
Next was PSP, which contested 24 seats, and garnered 40.86 per cent in nine constituencies – Chua Chu Kang, Nee Soon, Tanjong Pagar and West Coast GRCs, and Pioneer, Hong Kah North, Kebun Baru, Marymount and Yio Chu Kang SMCs.
Its best showing was in West Coast GRC where the team led by Dr Tan Cheng Bock polled 48.32 per cent, losing narrowly to a PAP team that fielded two ministers, Mr S Iswaran and Mr Desmond Lee.
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SDP had 37.04 per cent support in the 11 seats it contested in Holland-Bukit Timah and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRCs, and Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang and Yuhua SMCs.
That was followed by SPP and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) with just above 33 per cent each. Five other parties – RP, PV, Red Dot United, Singapore Democratic Alliance and the People’s Power Party (PPP) - contested from one to three constituencies, and failed to cross the 30 per cent mark in any of them.
Given that voters have clearly spoken on the parties they prefer, is there a clear way forward for the smaller parties?
Just before the polls, one party - Singaporeans First - was dissolved while the Democratic Progressive Party said it would not contest. PPP chief Goh Meng Seng, the party's sole candidate in GE2020, has also said this would be his last election outing.
Assoc Prof Tan noted some parties risk being crowded out.
“As WP and PSP grow, that could take the wind out of the sails of the smaller parties. These smaller parties will need to redefine their relevance as WP and PSP dominate opposition politics, which will reduce support for the smaller parties,” he said.
Combined, WP and PSP garnered about 21 per cent of all valid votes cast, while the other eight opposition parties polled slightly more than 17 per cent, he added. The PAP got about 61 per cent of all valid votes cast.
VOTERS "WILL SORT THE MATTER OUT"
Asst Prof Walid said that space for other parties depends on whether the PSP can thrive without party chief Dr Tan, and the electoral appetite of WP and SDP.
“If both of them (WP and SDP) still do not contest all seats between them, there is still room for the other parties,” he said.
“Even if they contest all seats, it still helps to have other opposition parties contesting, so that even WP and SDP cannot take opposition voters for granted.
“As long as there are elections, there is space for all sorts of parties. The voters will eventually sort the matter out. As long as voters think the smaller parties are relevant, they will continue to be.”
Vriens & Partners’ Mr Lim said that while there will be space for the smaller parties in Singapore’s political landscape, whether they have enough support from voters remains a question.
“The likes of SPP and NSP have been around for some time and do have some name recognition and known policy positions. Some of the newer ones, however, will need to take time to build up their brand name and the alternative policy positions they advocate,” he said.
“Without manpower and resources, the likelihood is that these smaller parties drift off the radar after an election and re-emerge a year or so before the next one, leaving one to question the size of the voter base they can command going into the polls.”
As for the prospect of smaller parties coalescing around the better-supported ones, Mr Lim thinks this is unlikely.
“It will also depend on whether the key personalities in the smaller parties can accept that they will have to take on probably less influential and less prominent roles.
"But I don’t see much likelihood in that happening practically before the next election, given the key personalities driving the smaller parties currently,” he said.
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