Singapore’s prime minister on Saturday lauded the city-state’s youth vote for helping return his party to power in a massive victory for the 12th time since independence a half-century ago.
The victory of the People’s Action Party was never in doubt — it has won every elections since 1965 — but the huge sweep in Friday’s general elections means the struggling opposition made no headway despite highlighting problems like income disparity, restrictions on free speech, overcrowding caused by immigration, and the rising cost of living.
The PAP got 83 of the 89 seats in Parliament while the opposition Workers’ Party captured six. In an indication that the PAP has regained some of its lost popularity, it won 69.86 percent of the votes cast, according to the Elections Department, compared to 60 percent votes in the 2011 elections.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who won from the Ang Mo Kio constituency, singled out the youth, saying the results show that the young people “understand what is at stake, support what we are doing.”
“It’s a PAP landslide. An election that was focused on the opposition gaining ground had a reverse effect on voters. We are seeing the consensus of a silent majority, the people who are not active on social media, and they are sticking with the PAP,” said Bridget Welsh, a senior research associate at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies.
Michael Barr, associate professor of international relations at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, said the timing of the election clearly made a difference — it was called right after Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations on Aug. 9 while nationalist feelings were still high, and months after the death on March 23 of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Prime Minister Lee.
“There has also been a real effort on the government’s part to fix the worst of their problems, and be seen fixing the worst of their problems,” said Barr. “The PAP has been campaigning since 2011 to get this result, and it has paid off.”
The senior Lee became the country’s first prime minister in 1965 and remained in office until 1990, a period of rapid development and prosperity. His son has been prime minister since 2004.
Critics say the PAP gets an unfair advantage in the polls because of a system in which some constituencies, such as Lee’s Ang Mo Kio, are represented by a group of four to six lawmakers. In a winner-takes-all, all members of the victorious team get entry into Parliament. The PAP usually fields a stalwart along with lightweight politicians, while the opposition is hard pressed to find a heavy lifter to lead a group.
But in 2011, the Workers’ Party wrested one such multi-candidate ward, Aljunied, from the PAP, sending five candidates to Parliament out of the seven seats it won. The party retained that ward and its five seats on Friday.
About 2.46 million people out of a population of 5.47 million were eligible to vote, up from 2.35 million in 2011, with an increased number of voters born after independence. Most of these young voters take Singapore’s prosperity, stability and a corruption-free, low-crime society for granted. These have been the main selling points of the PAP in past elections.
But Singaporeans have also been asking uncomfortable questions about the restrictions on free speech and media, which they had been willing to sacrifice in return for economic prosperity. They also see an increasing number of immigrants from all over Asia, filling not only low-paying jobs but also middle-level and high-paying positions.
There have also been questions about the country’s much-vaunted pension scheme with many wondering if retirees are reaping real benefits. In the last quarter ending in June, Singapore’s economy contracted by 4 percent, and the annual growth rate is projected to be 1.8 percent.