Singapore: As economy declines, governing People’s Action Party losses support 

Workers' Party (Singapore) rally campaigning for votes in 2006 (Photo: Wikimedia)

The Singapore general election took place on 11 July with eleven parties contesting for 93 Parliamentary seats. The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled for 57 years since 1965 (after Singapore separated from Malaysia), continued to retain its majority by winning 83 seats. But the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) managed to increase its seats from 6 to 10 in the general election, this time. Despite not winning any seats, the Singapore Development Party (PSP), which was newly formed last year, managed to garner a large percentage of votes in some of the places where they were contesting. Another opposition party, the Democratic Party (SDP), also managed to get its share of votes since the 1990s.

The Singapore election is divided into Group Representative Constituencies (GRCs) and Single Member Constituencies (SMCs). In the GRCs, the contesting parties have to field four or five candidates from the same party (depending on the constituency) and contest in groups. In the SMCs, only one candidate from each party contests and will be selected by a majority vote. In general, the GRCs are held firmly by the ruling PAP and will often get a large percentage of votes. In this general election, however, PAP lost two GRC seats to the Workers’ Party opposition team.

A total of 96% of eligible voters participated. Despite winning a majority easily, the PAP only managed to get 61.2% of the popular vote. This is the second-worst general election in PAP history since Singapore’s independence. It saw a drop of 8% in its vote from the last election in 2015. The PAP also lost vote-support in almost all seats, which saw fierce competition this year.

PAP candidates in whom there were high hopes for a new generation of party leaders, such as the Deputy Prime Minister and cabinet members, are also found not to have received strong support. Most of them have only narrowly won in their constituencies thus creating a question mark about the future of the PAP as a strong ruling party.

Just as in previous general elections and as is widely known in the country, the ruling PAP used its position to suppress politicians from the opposition. Government powers and resources have been used to bring some candidates to court over frivolous allegations and to spread slander and false propaganda about opposition camps. 

Government and opposition

The ruling PAP has also been unable to provide concrete solutions to social issues and plays on people’s fear in the face of the health and economic crisis as its main platform. The PAP politicians tried to use the argument that, “The people need a strong and experienced government to bring them out of the crisis they are facing”.

At the same time, opposition parties were not allowed to hold political gatherings and speeches, which are usually their main election campaign activities. It is very clear that the PAP tried to use the Covid19 crisis to reduce the activities of the opposition and guarantee their victory. Therefore, although the number of Covid19 infections in the country is still very high, with an average of 300 new infections per day, the government has decided to continue with the general election, as scheduled. 

The PAP leadership is well aware that the country is heading towards an economic recession (announced shortly after the election victory) and their chances of winning would be reduced if an economic crisis erupted before the election. The PAP government has just injected US$68 billion to cover the Covid19 crisis which has just delayed the economic crisis that will soon hit Singapore.

Even so, the opposition, especially the Workers’ Party, has managed to get support from the people – especially from poor areas – and has strengthened their position in Parliament. Most of the WP candidates were also young people and their list of candidates had an average age of under 35 years. This is a change in Singapore politics as it usually sees only candidates who are considered experienced standing. The youngest member of parliament in Singapore’s history is a WP candidate named Raesah Khan who is 26 years old. Raesah is an activist and women’s rights campaigner who is active in the people’s movements in Singapore.

Workers’  Party 

The Workers’ Party put forward demands and a programme that focused on the vast gap between rich and poor in Singapore. Their demands include the introduction of a minimum wage, expanding welfare and social funds for the poor and elderly in Singapore, and some other social demands that can attract the attention of the people. They also brought forward issues that appeal to young people, such as gender equality and environmental degradation issues, and the issue of corruption in Singapore politics.

But, overall, the message and direction of WP is not very clear and does not look different from other parties in Singapore, including the ruling PAP party. Despite bringing some social demands, the WP still does not explain to the people how they will face the economic crisis of capitalism that will hit not only in Singapore but also in the Southeast Asian region and the world. The Workers Party does not bring an alternative to the system of capitalism which is proven to be greedy and unable to save the people from a very severe economic crisis. The system of capitalism is also the cause of all the social issues that are being faced by the people in Singapore and around the world at the moment.

If the WP had argued for an alternative economic system with a clear direction based on the struggle of the oppressed people, they would surely be able to strengthen their position in the country’s political arena. But, so far, the Workers’ Party has only put forward reforms to the system of capitalism and failed to differentiate themselves from other capitalist politicians. Due to some similarities of the policies of the WP and the PAP, which is still based on the system of capitalism, they fail to present themselves as a viable alternative.

New situation

Due to the various social problems in Singapore, the ruling PAP is losing the confidence of the people and the people are starting to look for more reasonable alternatives. The Workers’ Party and other opposition parties, if they are based on maintaining capitalism, cannot provide an alternative to the social and economic shortcomings created by the free market system of capitalism. The working class and young people with an alternative political platform need to play their role in building a party based on a socialist programme, to build an alternative to the system of capitalism that only works for the rich elite and not for the majority.

Although Singapore is known as the most developed country in the Southeast Asian region, the people there have begun to see a dramatic decline in living standards in the last two decades. Employees’ salaries did not increase while the profits of large companies doubled. Even in the covid19 crisis, the government was found to prioritise the well-being of wealthy company owners and capitalists and set aside the needs of millions of suffering people. There is already a housing crisis in Singapore where those over the age of 65 find themselves unable to continue paying government house rent due to lack of social spending funds from the government. Withdrawal of welfare funds from the government is also creating poverty, declining health and impacting a large part of Singapore’s population.

Meanwhile, migrant workers who play a key role in contributing to the work-force in factories in Singapore at low wages, are the most vulnerable to the covid19 infection with crammed dormitories and living conditions. Trade unions, which are part of the PAP government and support the agenda of capitalism, do not provide any solution to the issues of local workers and migrant workers. The establishment of independent trade unions is also necessary to strengthen the power and the movement of workers in Singapore.

Another factor for the decrease in the percentage of votes for the PAP is because of the young people who have turned to the opposition which brings to the fore their aspirations for a healthier democracy, and policies that tackle declining gender equality and environmental issues. The PAP is considered a bureaucratic structure and has not succeeded in capturing the hearts of young Singaporeans. Furthermore, the negative propaganda used by the PAP against the opposition is seen as a dirty tactic and leads to disapproval being expressed in the vote.

Economic recession

After the PAP victory, in the same week, Singapore announced that the country had entered an economic recession. This is due to the huge impact of the covid-19 pandemic and the global economic downturn which has had a profound impact on Singapore’s economy. Several financial institutions have also reported that Singapore could see its GDP contracting by 8% this year. This is one of the worst economic results in Singapore’s history.

If the PAP government fails to deal with the crisis that is having a profound impact on the Singapore economy, the government will become unstable and increasingly unpopular. This crisis could definitely weaken the PAP ruling party which until now has no solution to get out of the catastrophe that it is facing.

Singapore is on the brink of an economic crisis and this situation can trigger a political crisis and lead to the creation of mass movements of people who are fighting for their lives. In this situation, Singapore needs a working-class leadership with young people to put forward socialist alternatives for the economic and political situation. The building of a mass party with a working class leadership based on a socialist programme is needed as an alternative to the crisis in the free market of capitalism in Singapore.

Such leadership should put forward a programme that can unite all the people’s struggles that exist in the country. Without a working class and youth leadership based on socialism and free from the influence of wealthy capitalists, the people of Singapore will not be able to free themselves from the grip of the economic and social crisis created by capitalism which is now spreading in Singapore and around the world.


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August 2020