After all the dust has settled, we are in a better position to gauge the implications of this GE, as well as our predictions beforehand.
The wild cards: Social media / those who have never voted.
It is clear that first timers in previously uncontested districts are essentially no different from those who have the privilege to vote in every GE. What is more contentious though is the importance of social media. While it is hard to quantify how it swayed the minds of voters, what is obvious is that the Internet has helped to diminish apathy among younger voters, which ultimately is a far more important outcome than any single election result alone. An engaged youth will ultimately shape Singapore in a far more decisive manner by ensuring that politicians hear the voices of the people. With the rise of social media, politicians of all stripes cannot afford to take voters for granted, which can only be a good thing.
The electoral contests: Our forecast.
While this election did make waves, with a 6 point swing against the PAP, the cube rule failed in this GE. However, there were quite a few near-misses, such as Joo Chiat SMC and Potong Pasir SMC.
Three dynamics influenced the results of all contests:
- The rampant unhappiness among the populace
- The increased standing of the WP compared to the other opposition parties
- The power of the incumbent effect / working the ground.
Keeping these three factors in mind, a short look at our electoral guide is in order.
Aljunied GRC: With the souring electorate and a better WP in play this time, combined with the WP fielding a strong A team, Aljunied fell to the Opposition for the first time. The WP now needs to translate this gain into a palpable difference in policy outcomes.
Hougang SMC: Even though the departure of Low Thia Khiang left Hougang potentially up for grabs, the combined effect of the national wave and the WP’s strong brand name were much stronger than the loss of incumbency. So much that the WP in fact obtained an even stronger victory margin than the last GE.
Potong Pasir SMC: In hindsight, we should not have been too surprised that this seat was going to be close. Without factors #2 and #3, coupled with a narrow victory margin in the 2006 GE, this seat should have been expected to be close to begin with.
Punggol East SMC: The voters have spoken. In an extreme manifestation of factor #2 (the reputational advantage of the WP against the other opposition parties), the SDA managed to scrounge a miserly 4% of the vote compared to the WP’s 41%. This when the WP candidate was a newcomer and when the SDA had spent more time and energy in this area beforehand.
However, it seems unlikely that Punggol East will fall soon, given that the PAP easily managed to obtain more than 50% of the vote despite the 3-cornered fight.
Marine Parade GRC: The most devastating blow ever dealt to Emeritus SM Goh, which is most probably attributed to the combination of local issues (in particular, negative public sentiments about Tin Pei Ling’s perceived ineptitude) and the massive wave of discontent washing over the electorate.
Ang Mo Kio GRC: The only constituency in which the PAP gained vote share compared to 2006. Again, this can be attributed to the fact in which a strong WP slate was replaced by a RP team that were greenhorns to the electoral campaign.
East Coast GRC / Bukit Panjang SMC, the controls: The national wave against the PAP was strongly reflected in our controls. The WP gained vote share in East Coast from 36.1% of the vote to 45.2%, while the SDP also made a definite improvement in Bukit Panjang SMC, from 22.8% of the vote in 2006 to 33.7% in 2011. While part of these gains should also be attributed to improvement in the respective parties, it is quite obvious that the national wave was very real.
The bird’s eye view: What comes ahead.
The increased number of qualified opposition MPs will further liven up Parliamentary debates as well as give policies the scrutiny they deserve. Yet potential pitfalls remain. The WP will need to stay coherent and united despite the diverse voices in the political scene. Thus, it will be interesting to see if the WP’s party unit holds. On this count, while Eric Tan’s resignation does not bode well for this measure, it is too early to draw definitive conclusions.
The more important question is to see how relations between the WP and other opposition parties hold up. Having established its reputation as the leading opposition party in Singapore, it remains to be seen if the WP and the other opposition parties can continue to cooperate. As Punggol East SMC has shown, the WP is held with far more regard than the rest, which might lead to tension and increasing rivalry.
Keeping interest up in the opposition cause, as well as translating that interest into tangible results, will be the ongoing challenge for all Opposition parties. The fervour we have seen online could potentially be unleashed into a game changing force in tight contests. Question is whether they will do it. Nicole Seah’s call for campaign donations and volunteers should be seen as a first step in that direction.
This election has also served as a wakeup call for the PAP. From the PM’s maiden apologies during the heat of the election campaign period to the massive Cabinet reshuffle after the elections, it is quite obvious that the PAP has realised the need for reform. Whether the epochal ministerial changes and the setting up of a committee to review political salaries constitute a first step towards change from within, or are merely a perfunctory, populist gesture to appease the ground remains to be seen.
On a final note, let us remember this: if we should give credit for the Opposition for fielding strong teams and contesting vigorously in these elections, then credit should also be due for PM Lee’s administration. Sure, while the electoral reforms he made were small and cautious, he could have easily gone the other way like his predecessors to reinforce his political stranglehold and stifle competition. Without this, we doubt we would see such intense interest in the elections.